By Robin Plewes
The Story of Wild Canadian Ponies
In collecting insulators, I'm sure most of you know the usual avenues used to acquire pieces for our collections. Whether we hike the rail beds, scrounge the yards sales, advertise in local papers or buy through mail order, there is a method, or methods, that suit our individual style.
Certain types of insulators have a better chance of being acquired through one method versus another. Telegraph insulators tend to be found along rail beds for example.
I have wondered for a number of years, how old rural phone lines were taken down, and what happened to the insulators of course. As one of my best methods for finding ponies (CD 102) and tolls (CD 121) has been rural auctions, I suspect that many miles of poles, crossarms and insulators went to the nearest enterprising farm. Since most farmers tend to be enterprising by nature, very little remains of the open wire phone systems.
I have seen phone poles, currently in use, with notches where the crossarms used to be. Digging around under these poles has yielded absolutely nothing. Perhaps the pole has been reused and therefore there would be no debris from it's days of open wire service. Ontario has fairly stringent rules concerning the installation of used poles. This combined with the fact that the former crossarm notch is such that the old open wire line would have run the same way as the present big black wire. It seems unlikely that the pole installation crew would consistently orientate the pole in this manner, were they reusing them from another location. All this tells me that the open wire materials have mostly been removed from the site of use and are now very hard to find in the "wild" as a result.
Development has taken off in recent years. Building of new roads and widening of others have made it tough to find former pole sites, let alone the open wire debris.
I have checked out both the libraries and the archives for maps showing where the open wire lines ran. These maps have lead me to a few pole sites on public and private property. I did find a piece of a NN CD 133 at one spot, but generally everything had been cleaned up. It could be that demolition crews were instructed to ensure the complete removal. Safety and the high visibility of a public roadside maybe possible reasons.
Nearby farms would readily absorb poles and crossarms for any number of uses as soon as they became available. I have seen sheds and decks made of crossarms and fence posts and barns made of the poles. Remember the farmer's entrepreneurial sprit I mentioned earlier?
With all this background out of the way, you get the idea that it has been hard for me to locate a "wild Canadian pony".
My successful lead came unexpectantly while I was swapping truck parts with a
buddy who runs a small salvage business.
On the back wall he had a dozen assorted insulators hanging on nails. He was going to be expanding his workshop and in preparation, had moved all the material that had been leaning up against this wall, uncovering these insulators in the process. When I asked after them ...." Oh yeah, my dad used to work for the old Goulbourn Phone Company." His father used to bring home everything and dump it in the pit at the end of the farm. He could also recall making trips with his father, to the dump with loads of old wooden phones!! ( Would news like that get you going or what? ) He didn't know if there were any insulators left now as they were dumped a long time ago and many loads of fill had been removed from the pit since then. Hunters and hikers had been through over the years also.
My friend then recalled that there used to be some more insulators upstairs
in the old grainary. I went back the next week in better light to check out the
grainary. It took me a good 20 minutes just to get to the stairway opening,
climbing over all manner of items. The stairs themselves had been removed in
order to store more stuff downstairs.
The dusty loft had a pile of hubcaps, some old windows, other odds and ends, a wooden barrel of wooden insulator pins, some CD 108's, a CD 190 and plenty of raccoon droppings. No show stoppers, but the pins were nice.
A couple of months later I got around to bending his ear again as to where this pit was located. I knew he had been working in the pit, so the chances of something being there were slim at best.
The directions went something like this ... You take the entrance off the top of the lower field. Follow that around till you see the large air conditioners in the trees, bear right past the old truck frame and cross the top of the hay field. The fence is down, you'll see the tracks I made through there last spring when it was wet. That pile of junk is off to the left and you'll see a path across that clearing on the right. Go down there a bit and you should see the insulators down on your left.
This was all done with a finger map on the side of my dusty pickup fender. Yes, I did stop to get out and check my fender to see where I was in relation to this elusive insulator cache.
Passage through the bush, twice a year with a 4x4 or a tractor constitutes a "laneway", it seems.
It was a very hot and humid day, with no breeze at all to deal with the mosquitoes. My 2 year old son, Pace, and I started driving / crashing through the brush choked track. Tree branches popped in and out of the open windows. I was afraid Pace was going to catch one in the face. It was just too hot and humid to wind the windows up though. Anything less than the 16" wheels on my truck and I'm sure we would have wound up in some sort of trouble. The thought of getting stuck and having to hike back with Pace, in such conditions, was enough to make me sweat even more than I already was.
After a bit of scouting around, Pace and I found a dozen insulators under a tree, mostly covered by old cedar leaves. We checked each piece as we dug it up. They were mostly broken and I was lucky to keep Pace from cutting his hands on the sharp edges. Sweat and mosquitoes didn't seem to slow his enthusiasm for picking through the debris under the trees.
I came away with a cracked, brown amber pony and a CD 191 Brookfield to match the CD 190 that I had found earlier in the old grainary. Pace kept a broken CD 101 Brookfield. He didn't say much as made our way back to the asphalt. He did hold onto the Brookfield though. I suspect he was kind of glad we were back on the road, while being happy with our little "adventure" at the same time.
After supper, in which the dirty, broken Brookfield had to be on the dinner table, I was able to "swap" him a good (less hazardous) CD 102 Brookfield for his treasured, but broken CD 101.
So there it is, a cracked Canadian pony, found where it was tossed many years ago. In the "wild" as opposed to the "tame" ones found in boxes, barns and sales lists. It will always be part of my pony collection for that reason.
As always, feel free to contact me with comments, contributions or topics you might like to see covered in future Canadian Forum columns.
Good Collecting ............. Robin
Robin Plewes, Almonte Ontario, Canada.
Phone: 613-256-7638 or Email: email@example.com