Monday, September 17, 2012

Remember These?




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




17 comments:

Angela said...

I remember seeing those glass things when I was a kid. Don't know what happened to them though. When we went to Canaan we went to see the old Coke Ovens. There were a lot of those old poles on the side of the road through there. I took lots of pictures but haven't had time to post them yet.

Gorges Smythe said...

Angela, I remember selling some of them at 50 cents apiece and using others, turned upside down in wooden stands, to use as candle holders.

Phyllis (N/W Jersey) said...

Thanks for a great article. I had a nice collection of them, but most were lost when we moved.
That wasn't the Louisville flood was it? My Dad was 20 years old when drove down from NJ and helped out down there. This past January I sent the University all the pictures he took of the flooding and the letter they gave him thanking him for his help. They were supposed to have a display of Margaret Bourke-White's flood pictures and were going to include my Dad's too.

Gorges Smythe said...

Phyllis, in 1937, the Ohio River pretty much flooded from one end to the other, though it was worse some places than others. It very well may have been what you call the Louisville Flood. You might be able to find out by googling the term.

Sixbears said...

The electrician at work had a couple of bushle baskets of those insolators. I think I know of a few of those old poles still standing, out by an abandoned rail line.

Gorges Smythe said...

I think there may be a few still standing around here, too, Sixbears. I don't know if the poles along the rails belonged to the telephone company or the railroad, to carry their messages to other stations.

Ralph Goff said...

I sure do remember those glass insulators. In fact one of the first jobs I had was helping the rural telephone company set up a few miles of line. I learned to use climbing spurs but didn't like it much. Still have a bunch of the insulators around here somewhere in my collection.

JaneofVirginia said...

I certainly do remember these ! In my youth they were very pricey and a frequent collectors item. Now, they have all but disappeared. I saw a box of them recently at an estate sale for a very low price and there weren't any takers !
We don't have any in use locally in our rural area. The trend here is to bury lines whenever they can, with varying degrees of success.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I had collected quite a few of those glass insulators, but I have no idea where they got off to.

HermitJim said...

I sure would like to have some of those glass insulators for my collection!

Funny how things once considered throw aways are now sought after as collectors items!

Susie Swanson said...

I remember those Gorges, I think they are called insulators. That's what we called them.. I remember the poles being crossed too.I wondered what happened to those insulators..

Linda said...

I remember seeing these as a child.

Gorges Smythe said...

It sure beat MY first job of making "cheese logs," Ralph! ;-)

At least the drunks can't disrupt the phone service of buried lines, Jane.

Things have a way of disappearing around here, too, Jerry, especially when my wife cleans house!

Yeah, Jim, you have to wonder what we're throwing away that our kids will treasure.

Most of them probably ended up being remelted, Susie.

I'm not surprised; they were all over, Linda.

Crystal Mary said...

I love that old photo, it is special. Your poor dad. Some lessons are hard learned, aren't they? The important part is, he was teachable and consistent. That made the difference in the end, as he got many years out of his labor, good on him. AND, I believe the older we get, the more we appreciate out parents. A lovely memory.

Gorges Smythe said...

Thank you, Crystal.

Le Loup said...

There are still a few of these left on our property, but they are only about 8 foot high with a cross bar of a little over 2 foot. One at least has a couple of glass insulators still in place.
Regards, Keith.
http://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com.au/

Gorges Smythe said...

Keith, I guess with so much bush or outback to traverse, they wanted to keep the cost down.