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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

CS Fantastic
by Bill Glover


During the 1950s Bell Labs published an advertisement for "CS Fantastic", a land-based mock-up of a cable-laying ship, used to test equipment and techniques without the expense of going to sea. The ad reads as follows:

Come aboard the FANTASTIC!

A ship that never sails helps Bell System engineers devise the best way to lay undersea telephone cables.

The telephone cables which now connect America with Europe, Hawaii and other distant places have proved enormously successful.

Soon more will be needed - to link other continents, and to handle the ever-rising volume of overseas calls. But the new and lighter cables now being tested call for entirely new cable-laying techniques and equipment.

To save time and money, and permit studies of the problem under controlled conditions, a mock-up of a cable-laying ship - dubbed the Fantastic - has been built on a New Jersey hill-top some twenty-eight miles from the nearest salt water. There, most days, you will find Bell Laboratories engineers busily testing the new methods and equipment they have devised.

Winches whine as long sections of cable are pulled up from the "hold" and payed out "overboard" as if the Fantastic were truly at sea. Flying gaily from a yardarm are maritime signals warning other vessels to stay clear.

Elsewhere in the Laboratories, experiments show how to grip the cable and control its speed, what happens as it sinks into the sea, how fast it should be payed out to fit the ocean bottom snugly. Still other studies plot the hills and valleys of the ocean floor where the cable will eventually be laid.

The result - telephone service across the ocean as good as your own local service. It is progress like this which is the aim of our constant research in all fields of communications.

Engineers study section of cable containing dummy amplifier being payed out. Inscription on life preserver stands for “Bell Laboratories Dry Land Cable Ship Fantastic.”

The International signal for “Ship not under normal control”, i.e. unable to take evasive action, is on the left of the photo. It consists of a white diamond with red discs above and below. At night one white and two red lights are displayed

CS Fantastic was located at the AT&T outdoor site in New Jersey generally referred to as “Telephone Pole Farm,” now part of the Highlands Ridge Park in Chester, NJ.

In 2015-16, the TCI Library helped research the history of the site for the Chester Historical Society, and has a page with further information. Sadly, there is now very little sign of the “ship” nor of other AT&T projects which were based at the site.

Copyright © 2007 FTL Design

Last revised: 1 October, 2020

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