My name is Dave French (NIA #4933), I live in Hastings, MN which is 25 miles south of St. Paul, and this is the incredible story of my exciting life. I would accompany this with a photo but I'm afraid I would not compare favorably with handsome devils like my good friend Rick Soller.
I was born in 1960 and grew up in St. Paul. My insulator collecting started in 1972 as an offshoot of my interest in trains and railroading. My friend Bill Schmaltz and I spent a lot of time hanging around the tracks, picking up any loose items we could find. Bill told me that he had heard that insulators were a collectible. We saw them on the poles but could not locate any whole ones on the ground. Then one day we found a pole with no wires, low enough to reach the insulators, next to the abandoned Great Northern roundhouse near downtown St. Paul. Bill got a Hemingray 42 and I got a Hemi 40. After so many years of sitting next to coal burning locomotives, those insulators had an unbelievably hard coating of soot. We spent hours in my basement vainly trying to get them clean, but we finally had our insulators. We started looking for them in local antique shops, generally paying $1.00 or less each. I eventually had about 20 different ones. I was so excited to find a dark green McLaughlin 16 and an olive green CD 122 Whitall-Tatum. Those were the first insulators I had that were not Hemingray, Brookfield, aqua, or clear!
My collection languished for many years, as I concentrated mostly on railroad items and only occasionally picked up a new insulator. Then in 1991 I pulled out my glass and put them in the windows. I wrote to a local paper's antique Q&A column, asking for information on insulators. They sent me the address of the NIA. I quickly joined and ordered the guide books and price guide, which opened up a whole new world to me and made me aware for the first time that there were other collectors. I ordered some oxalic acid to clean insulators and finally got my Hemi 40 clean. (I take pride in still owning that first insulator I ever picked up!) I went to my first show in Milwaukee in 1992 and was amazed that established collectors like the McDougalds were so friendly to a relative newcomer and outsider. This was very different then anything I had experienced in other hobbies. It was the people that really sold me on committing time to insulators.
Since then I have made many friends in both the USA and Canada. I've gone to a national and a few shows and swap meets and started collecting porcelain, specializing in Pittsburg and multiparts. I like high voltage CD's but my specialty glass insulator is good old CD 152, which I jokingly refer to as "The King of Specialty Collections and the Specialty Collection of Kings" because, to my knowledge, I am the only person dumb enough to specialize in them. I wrote three humor articles for "Rainbow Riders Trading Post", and was honored to be nominated for the Woodward Award in 1997. I will always be grateful to Patti Norton for allowing me to write these stories and see my name in print. In 1996 we started a new local club, the Northwestern Insulator Club, and had our first show in 1997 which as far as we know was the first-ever insulator show in Minnesota. I love being the editor of the club newsletter, "The Pole Liner".
My actual collection is quite small. I generally trade off, sell, or give away most of the items I acquire, keeping some porcelain, CD 152, CD 143, and pieces that have special memories attached. I find the people, and not the insulators, to be of most value to me. The hobby is very interesting and fun, and keeps me from spending too much time alone or on the job. I work as a Supervisor at the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District in the Twin Cities (I swear I'm not making that up!). My goal is to give something back to the hobby and continue to write and edit articles for hobby publications. I also love railroad, telegraph, and American history. I am working on an article about CD 152. My wish is for everyone to enjoy the hobby and not take it too seriously. I am a newcomer to the Internet and would welcome e-mail from anyone.
Written by Dave French,
Last updated Thursday, February 12, 1998
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