THE EARLY DAYS OF INSULATOR COLLECTING 1967 - 1988
Larry Rogers, NIA # 7177
I guess I started collecting in 1967. I worked for the Maine Dept. of Trans. as an Engineering Tech. and worked outside a lot. In the winter, we were working on a survey crew doing layout for the Interstate system working it's way through Maine.
This period was before I-95 went all the way through the state. It was during those wintry days of show-shoes and snowmobiling to get to the work sites that I began to notice those "Crown Jewels of the Wire" on poles along the railroad tracks which ran adjacent to our survey line. They just seemed to catch my eye. My two friends and I began traveling the old abandoned railroad lines in search of the real "pretty" ones. My friend Dale and I continued to collect and swap insulators until the early 80's, when he eventually sold his collection to another collector. I kept on with the hobby until the late 80's, still tying to improve my collection. My friend and I traveled all over New England searching the garage sales and Flea Markets for those glass insulators. We also became very competitive In those days (the early 60's) we were two of a kind in a world of bottle collectors. There were no insulator magazines (Old Bottle Magazine had insulator articles) no clubs, no internet and no other collectors in the area in which we lived. We would do antique bottle shows and display our treasures.( see photos below) No one seemed to be interested in buying them, only looking at them. Needless to say, we always took the blue ribbon in the insulator division!
I was out traveling one Sunday afternoon, searching the lawn sales and flea markets, and came to a sudden stop! Back down the highway I had noticed some insulators on a lawn for sale! I drove back and approached the lad. "Where did you get these?" I asked. He said his mother told him not to tell anyone where they were dug! I recognized two of them as threadless insulators. I asked him if he had any more like these. "No" he said, only what's on the lawn. He was asking $1.50 and $2 for the two threadless and fifty cents for the rest. (he also had four or five common Brookfield tolls) I asked would he take $4 for the lot and he said yes! I later took these two threadless and a few boxes of others to a show in Portsmouth N.H. later that summer sold them and a few others I brought for $650. I also bought a few.
Until I updated my PC in 1995 I had thought that insulator collecting had receded a little. Then I discovered insulators.info and I was back in the loop! Until I had retired and moved to Florida in 1995, I had sold most of my collection, keeping a few "seeds" just in case! I also had a few stolen while still in Maine in 1978!
At or about 1968, I discovered some insulator ads in bottle magazines and began to answer them. Some of them were for common insulators, but once in a while I would stumble upon a good (prospect) to do some swapping with. It appeared at that time that insulator collectors in other parts of the country did not have the same examples that I had! Even the New England Tel & Tel Co baby beehives were good traders, especially the odd colors. So, I started to correspond with and eventually swap insulators with some of the "insulators nuts" in other parts of the country. I eventually swapped with approximately 50-100 or more collectors. These swaps were for insulators or go-withs only. There was rarely any money involved. And we paid our own postage to mail them.
Photos of my early collection. Most of these were "harvested" myself, climbing poles.
I was making some good swaps with a collector in Mexico, whose name has long ago escaped me I'm afraid. The way we shipped the glass was, wrap the insulators in newspapers, pack them in cardboard boxes, wrapped so tight that one could throw them across the room without breaking them! The reason for this was, the USPO did not have a very good track record for handling packages. I used to ship only 4-6 pieces at a time because of the weight (cost). I would insure them for $10-20 and away they would go. In all the swaps I made, only one insulator arrived broken!
I used to live in a rural area and we had a Post Office substation in which one could ship and receive packages. This substation was located in one of those Mom and Pop country stores run by an elderly guy with no teeth. I had been sending and receiving "packages" from Texas and Mexico for two years, off and on, and this was in 1968-69! Packages from Mexico on a regular basis in 1969! Wait a minute! I was 24 years old at this time.
One day he the guy with no teeth) called me to let me know that I had a package from Mexico at the store, and he also asked me if my name was Larry Rogers! "That's funny", I thought, he's known me for ten years. Giving it no more thought, off to the substation I went to pick up my "package." Little did I know just what I was about to get into! And all this for the sake of collecting insulators.
When I arrived at the store to retrieve my package from Mexico, Bill again asked me my name. I replied to him that yes, I was Larry Rogers. He told me that there were a couple of "gentlemen" in the back that would like to talk to me. I went to the back and again, one of the men asked me my name. They hadn't identified themselves yet, but by this time I had a pretty good idea just who they were, and what they wanted with me.
They asked me to open the package, which I did, and unwrapped a nice Mexican insulator! They took the box and carefully unwrapped the other two insulators and just stared at them! One of them asked, "What the H___ are these?" I explained what they were and why I had traded them with another collector in Mexico. They seemed kind of upset , to say the least! I think I ruined their day. They never did identify themselves or apologize. They just got in their "gray sedan" and drove out of my life!
I would be willing to bet they never shared this "drug bust" with their fellow Tobacco and Firearms agents! It's been much too long to remember just what CD # or embossing these insulators were, but I do remember that they were not very valuable at the time.
It was at this time that my collection was beginning to grow in numbers. My wife and lived in a mobile home at the time in which I had insulators on shelves just about everywhere in that house. In the living room, in the spare bedroom, the main bedroom, and even in the bathroom! I finally had to build an out building just to keep my collection in! My friend Dale and I used to have mini-shows in our houses! He lived in a second story apartment, so that was not an ideal situation either. Needless t say, our wives were not very impressed with our efforts! Nor did they share our passion for insulators.
During the early 1970's a few local bottle diggers organized a collector's club and met on a regular basis. There were still some really good bottles to be dug in local dumps then. If you are old enough to remember, almost every old house and town had a dump usually out back somewhere. These dumps were gold mines in treasures! Digging dumps is another story, another time. However, you could sometimes dig some good threadless and threaded insulators in those dumps.
Back in 1970 there was a connection between the old dumps, bottle collectors and insulators, at least in Northern New England. Most of the bottle collectors ran across some good insulators in their travels.
In these early days we had to finance our new found hobby so we would collect bottles, relics, almost anything old and take these to the local flea market. Almost every town along the coast of Maine had their flea markets. The money we made from the sales financed our habit. We would search the garage sales, auctions, etc. for anything antique. We both worked in the engineering field outside and also liked to fish the small streams and ponds for the elusive Native Brook Trout, which also took us along railroad tracks! So, after working hours, we would mix pleasure with pleasure and bring home some trout and glass.
These flea markets were true "tail-gaters" in that we just picked a spot and dropped the tailgate and watched the fun begin. Most of the bottle collectors also came to these flea markets searching for bottles. One of the best dumps in the area was behind a mall in Old Town Maine along an old railroad track. Just about every digger in that area had at one time dug this dump. I dug many good bottles and relics from this dump.
Some of my early displays in Maine in the early 1970's.
I guess our greatest find in those days was about 300 CD 110 "Baby Spirals" we "harvested" along a line on the New Hampshire border. Each pole had 2-4 of these beauties and the "fishing" was good! We had pole climbers ( hooks) heavy gloves, pliers, wire cutters, maps and a cooler for refreshments! When we arrived, we each picked a pole and began. If memory serves me well, we each collected about 100-125 of these beauties that day. We replace each piece with a common insulator. Darkness and the fact that we ran out of replacements forced us to quit to return on another day. In the 225 we "collected" that day, over 100 of them were mint, or very close.
Replacing the insulators was a common practice for two reasons. One, to not attract attention, and two to assure that the line is still usable incase they were in use. Most all of the railroad crossing lights were battery operated, but they still used some of these lines for communications.
All of these flaming crossarm stories have finally prompted to to dig into my memory bank and relate my "flaming crossarm " story.
It was a dark and foggy night. Just kidding! I was for 15 years a member of the Winterport Lion's Club in the small town where I lived. We had a small spinning wheel type game thing we took to the fairs to make money for our club. Bet a quarter, spin the wheel, you get the picture. One of the fairs we "worked" was the Blue Hill Fair in Blue Hill Maine. Blue Hill is a beautiful little coastal village, but has one drawback. It gets very foggy in late September in early mornings and evenings.
While working the wheel one cool and foggy September night another Lion and I were spinning the wheel and working the crowd when all of a sudden we heard a loud BANG followed by several smaller noises! The lights all went out and we could see smoke coming from what looked to me to be the main power pole for the fair! The poles were very old and leaning. This particular pole had a transformer on it! From where we were it looked like this pole was on fire! People were not really in a state of panic, just kind of shocked and quiet!
After the excitement had subsided a little, I went over to survey the damage and noticed that up about 8 feet on one of the crossarms, of which there were 8, and they were going every which way, were about 8 or 9 insulators still intact! They were black from the smoke, but looked like some Hemingray 19's and maybe WT #1's. The power was off and all of you new collectors know the feeling! Yup! After most of the people had moved away, I found a ladder and up I went! They were still warm, but I managed to retrieve 3 WT# 1's, a Hemi 19, just to be safe, and two Locke 202's.
The next day when I examined them, to my surprise, the WT#1's were purple! And Mint! They didn't really mean that much to me then, but a nice "find" nonetheless. The Hemi 19 was aqua and common but I do remember that I recognized the CD 202 Fred M. Locke's, as I have always liked the 202's and still do to this day. I have several 202's in my collection today.
Although the WT #1 purples were common in my area, they did bring good swaps with other collectors in other parts of the country.
This is a recent picture of me in 1999 sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner.
Written by Larry Rogers,
Last updated Saturday, August 18, 2001
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