My name is Dean; her name is Cathy; we collect insulators. Kind of like an AA meeting. We've found that collecting insulators is kind of addicting. Collecting glass supports our packrat instincts. Specifically, we collect glass insulators (and bottles too for that matter).
As I've said on the intro to our website, we both like old stuff, older than ourselves that is. Practically any glass insulator you come across is older than we are. Insulators used to carry a lot more of society's load than they carry today. They're still used on high voltage lines, and even low voltage (<600 volts) power distribution lines, but no more do they carry the long distance (or local) telephone signals, telegraph dots and dashes, railroad signals. Most of the insulators used today are ceramic. We don't much relish ceramic insulators, although many people do collect them.
I got interested in insulators the same way I got interested in another one of my hobbies, birdwatching. My early insulator hunting experiences took place in the mid 60s when I was a hormone-crazed teenager. Conducted through the peep sights of my trusty .22 rifle, many were the CD 145s, 152s, 154s, 155s, and 162s that fell prey to my sharpshooting skills. I've recently re-visited the scene of my past crimes. I can gladly say that I didn't kill anything particularly valuable.
I've always loved walking railroad tracks. I was raised in Northeastern Ohio, Youngstown to be exact. Steel was still king in the 1950s and 60s. In order to make steel, you needed a steady supply of coal to make coke, a steady supply of limestone to scrub impurities, and of course, iron ore itself, the mother of iron that is the base metal for steel. You needed water for processing and cooling. Basically, the raw materials were not available locally, except for limited amounts of limestone and coal, but the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys were strategically located between the coal fields of Appalachia and the Iron Ranges of northern Michigan and northern Minnesota. Transportation links were readily available to deliver the raw materials. The Great Lakes provided a water highway for the ore. Coal was first barged up (or down for that matter) the Ohio River, or transported directly by rail to the mills in "unit trains" (I think that's what my step-father-in-law Hal used to call them). The smoke and fire of the blast furnaces, the hot mills, U.S. Steel, the Ohio Works, Republic Steel, Youngstown Sheet & Tube, all are memories of my youth. Steel is no longer made in the Youngstown area today. It's cleaner there than I ever remember, but the economy was devastated and has never recovered.
To support the heavy industry, the area had numerous rail links. Strategically located between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, trains were continuously rolling through. The tracks beneath the Center Street bridge in downtown Youngstown were reputed to be the busiest tracks in the country at the time (50s and 60s). The lines I used to walk the most had 4 sets of tracks: two sets each for the Erie-Lackawanna and Penn Central. The Erie went belly-up, while the Penn Central was rescued from bankruptcy by the federal government and absorbed into Conrail.
I fled the horrible climate thereabouts as soon as I graduated from high school. Eventually, I ended up at Ohio U. in Athens. The Chesapeake and Ohio ran right through town, and through my happy hunting grounds out in Zaleski State Forest. By that time, I had little use for killing insulators, focusing instead on grouse and rabbits to supplement my sparse diet. It beat getting a job. I do remember plenty of insulators by those tracks too. Hopefully, I'll get back there one of these days to look for some insulators.
I was absent from the Youngstown area after living several years in Florida and eventually relocating here in California. Walking the railroad tracks in Florida is illegal, by the way. Basically, there are few railroads in San Diego: that's why LA is LA and San Diego was for years, only a sleepy Navy town. Rail routes out of San Diego go through LA. Little value was to be had by utilizing San Diego's fine natural harbor, when the trains upon which the goods were to be shipped needed to go to LA for trans-shipment east or north. The natural rail corridors into Southern California go through San Gorgonio Pass east of LA, and through Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino. A direct rail connection east out of San Diego wasn't constructed until John Spreckels, the sugar baron from San Francisco, built the San Diego & Arizona Eastern RR in 1919. The route goes in and out of Mexico at one point. At another point, the tracks cross numerous trestles and course through just as many tunnels as they cross the desert through Carrizo Gorge in the In-Ko-Pah Mountains. The tracks were regularly closed by flash floods and landslides. A gully-whumper back in 1916 delayed its completion for 3 years. Flash floods, tunnel collapses, and fires plagued the line from the time it was built. A tunnel collapse in 1975 did it in for good and the line was abandoned. Only dead carcasses of insulators remain out there, plus most of Carrizo Gorge is now in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, off-limits for collecting. Cathy and I like to hike the tracks though, as the views are breathtaking. It's about 10 miles round trip from Dos Cabezas Station to the big trestle and siding at Goat Canyon. Palm oases are scattered along Carrizo Creek, which appears and disappears irregularly into the sand, 1,000 feet below. The scenery out there is spectacular. We weren't out there last winter, but were the year before. I will take some pictures the next time. I know lots of you insulator buffs like trains too.
Sorry for reminiscing and rambling, back to insulators. I started metal detecting in 1982, and got interested in old bottles shortly thereafter. And yes, my earliest memories of old bottles were also through those very same peep sights. I definitely killed lots of nice old bottles (darn). Maybe my current hobbies reflect suppressed guilt, but I doubt it. I just like and appreciate pretty things, I reckon. After I met Cathy and we got together, we both came to the conclusion that insulators were rather pretty. When I was in NE Ohio in 1993, I popped a few off the poles down by the same tracks I walked when I was a kid. I also knew a place by a deserted road where some CD 121 tolls had fallen. I brought home about a half dozen total. They were real nasty looking from many years of exposure to train smoke and regular Youngstown air. The black crud on them didn't come off very easily. Eventually, I got it off by hours of work greenpadding them and scraping them with a razor blade. The results were only marginally acceptable, as the finish was somewhat compromised by greenpadding.
The next time I was in NE Ohio was 1995. Cathy was with me that time. We went down to the tracks and I climbed the poles. I popped off a bunch of 145s, 152s, and 154s and she caught them down below. Too bad back then I didn't know what I was doing. We gathered about 20 of them. We packed the insulators in our suitcases for the flight back to San Diego. Each bag weighed about 50 pounds I think, with all the other junk we normally haul, on top of the insulators. I thought I'd need another back operation by the time we got home. By that time, I'd seen the guys at work use aqua regia to clean optics. For you non-chemists, aqua regia is used to dissolve gold and platinum. It's made from 3 parts concentrated hydrochloric acid mixed with 1 part concentrated nitric acid. Pretty gnarly stuff. Aqua regia smokes and gives off choking odors after its mixed. I donned my heavy neoprene gloves, splash goggles and half-mask respirator equipped with acid gas cartridges. After a 24 hour soak in that stuff, the train grime came off with just a light scrub with the green pad. They were sparkling clean when I was done. I sat them in our window sills around the house. A few years later I learned about oxalic acid and it seems to work just as well in most cases. I still keep the same original batch of aqua regia around for the "toughies".
We were back in Ohio in 1997. By then I had researched insulators on the web and realized that most of the ones that I'd shinnied up old telegraph poles to get were Hemi-42s and 40s and essentially worthless. I got a few more 145s in nice shape and found one CD 147. We brought a lot less home that year. I also started buying a few at antique stores, swap meets and over the internet. I was amazed at the variety of colors. I don't recall seeing very many different colors while walking the railroad tracks, but now that I think about it, all the insulators there were a yukkie black.
Our collection grew modestly. We are mostly into shapes and colors. In 1999, the company for whom I worked was decommissioning an explosive testing facility located on a remote part of a military base. Part of the decommissioning involved removing power poles that went up a hill to some gizmo on an old water tank. They were 110 volt lines that were strung a quarter of a mile or so through the thick chaparral. I volunteered for the duty. The main guy put a lift cage on the forks of a big forklift and lifted me up to the wires. I snipped the wires and removed the insulators. A couple of the poles were inaccessible with the forklift. I was trying to figure out how to get them down. I grabbed a down wire that was previously supported by one of the insulators that I'd already clipped and removed. I gave it a sideways yank and the whole pole came crashing down. Seems that these poles were about 60 years old and the termites had been having a field day with them for the last 30 years. The only thing that was even holding these poles up was paper thin wood and the wires strung between them.
I got some pretty cool insulators from this exercise. Most of them were CD 162s, with one CD 145 thrown in for good luck. Very few of them were duplicates, which I thought was rather odd. Apparently, whoever strung them up must have just grabbed a mess of them from some pre-WWII salvage pile and had at it. Included amongst the 162's were a couple sky blue "McLauchlins", a couple steel blue McLaughlins, a light purple Maydwell, a straw Maydwell, a couple light green McLaughlins, a Hemi blue Hemi-19, a couple different aqua Lynchburgs and several aqua-ish shades of Brookfields. The 145 was an H.G. Co. Petticoat in either light green or "greenish tint", whatever that is. If anyone reading this wants to render an opinion, please do. The nice things about these insulators is that they were sparkling clean to begin with. Nothing but clean southern California smog to mess them up out there. Most of them were mint, but some had small chips. All displayed well. Finding insulators instead of buying them sure is fun, even if they're run-of-the-mill.
Much of our collection wasn't found and isn't discussed here, but is displayed. Click on the item in the table of contents to the left to see a picture.
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Thanks for visiting. Come back again sometime. More insulators may be added, or maybe I'll add some train pictures. If you got here directly and have time to burn, check out the rest of our websites. Hit the NEXT link at the bottom of the TOC.
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