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It all started in July 2006 when we decided to head out to the original Transcontinental Railroad grade, west of the Golden Spike National Historic Site which is located at Promontory, Utah in Box Elder County. Being very new to the hobby, we were under the false impressions left by collectors who had been out there in the 60’s, and assumed that anything we found was ours for the taking. We packed a lunch, plenty of water, and a couple of guns to do some target practice and perhaps worry a jackrabbit or two. We kept our eyes open as we hiked along, hoping to find one of the original ramshorn or threadless insulators, both of which we had never seen firsthand. We hiked and drove for a couple hours seeing nothing but dusty desert sage, some hemingray signal shards, a telegraph stump or two, and little else.
After some time we took our lunch break, re-hydrated, and started to walk in the other direction. This time we got lucky and found quite a surprising jewel. Sitting just atop the baked surface of the desert was a perfect half of a threadless telegraph insulator! This particular one was part of the original telegraph line put up in 1869. That makes this particular piece of glass 138 years old! It was our first threadless find and at the time we were elated.
That is when we made our first mistake. We proceeded to take the threadless half and wrap it up to take home, oblivious to the fact that we were on BLM administered public lands. During the course of the next year and a half, (until December 2007) we made four more trips out to the area and collected other insulators or insulator related artifacts that we came across. This would come to include a mint California, four ‘specimen’ grade insulators from the 1870’s, tie wires, side pins, and an wooden telegraph cross arm, also from the 1870’s, along with various other pieces. We posted pictures of our ‘hunts’ and received many positive e-mails as a result.
After our December outing, we were told that our pictures had come to the attention of the Bureau of Land Management Ranger in our region. After some deliberation, we decided to remove the photos so that other collectors would not potentially violate the law in the event that this proved to be the case.
This was literally brought home when we received a visit from two BLM officers in February 2008. It was a tremendous shock to learn that we had been illegally taking historical artifacts from federal lands protected by one or more federal and /or state laws. Most would think, well it’s just sitting there on the ground and maybe if I remove it, I will be protecting it from being shot, and I won’t be breaking the law. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, by removing the insulator or artifact, you are removing it from it’s historical context and from the public domain. By removing all the artifacts we collected we were essentially stealing them from the public, and in the process, breaking the law.
Because it involves Federal Law, we were facing the possibility of being charged with a felony. If convicted, the consequences are many: fines, jail time, losing the right to own firearms and the right to vote, as well as employment limitations.
Fortunately, prosecution was avoided in return for our full cooperation in the investigation. The first requirement was to return all of the artifacts collected along the original grade west of Promontory. The second requirement was to have this letter posted on the insulators website to educate others about removing artifacts from protected areas. If it all works out, the artifacts we collected may end up back at the Promontory Museum for all to see and appreciate.
[Webmasters note: a final requirement was that the Bureau of Land Management Ranger for this region post a response relating to this incident]
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Written Friday, June 20, 2008