I was born in Portland, Oregon in Feb., 1941. I grew up in the far south suburbs of Portland. I collected my first insulator in 1948. It was an aqua Hemingray CD-164. I would set it on the nightstand by the bed and the morning light from the window would shine through it. I marveled at the year written on it, "1893". I did not know what a patent date was. I liked the way the light would show the bubbles and flaws in the glass. I tried to understand what it was used for.
At this point, I would like to describe the scene at that time in my neighborhood and how the insulator was associated with it. We lived in what now is a well developed suburban area of Portland. But, in 1948, we were far enough out on the edge of town to be "in the sticks". With the exception of one or two main streets, the roads were gravel. The power poles were loaded with aqua glass insulators. In terms of what we know now, there were CD-162 and CD-164 aquas in use everywhere on the power poles. The primary distribution voltage was 2400 and used those insulators on both the 2400 and the 120/ 240 volt crossarms. The power pole that served our house was across the street and visible from our front window. The pole had 5 crossarms on it and every insulator was an aqua Hemingray except for 2 porcelain dead end spools on the 2400 V. top crossarm. The 2 crossarms in the middle supported an ancient black transformer. It was cast iron with fluted sides. Two lower crossarms each had 3 aqua CD-164 insulators, one crossarm was parallel to the street and the wires to our houses came from it. We had 3 individual wires to our house. There was no heavy, ugly twisted service drops in use yet. I found my first insulator under this pole, when some were removed by PGE.
On most of the power poles, below the power lines were 16 pin telephone crossarms, with a single crossarm on each pole. The open wire lines used what I remember now as CD-106 and CD-115 and CD-121 aqua, green and some clear single petticoat insulators. Further out in the country from us the West Coast Telephone Co. had open wire poles of their own, on the opposite side of the road from the power poles. They had miles and miles of 10 and 16 pin crossarms, loaded with glass. The side roads had wooden bracket lines with 3 or four pairs on each pole. Near my house the railroad crossed the river on a huge trestle, CD-145's galore! My uncle, worked for Pacific Telephone & Telegraph after coming home from WW 2 and I would pester him constantly with questions about the insulators and poles. I was a child obsessed with electrical and mechanical things and was not shy about asking a deluge of questions of anybody associated with the subject. Linemen, railroad and utility workers were all fair game. After my dad showed me a 3 wire wood bracket power line he built on trees from a previous house along a long driveway to the power pole, ( they let you do that in those days!) using aqua Hemingray CD-134 types, I would not leave him alone either! All those people would usually give me insulators and suddenly, I was a smart, but wacky kid that collected ... insulators ... not baseball cards or frogs! Eventually, my dad ended up with some of the glass from his power line to the old house and I still have 2 of those today, a Hemingray Standard and a Dec., 1871. It got so the local linemen from Portland General Electric Co. knew this inquisitive kid so well that they would give me insulators off the poles they were working on just to get rid of me and get on with the job. By this time, I had my own 16 pin crossarms up in a tree in the yard, loaded with glass.
Even though the roads were bad, about a half a mile away was an interurban trolley line, which we rode regularly. It ran right past my grade school, which was very distracting. Along the track were very tall cedar power poles. They were old and some leaned precariously. On the top was a 57,000 volt line with big multipart insulators. The next crossarm was 11,000 volts and used big aqua glass CD-289 Fred Locke and CD-282 Hemingray Provo insulators. I would have done almost anything to get one of those and I let the linemen know that. They would tell me hair-raising (literally) stories about how the hair on your arm would stand up when put near those 57,000 volt wires and about the poor lineman who got wrapped up in a live wire that fell during a storm and fried to death as a human coil. They taught me respect for power lines and that I could not just shinny up a pole and grab any jewel that I wanted. Across the track were more poles that held up the trolley wire and carried telephone and signal lines with some glass mixed with mud and best of all, the 600 volt trolley feeder line, supported on various types of Mickey Mouse ears and bat wing glass insulators, many of them CD-257. Of course, in addition to pestering the linemen, I homed in on every streetcar conductor and worker with a barrage of questions, often resulting in free rides. I knew every car by paint job and number and most of the operators. My neighbors, friends and people in the area, by now, regarded me as sort of a "different" kid.
Some years went by and now it is the early '50's. Progress was coming. Most of the stuff I described in previous paragraphs was being replaced. The telephone company took down most of the open wire crossarms and replaced them with cable. They would leave the job for the day with the crossarms and insulators just laying under the poles, sometimes for a week on people's front lawns. By now I had found a couple of friends with similar interests and we formed an ... Insulator Club! Our sole purpose was to enjoy collecting the different jewels and carry away as much discarded insulators, crossarms and hardware as we could pack away. I remember a whole street with glass on the ground, left for the day, SF and Star ponies galore. By, the next day, we had it all cleaned up for them! One of the power linemen suggested that we go the company warehouse in Portland and talk to them. He was sure that they would give us all of the insulators we wanted. Since we were too young to drive, we would get one of our dads to drive us there. I remember filling the trunk with so many insulators that the tires looked flat. The streetcars were going away and now we could pick up those Mickey Mouse insulators and the big aqua Converse jobs. Our collections were growing into the hundreds. I took many pole photos with my trusty Brownie.
My grandparents had a big beach house and motel at the Oregon coast near Rockaway Beach and my sister and I would stay there most of every summer while our parents were relieved to be rid of us for a while. The insulators there were very interesting and once again, I was out pestering the lineworkers. The telephone lines were mostly open wire with a lot of purple Whitall Tatum CD-154's and the Coast Guard had their own crossarm of open wire above the telephone wires along Highway 101. The power company was in poor shape and replacing many storm ravaged poles. I got to know the line crew and foreman and they would give me the big multiparts they were replacing. My grandmother was just learning to drive, in her old age and a good excuse to get her out to practice was when I would guide her to the spot where the Mountain States Power Co. crew was working. They would fill up the trunk of her little '51 Chevy with multiparts and we would be on our way! I got to know the power serviceman very well. One day he drove up in a brand new '52 Ford service truck, olive green with Reddy Kilowatt signs on both doors.
He let me ride with him all day on his service calls, answering my barrage of questions. What company would do that today? What with insurance, regulations, etc. But nobody seemed to worry, back then. During those days, I found my first gray M-3158 multipart insulator, in the brush under a pole. This find is now documented in Elton Gish's new book, "Multipart Porcelain Insulators 2nd Edition". I now have the only insulator of this type reported, but hope to find more for other collectors.
By 1954, our collections grew to phenomenal proportions. We were finding spots where old power insulators were replaced and having our mothers drive us 50 miles from town to be in the right spot at the right time. We now named the club the lofty title: Pacific Northwest Power Co. We had our own 40 foot power pole, erected in one member's back yard. We talked my dad into loading the pole on his pickup and trailer and hauling it there. We dug the hole, set the pole, rigged it with pole steps, crossarms and a transformer case, fuses and insulators. I made many drawings and I was typing letters to all the power company executives on the West coast, telling them about us and how we wanted insulators. They would send nice letters back, along with promotional literature and items and of course, insulators. I remember getting two white Imperial porcelain U-935-B's, a CD-286 Locke and a gray Victor M-4325 multi, all in one shipment. In Portland, the folks at the Pacific Power & Light Co. newsletter, the "Bulletin" found out about us and came to the house, photographed us and the insulators and published a nice article with photos, about us in the March, 1954 issue. I remember the neighbors, peering into the backyard, wondering what those "abnormal boys" were up to, with photographers and reporters. One gentleman, at Victor Insulators Inc., wrote asking what kind of Victor insulators we had and if we had any half-glass, half porcelain insulators. I think they wanted some for the company archives. I didn't even know there was such a thing! I should have been in northern California!
In 1957, now in our mid-teens, we started driving and working on our cars. Girls, beer and parties became more important than insulators, Our collections pretty much just disappeared, neglected and lost in the woods. Fathers and mothers just sort of "cleaned that stuff out of the yard". I now have less than 10 pieces from my "kid collection", lost some I really would like now and have 1 or 2 that I am glad I hung on to. One member's dad buried them in an old well. He now swears he is going to go to his dad's and dig them up someday!
In the early 60's, after I got out of the Air Force, I took all the military electronic communications knowledge I had and started working for some independent telephone companies. I started out as a lineman and later graduated to an installer-repairman. I had my choice of any insulators that I could find and started collecting again. I also worked for the railroad as a lineman and worked on many open wire lines. We would clean the poles of 3 or 4 crossarms of old glass and put up a new single pair open wire line on side brackets. The foreman didn't care if we re-used old insulators on the new line, as long as they were good and I remember putting up nice CD-145 beehives and CD-151's on brand new wood brackets! And yes, even that line is mostly gone now and couldn't stand the onslaught of microwave communication. But, my collection was growing again!
In the 1970's, I worked, traveling on the road in many Western states and had my climbers and belt in the van at all times, never missing the opportunity to "rescue" some old power or telephone insulators with no wire around. I walked local power lines and found multiparts in bushes. My second collection was growing fast. I patrolled many old power lines in the Northwest and "let myself in" to many old substations. Insulators and hardware were filling up my back yard now and inside my own house. Once again, friends and neighbors wondered what I was doing! It is the same way nowadays only my neighbors know that I am an electrician and electricians are supposed to have stuff like that!
In the early 1980's, I had an opportunity to rescue one of the old wooden streetcars that we rode when I was younger. It was being used as a rental cabin and scheduled to be destroyed. I joined the Oregon Electric Railway Museum and we trucked old car 1067 to our "Trolley Park" in the mountains, west of Portland. Here was a volunteer group with a large property operating trolleys by overhead electric wire on over a mile of track. The wire was supported on over a mile of wood poles also. They needed lines built for power, telephone and signals and I now had a place to put up all of the crossarms and insulators that I wanted. We built a nice looking open wire line and I had the choice of putting up jewels in a wide variety of types and colors. I was still climbing poles then and got plenty of exercise. In 1996, the museum lease was up and the whole facility was dismantled and moved to it's present location at Brooks, Oregon, just north of Salem. Once again we are now putting up poles, wire and insulators. We are building almost a mile of a replica 22,000 volt power line along the track using mostly donated M-2430 and M-2435 multipart insulators. This line terminates at a wooden structure outdoor substation that we are also building. It will not be energized but captures the historic look of an operating electric railway. We have received material donated by many well known insulator collectors all over the country. I am really too old to climb poles safely anymore and we now use a bucket truck for this.
Last year, I joined the Jefferson State Insulator Club, the only insulator club I have ever belonged to besides my own! A great bunch of people that have made some monumental discoveries. But as you might suspect from the last paragraph, I am not a full time insulator hobbyist. I am more of a multi-hobbyist with an interest in antique trolleys and autos, radios, phonographs, electric organs and telephones as well as any old electrical item that fascinates me. I still work 8 hours a day and am a homeowner with a 1912 house that needs this and that all the time. I have a very understanding wife (to a point!) Candice, that puts up with all my weird hobbies. I think that those are her words! So I don't have time for insulators constantly. I do enjoy doing research on old local power lines and searching for specific insulators from those lines. I feel extremely lucky to remember the old lines the way they were when I was young. Things have sure changed and the jewels that used to glisten in the sun, supporting important wires, are now glistening in the sun at swap meets and on the computer screen, supporting important collections.
Thanks for taking a few moments to read this and please, enjoy this hobby. There are some great (abnormal!) people in it that dare to take an interest in something different. Some very important and permanent pieces of the insulator puzzle have been put into place in the last 20 years, all due to dedicated and constructive research by individuals seeking and documenting the truth.
In 2007, the wife and I decided to move out of Portland, Oregon. since I was planning on retiring soon. We have always loved the coast and being near the ocean. It was always a 200 mile round trip from Portland but we went there often anyway. So we decided to try and move there. Luckily we found that my co-worker's grandmother was planning on moving out of her house on the Oregon coast. She had lost her husband and was in ailing health and needed to move to Portland, closer to relatives. So we looked at the place, decided it was what we wanted, sold our house in Portland and bought it. My wife moved in full time and 'held down the fort' while I commuted to work from a closer location, being merely a weekend visitor until I could fully retire in March 2009.
(also see my photo scrap book page 4)
We are now full time residents of Garibaldi, Oregon, Pop. 980. A small seaport and fishing city located on Tillamook Bay and 1.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is famous for good fishing and crabbing and has an annual "crab race" every year! Our house is on a low hill with a view of the bay and is on 5/8th of an acre with a large metal shop building also. The yard is big enough that, along with the shop, I have plenty of room for insulators. We are 4 miles from Rockaway Beach, on the ocean where my grandparents lived years ago, mentioned previously in this article. The 200 foot smokestack from the old lumber mill where my grandfather worked still stands in our view and is a town landmark. The town was named in 1867 for Giuseppe Garibaldi, a famous Italian patriot.
Being retired allows me more time for everything including beachcombing and my hobbies such as insulators. I now repair and restore porcelain power insulators and am supplying several hundred for the power line at a rail museum in California. I also sell salvage power line equipment on the Internet thanks to ICON. I have named my "company" Mill Stack Poweryard. I don't make a lot of money at it but enjoy it and think of it as a service to other collectors who may not be able to get what I have to sell. Keeping busy and enjoying what you are doing are important factors in a happy retirement!
Written by Mike Parker,Last updated Wednesday, December 7, 2011
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