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We are living about 300 m from a railroad which follows the river Lahn from the Rhine to Giessen. About 150 km of most beautiful vacation country. At least nowadays. At the turn of the century the valley was crowded with silver, zinc, iron and slate mines, with quarries, gravel dugouts, furnaces, steel mills and god knows what else. Almost as bad as the Ruhrgebiet. The railroad's signaling and block installation dates back at least 70 years, nice old stuff and many overhead wires on porcelain insulators. We also have a number of power stations at the Lahn with lots of medium and high voltage lines.
For years I had wanted to walk through one of the many tunnels to check out the telephone installations there. Today I finally decided to do so. Weather was great, not much traffic and no one around. Perfect. Grabbed three torch lights, a few tools and set off. The path runs next to the track and the telephone and block wires. No insulators on the ground, guess I've been here too often :<). Before I entered the tunnel I checked two abandoned slate mines for bats. Found no bats but hibernating butterflies and spiders. As we are interested in nature a lot this was a good start.
Next to the mine is a power station. And there in the bushes, I couldn't believe it, lay the perfect lower part of a 20 kV insulator. It had not been there 3 weeks ago so I searched a bit but didn't find the other half. I was almost glad about that because the piece was quite heavy. So I decided to hide it and get it on the way back.
In high mood I made for the tunnel, switched on a torch and went in. It has two tracks, is about 750 meters long and has man holes every 20 meters. I had not met a train in each direction for a while so I knew they were due soon. Before the railroad had been built in 1861 the mountain was full of mines. The tunnel had cut right through them and you still can see (and enter) a lot of holes. Which I did, again looking for bats. No Joy. So I stumbled forward on the track and it grew darker fast. The tunnel had been restored 10 years ago but already the concrete has lots of cracks and holes. There had been signal wires running through the tunnel but I couldn't find any leftovers. I didn't find anything worth taking to be exact, the maintenance crew had cleared everything out. I was in the middle of the blackness now and grew nervous. My torch started to flicker and I hastily grabbed the second one. I dashed for the next manhole, stopped and listened, and stumbled to the next one. Every fourth or fifth hole was an entry into the mountain which I examined. Pretty exciting, although I was sweating with uneasiness now. I was almost at the end of the tunnel when I heard the train come. I dived into the next hole, let it pass and was glad when I was out of the tunnel. And then the other train came, that was close. I looked into the telephone hut and the lineman shed, made of the body of an old car from the turn of the century, but didn't find much.
The railroad poles sometimes carry postal telephone lines. This had been the case here but the post lines had been taken down recently. And there I found a nice spool of green copper wire with a beautiful splice. Railroad traffic increased and I did not feel like going back through the tunnel. On my way along the Lahn I found another mine. When I switched on my light I gasped, it was like Aladdin's cove. The walls glittered like zillions of diamonds, unfortunately it was only calcium crystals but a great sight. I found lots of old overgrown industrial structures and passed two locks. The first one delivered the water to "my" power station through a water tunnel.
While walking through the tunnel had taken me about 25 minutes, the way back was over three hours! And as the last adventure for the day I had to climb the fences of the power station as there was no way around it. When I finally arrived at my insulator I was pretty worn out. And the beast grew heavier with every meter. Unpacking my sack at home I realized that two of the three torch lights had given up. Strange feeling.
In the evening I read Keith Neal's book "Searching for Railway Telegraph Insulators". Great stuff. Explains why glass insulators are no good in England. Also points out that, at least in the UK, you can find insulators with a metal detector. Linemen had stuffed them into the pole holes so that they did not have to carry them.
Return to the Hunting for Insulators page
Please send your questions and comments to Wolfgang Haunzwickl at
Last updated Tuesday, December 26, 1995