Converting a payphone for home use

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As cell phone use continues to increase and phone companies take payphones out of service, more and more payphones are available on eBay. Some will purchase payphones intending to install these conversation pieces in their family rooms. Some will not care if their payphones are operable or not - some will want to preserve the historic or collectible nature of their older style payphone - and others will want to convert their payphone to coin-free use on their home telephone line. Many will purchase payphones and have NO idea at all how to work with them or where to turn for help. This guide will help readers open their payphone, and if desired, convert their payphone for use in their home.
 
OPENING YOUR PAYPHONE
 
If you did not get keys and a T-bar for your payphone when you purchased it, then you will not be able to get it open without damaging the payphone housing and other parts. Most locksmiths do not have and can not make keys for payphones. T-bars are often available from payphone suppliers and occasionally on eBay, although there are different styles of T-bars, depending on the manufacturer of your payphone. Payphone housings are designed to be very strong and able to withstand thieves and vandals, and cannot be opened without the keys without damaging the payphone housing.
 
Modern payphones ordinarily use separate keys to open the front housing (behind the dial or keypad and where the phone electronics are located) and to open the vault, where the cashbox is located. Depending on the make and model of your payphone, you may or may not need the T-bar to open the front housing, but all modern payphones require use of the T-bar to open the vault door in front of the removable cashbox.
 
The payphone vault door and cashbox are designed to be opened with a separate key in order to allow a payphone route person with only a key to the vault and a T-bar to be able to open the payphone vaults along the route, remove the cashboxes behind the vault door that were usually locked with small padlocks and replace the filled cashboxes with empty cashboxes and return the full cashboxes to the payphone company.
 
WARNING: When working with payphones, remember that the housing components (front housing, rear housing and vault door) are all designed to be theft and vandal proof and are made of thick steel, and consequently, are rather heavy. As a result, BE VERY CAREFUL when removing payphone parts - the front and rear housings and vault door are heavier than you might think and can be damaged or injure you if dropped.
 
To open the front housing: Insert the appropriate key either on the top or the side of the front housing and rotate (ordinarily clockwise and about half a turn). If the T-bar is required to open the front housing, now insert the T-bar and rotate (ordinarily counterclockwise and less than a quarter turn). Disconnect the cable that connects the front and rear housing of the payphone and then set the front housing somewhere where its chrome armor plating will not be damaged but that can support its weight.
 
To open the cashbox vault: Insert the appropriate key on the side of the rear housing and rotate (ordinarily clockwise and about half a turn). While holding the face of the vault door with one hand to keep it from falling out, insert and rotate the T-bar (depending on the manufacturer, the T-bar may rotate either clockwise or counterclockwise, and generally less than 45 degrees). Hold onto the vault door - its heavier than you will think and since it holds the payphone cashbox in place, the cashbox behind the vault door will tend to push the vault door forward away from the phone. Carefully remove the vault door, leaving the T-bar in place, and set it down in a safe place. Now remove the cashbox by pulling the wire loop on front of cashbox to slide it out of phone. Open the lid on the cashbox by lifting up the latch of the lid to release the lid.
 
To replace the cashbox back into the payphone, you must arm the mechanism you tripped when you removed the cashbox from the pay phone. Until you rearm the mechanism, you will not be able to push the cashbox back into the payphone. You can arm the mechanism once it has been tripped with a flat-blade screwdriver. Open the cashbox lid and rotate the slotted mechanism inside the cashbox lid about 90 degrees clockwise to arm the cashbox so it can be put back into the phone. Slide the cashbox all the way into the phone and, holding the cashbox in place with one hand, slide the vault door back into place with your other hand. If you allow the cashbox to spring forward out of its position before you replace the vault door, it will again disarm the trip mechanism and you will again have to arm your cashbox. Turn the T-bar the opposite of the way that you turned it to remove the vault door in order to reengage the vault door locking mechanism and reinstall the vault door.
 
MOUNTING YOUR PAYPHONE
 
Again, remember that a payphone is designed to be theft and vandal proof and is made of thick steel, and as a result, is rather heavy. Therefore, you should consider this weight (often 50 pounds or more, plus the weight of users who choose to lean against the phone when using it) when you select a location and method to mount your payphone.
 
Payphones are designed to be mounted to a plate made of plastic or metal called a backboard that has many holes - some to provide bolt or screw holes to mount the backboard itself to the wall, and others with threaded inserts to mount the payphone to the backboard. A properly mounted backboard will not visually affect how your payphone looks in your home, but will provide a much easier, more secure and stronger method to mount your payphone. Conversely, although it is possible to mount your payphone directly to a wall, the mounting holes in the rear housing are not at all likely to line up with the studs in your wall, and someone is going to have to hold up your very heavy payphone while you measure, mark and mount your payphone to the wall. Backboards are readily available from payphone suppliers and are often available on eBay, generally for a price of $5-15, and are well worth the investment.
 
Determine where to mount your backboard based on where it can be bolted directly\to studs capable of supporting weight in excess of 50 pounds, and where a phone line can be directed behind the backboard and through the hole in the center of the backboard to your payphone. I have used five 3 1/2 by 5/16 inch screws to mount the backboard directly to a wall stud.
 
Mount your payphone to the backboard as follows: separate the front and rear housing of your payphones and open the vault door and remove the cashbox. You may have to temporarily loosen the circuit board to access the payphone mounting holes on the back of the rear housing. Thread the phone service line through the grommet in the back of the rear housing of the payphone, and then attach the rear housing to the backboard with at least 5 or more screws that match the threaded inserts in your backboard (typically flat head 3/4 inch long 1/4-20 screws), taking care to use mounting holes in both the rear housing behind the circuit board and mounting holes behind the cashbox in the payphone vault. Reattach the payphone circuit board inside the rear housing if necessary, reinstall the cashbox and vault door, attach the phone service line to the payphone circuit board, and reattach the payphone front housing to complete the installation.
 
PHONE CIRCUITRY ISSUES
 
Depending on your desired use of the payphone, its condition and value as a collectable item, you may or may not want to use your payphone as a home phone or convert its operation to coin-free. Some wish to preserve the historical value of their older style payphone and either make no effort to hook the phone to their home phone line, or hook the phone to their home phone line but retain the phone coin operation. Others wish to provide coin free home phone line service through their payphone. Many new style touchpad style payphones coming onto the used payphone market have little collectible value, but have very sophisticated programmable circuitry that cannot be reprogrammed for home use without great effort or expense by the end user. In any event, determine the historic or collectors value of any payphone BEFORE making electronic alterations to your payphone - you may substantially diminish the value of your collectible payphone by altering its operation.
 
Some models of payphones can be adapted for coinless use by wiring open the mechanical coin relays or coin counter mechanisms so that the payphone circuitry is fooled to send a signal to the operation circuitry that coins have been deposited. Other payphones rely on the metal coin itself to short circuit a set of electrical contacts to which a jumper wire can be attached to constantly short out the circuit between the contacts. A variety of systems have been employed by payphone manufacturers to ensure that the proper value of coins has been deposited prior to payphone operation, and some creativity is often necessary to convert the payphone to coinless operation.
 
Some newer touchtone payphones with little collectable value and with programmable circuit boards are best adapted to coinless use by replacing the phone circuitry with simple, nonprogrammable coinless phone circuitry. A reputable payphone parts supplier that can be found on-line by searching for payphone parts sells a coinless circuit board that can be used to convert a payphone to coinless operation, allows removal of the large circuit boards that occupy the rear housing of your payphone (and therefore allows you to use your payphone as a rather secure wall safe - an added benefit) and requires no source of power other than the energy supplied by your home phone line. This coinless circuit board measures 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches and can be mounted directly behind the keypad on the inside of the front housing of your payphone, and currently sells for approximately $50. This circuit board has screw terminals for payphone handsets with spade terminals and a 4-pin modular connector for modular handsets; has connections for a 2-wire hookswitch; has a 3-level jumper for handset microphone volume; and connectors for a volume control and a ringer. The coinless circuit board has a 7-pin keypad connector; and has both screw terminals and a RJ11 connector (a standard female phone jack connection) for the telephone service line connection. The same vendor has a compatible keypad with standard metal touchtone buttons that currently sells for approximately $40 that is designed to replace your current keypad, but that has the added benefit of providing a mounting plate to mount the coinless circuit board directly behind the keypad on the inside of the front housing of the payphone and the 7-pin keypad connector that fits the coinless circuit board. This keypad mounts with 4 screws to the rear of the front housing of your payphone; and if your payphone does not have keypad mounting holes in these locations, they are easily drilled with a standard drill bit (be VERY careful not to drill only through the structural steel on the front housing and NOT through the chrome armor on the face of your payphone) and then the coinless circuit board can be attached with 1/2 inch size 8 self-tapping screws. If your payphone hookswitch is integral with the keypad you replace, this vendor has a replacement hookswitch that will mount to the standard 4-hole mounting pattern in most payphones; and also has a selection of replacement payphone handsets with varying lengths of armored cable that you can use to replace the standard short cable payphone handset, if you wish. Use of such circuitry greatly simplifies adapting a payphone with little collectable value to home use on a standard phone line.
 
OTHER MISCELLANEOUS IDEAS FOR YOUR PAYPHONE
 
You may wish to use your payphone cashbox as a secure piggy bank. On some phones with coin chutes that direct coins to either the cashbox or coin return, this can be accomplished by wiring open the mechanical coin counter mechanism similar to the way described above to convert the phone to coinless operation. On phones with electronic coin validators - a coin validator is a rectangular device that hangs below the coin deposit on the inside of the front housing of the payphone that recognizes, accepts or rejects nickels, dimes, and quarters, and that pivots by operating the coin return lever - you may want to remove the coin validator mechanism and obtain a plastic coin reject chute from a Western Electric style phone that can be obtained new or used from a variety of sources, and that is often available on eBay, for less than $5. Using a Dremel tool or other model of rotary tool-cutter, you can modify the plastic chute to direct coins dropped into the coin insert slot through the funnel end of the chute to the plastic funnel in the bottom of the payphone rear housing that directs coins to the cashbox. It is often necessary to shorten the chute when used in this manner - make sure you cut from the bottom of the chute in order to preserve the top funnel of the chute. You can also remove and modify the plastic funnel in your payphone that directs coins to the cashbox by cutting away and slotting portions of the funnel so that the bottom end of the chute sits partially inside of the funnel. Such a modified chute can be attached to the inside of your payphone by using adhesive Velcro tape to allow the chute to be positioned in order to funnel coins from the coin insert slot to the plastic funnel at the bottom of the rear housing that routes coins into the cashbox.
 
Some people collect payphone vault doors, particular those with telephone company advertising - an example is the payphone vault doors that advertised corporate sponsorship by Bell South of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. If you choose to replace your modern payphone vault door with such a collectable vault door or simply replace a painted vault door with a chrome-plated vault door, be aware that there are at least three different styles of locking mechanisms that secure these vault doors to different manufacturer styles of payphones: the Western Electric style, the GTE style and the Tidel 3 style - photos of all three can be found on-line. Make sure that you purchase a vault door with the style of locking mechanism used by your payphone; or you can ordinarily detach the locking mechanism from your current vault door by removing the 4 nuts under the locking mechanism cam that hold the locking mechanism to the vault door and replacing the locking mechanism with the one that will work with your payphone. It will be a very tight fit with your wrench to both remove and reinstall the nuts on the locking mechanism on your vault door.
 
If your payphone came without plastic coated instruction and information cards above and below the dial or keypad, these cards can often be found for sale on eBay; or sample high resolution payphone instruction and information display cards can be currently found on-line that can be downloaded by selecting the thumbnail image of the instruction and information display card, then importing the images into a word  processor program so the sample cards can be resized as needed and printed to fit your payphone card slots.
 
If you removed your payphone circuit boards when mounting or converting your payphone to home use, the heavy steel, payphone armor and sophisticated locks make your empty payphone housing a handy home wall-mounted safe in which you can securely store your valuables.
 
Be careful not to lose your payphone keys. One idea is to use a fabric hide-a-key that secures with adhesive Velcro tape to secure your front housing key, and if necessary to open the front housing, your T-bar, to the bottom of your payphone where it will not be seen; and a second hide-a-key to store your rear housing key, and your T-bar if needed only to open your vault door, inside the payphone housing. Such fabric hide-a keys are available often available on eBay or from your local locksmith and will ensure that you know where your payphone keys and T-bar are located. Of course, if you are using your payphone as a home safe, you may want to store the keys away from your payphone.
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