In 1956 I was a young man living in Los Angeles. I became aware that the Pacific Electric Railway Company was in the process of removing lines along some of their railroad right-of ways.
The Pacific Electric Railway Company was a large inter-urban railroad that covered Los Angeles and surrounding areas. It was intimately linked to the Southern Pacific Railroad, and later was absorbed into that Company.
I decided to pay a visit to the main office of the Pacific Electric, located at 610 South Main Street, Los Angeles, 14, California.
The gentleman I spoke to there smiled and thought it quite funny that anyone would want old insulators, but told me that he would pass my request along to the manager of the "Brass House".
The Brass House was a warehouse in the Southern Pacific yard used to hold surplus parts and scrap metal such as brass prior to re-use, or sale to scrap dealers.
On August 22, I received a letter from H.H. Hamilton, the purchasing agent for the Pacific Electric Railway. It follows below verbatim:
Referring to your recent call at this office stating you wish to purchase Glass Insulators from overhead lines being removed.
We now have 500 of these Insulators which we will sell for $10.00 plus sales tax. Kindly send your check in amount of $10.40 payable to Pacific Electric Railway Company to this office and when received we will arrange to have Insulators ready for your pickup.
These Insulators are at the Southern Pacific Company storeroom which you can reach by driving out Mission Road to Richmond Street which is a street that runs from Mission Road into the S.P. Yards. Inquire at office at end of street for the "Brass House" where Insulators are stored.
On August 28, 1956 I hauled away a truck full of insulators from the Brass House. All the insulators were black from years of coal smoke and industrial pollution. After cleaning and sorting, I had the following:
About 20% of the pieces were damaged, and I discarded them. Of the rest, those that I did not need for my personal collection were given to the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety for use on the Gamewell pull box fire alarm circuits. It is possible that some of them are still on the poles in Los Angeles today.
I don't know if the Gamewell fire alarms are still in operation. In Houston they were removed about 10 years ago, but the insulators were left in place on brackets; probably because the city had no further use for glass insulators, and did not want to take the trouble to take them down. They are only removed when they are in the way of some new cable being placed on the pole. They can still be seen commonly in the downtown area. Most are clear CD #155, with an occasional CD #162.
It is not that rare to find vestiges of the Gamewell systems in cities and towns large and small in the northeast. Look for poles painted with a two foot red section with white ends about five feet from the ground. This is where the fire alarm pull boxes were. They may be gone, but the paint will be there until the pole comes down. Paul Rubin was recently driving through a town in New Jersey and discovered a dismantled system that had its own crossarms and three separate circuits. Many of the insulators were still on the line.
The more observant among you might have noticed that the total number of insulators I actually received was only 497, not the promised 500. I never requested a refund of the moneys due me; six cents, plus tax.
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Disclaimer: All information presented here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. It is based on research, personal correspondence, interviews with reliable sources, site visits, etc. When speculation is made, it will be clearly stated as such, and any relevant information used to make statements, whether inductive, deductive, or purely tangential will also be stated. It is not implied that this information is definitive, or total. We are dealing with historical information that was not documented carefully, if at all. I encourage all corrections, comments, criticisms, etc. Please remember that the goal is to increase the knowledge of the insulator community.
COPYRIGHT 1997 by Paul T. Rubin
N.R. Woodward Associates
PO Box 171, Houston, TX 77001-0171
Last updated Monday, November 25, 1996