Years ago, I remember watching a news vignette about a drawbridge in some frigid state that kept an operator on duty 24 hours a day.

Now a drawbridge with a full-time staff is hardly deserving of a feature profile, except in this case, there was an century-old ordinance that mandated a full-time operator on the bridge even though the body of water it spanned was frozen for five months of the year.

So from November through April, when the water was ideally suited for ice fishing or pick-up hockey games and impassable by boats, drawbridge employees polished their solitaire skills and caught up on their reading.

While rapidly fading memory prevents me from recalling exactly what town it was, with the expediency of online research it would be tempting to see if someone actually began a movement to change the law and put the employees to more productive use during those brutal months.

Recently, the Treasury Department reversed a ruling that had been on the books for 108 years -- albeit this one didn't involve an idle drawbridge operator in a northern territory or, for that matter, on the Potomac.

Rather, it was the long-distance luxury phone tax, which was first levied in 1898 as a temporary assessment to help defray the costs of the Spanish-American War. The tax -- which was calculated on both the distance and duration of the calls -- targeted those wealthy enough to be able to make long-distance calls.

But much like the alternative minimum tax 70 years later, its intended audience began swelling like a water balloon as the telephone became a staple in more homes. Nearly everyone soon had the privilege of paying the tax, which came to, on average, 3 percent of their monthly phone bills.

The tax was actually repealed four years after its introduction, but 12 years later, was reinstituted to help fund World War I.

During the Vietnam conflict, the Treasury boosted the levy to roughly 10 percent to again help foot the massive costs.

But with the advent of cell phones and competitive pricing plans, and with fewer consumers making long-distance calls from landlines, the revenue from the tax began to dwindle, a victim of the information age.

Following its elimination, America's taxpayers will receive an aggregate refund of some $13 billion -- the amount that had been collected on long-distance calls since Feb. 28, 2003. Taxpayers will be given the option of calculating their actual taxes paid, or claiming a standard amount as set by the Treasury and IRS.

The tax will officially end on July 31.

History will forever remember the USS Maine, but I doubt you'll find many consumers that will reminisce about the telephone tax with the same fervor.

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