Needles to Goffs - 33 Miles of Open Wire

Frame of detailed write-up


By Denny Hackthorne

The year was 1963. I was approached by a gnarly old line foreman named Ray Rix.
“Denny, I got a wire stringing job from Needles to Goffs”. “You wanna go?”
“Where in the hell is Goffs?”
     “About 30 miles west of Needles in the middle of nowhere”
“Will there be any overtime?”
     Ray smiled and said “Nope no overtime,” we both knew full well it was impossible to work the job without overtime. This was Ray’s way of circumventing the rules so he could hand pick his crew.
“Who you got so far ?”
     “John, Berl, Donny, Rudy and yourself if you want to go” You must understand that compatibility is everything on a wire crew. Not only must you work together, you must play together.
“Count me in Ray.”

We set up a yard in a vacant field behind the motel in Needles, California. Ray had all the material delivered to the motel, arms, wire, glass, pins and point transposition brackets. Wooden boxes full of hardware that contained bolts, square washers, lags, cross arm braces, metal gains, sleeves and splint tie wires. The line wire was 128 solid copper wire in 200 pound coils which was promptly stolen. With no wire to place, Ray had us “frame” cross arms. We spent three days “framing” arms, (placing all the hardware on the arms).

The poles were existing with one full arm of wire. We were placing the second arm and wire on pins 3 and 4. The insulators were C S toll, (CD 128). The 128 copper wire was tied in with “splint ties”. Splint tie wires are actually two tie wires on each insulator. A splint is a preformed tie wire that is wrapped on the line wire with two ears that fit up to the insulator. The tie wire is then placed around the back of the insulator, then through the ears on the splint, pulled up tight to the glass, then back around the insulator and back to the splint, and then wrapped around the splint and line wire.

Rudy was the “block man”. The block man is the most important man on an open wire crew. He does not climb but must keep the wire in front of the linemen. He has a truck or trailer with “top hats” that hold coils of wire. As he drives along the lead, the wire pays off behind him. He must have wire in front of the linemen at all costs. In fact the block man is usually nuts, (Rudy fit right in). There was no road on this job. Rudy wrecked two trucks on the job. In some areas Ray Rix hired a D6 CAT to make a road. Rudy was scared to death of Rix. When Ray yelled and cussed at Rudy he would drive straight over a cliff.

The block man also “sags” the wire. A lineman ties a hand line around the new wire, climbs the pole, pulls the wire up and over the arm, (note, this is what is going on in Al’s painting). When all of the linemen have the wire on their arms the block man pulls each wire up to sag with a set of chain blocks. There are many complicated devices to measure the proper sag; however a good lineman just eyeballs it. After the wire is up to sag, it’s time to throw the tramps. If you have a transposition bracket on your pole, you yell, “tramp”. The block man lets off 4 clicks on the blocks and 4 clicks only on that pair of wires. Four clicks is the exact amount of slack that the tramp requires. Any more than 4 clicks will screw up the sag. You don’t want to ask for more slack if you can’t pull the wire into the tramp bracket, (remember the wire is up to sag and under tension). Sometimes it ain’t easy but you never ask for more slack. Rix is on the ground watching you and this is what you will get. “ # @$ %@%$ &# if you can’t throw a tramp I’ll get someone that can”. After all the tramps are thrown the wire is tied in. The tramps are not tied in.

We reached Goffs ahead of schedule. Rix was a happy camper. Open wire linemen are a vanishing breed, I am proud to have been part of it. It was not all peaches and cream. Open wire work can be more than you want at times. On the Goffs job I was the coldest I have ever been or will ever be. People tend to think of the desert as hot and it is. It can also get very cold. With Mr. Rix you always showed up for work no matter what. He would accept no excuses, hangover, beat up, sick, didn’t matter you worked. One day it was so cold my hands were numb. I had on heavy lineman gloves and could not feel any thing in my hands, not good when climbing poles. The wind was blowing off of the Sierra Nevada Mountains that were covered with snow. When you are up a pole there is no place to hide from the wind. That day was a milestone in the history of open wire. Ray Rix called off work that day and we returned to the motel and drank a lot of beer. Of course he expected the crew to do twice as much the next day.

In the old days if the job went well and the boss was happy he would throw a barbecue at the end of the job. It was usually out in the desert under the wire we just placed. The boss bought the steaks, beer and all the fixens. We would dig a large pit and place a grill over the pit. Guess what we used for the fire and coals? Wooden pins, yes the same ones that were used to hold insulators. We had gunny sacks full of brand new pins and they make great coals for a barbecue.

Ten years later, Al Riegler, (Big AL), made the same trip, placing 33 miles of open wire from Needles to Goffs on the very arms that I placed. The painting that you see was painted by Al from a picture that was taken on that job.

Denny Hackthorne and Alan (Big Al) Riegler signatures

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Written Saturday, December 4, 2010