Those of you over 50 years old probably know what the items are in the photo above. When I was a kid, a row of poles went up the valley below our house. Near the top of those poles were cross-arms about six feet long. Along the top of those cross-arms were wooden spindles about the size of a large corncob, The bottom 2/5’s or so of those spindles were shaped like a cylinder and fit into holes drilled in the cross-arms. A wire nail held each spindle from working out of the hole. The middle 1/5th of the spindle started oversized at the bottom, forming a shoulder at the top of the cylindrical bottom section, and tapered in as it went upward until it was about the same size as the cylinder below, or a tad smaller. The top 2/5’s was threaded from there to the tip. A large glass insulator with a threaded hole in the bottom then threaded down onto the spindle. To that insulator, a copper wire (probably eight or 10 gauge) was fastened with a short section of similar wire. Over those wires, the conversations of the neighborhood (and sometimes the world) flowed from one telephone to another.
It was probably in the mid-60’s when our regional telephone company, Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company, switched to plastic-covered cables on the same poles as the power company (then Monongahela Power Company). If I remember, They just cut the poles off at ground level like they were falling timber. They’d already snipped off the copper wires and removed them. They then cleaned up the poles and cross-arms and hauled them away. However, if the landowner wanted them, they’d leave them for him to clean up. A lot of pole barns and fences were built back then using poles from the old telephone lines. A few are still standing.
Most fellows just used the poles, while throwing the insulators in groundhog holes and burning the cross-arms. My dad wasn’t so wasteful. He used the cross-arms for posts for electric fence and the insulators to hold the barbed wire. Good quality 12 gauge fence wire was getting expensive at the time (and quality was declining) and Dad, like most farmers, were beginning to experiment with the cheaper 16 or 14 gauge Belgian wire. He got a bit too frugal, though, when he used the short lengths of copper wire remaining on the insulators to fasten the galvanized steel barbed wire to the insulators.
Within a few months, our new fence began falling apart! From a distance, Dad just thought that the cheap price of the Belgian wire was coming back to haunt him. He was doubly disgusted to discover the problem was entirely his own fault. He’d completely forgotten that he’d been taught in school that two different metals, when touching and wet, can set up an electrical current that will corrode one or both metals. With rain every so often, and dew nearly every morning, there was no shortage of water. Making the wire “hot” no doubt made the corrosion worse. He replaced the wire, fastening it to the insulators with short lengths of the Belgian wire. It lasted for many years the second time around.
For those who don’t remember the old cross-armed telephone poles, I’ve put a picture below that shows one fairly clearly. Click on it to enlarge it. The photo was taken about a hundred yards from my grandparents home (sitting high and dry) during the 1937 Flood. © 2012