1985 >> November >> An Amazing Story The Miller Twin Pin  

An Amazing Story - The Miller Twin Pin
by Mike Bruner

Reprinted from "Crown Jewels of the Wire", November 1985, page 17

This is a story about two dreams becoming reality. A dream 13 years ago that became a reality for two wonderful people from northern Michigan, and a dream that became a reality for me this year.

Few people have ever seen a C.D. 138.9 Twin Pin, and for 13 years only three people ever knew a mint specimen existed. 

One day, on a visit to Mr. & Mrs. Stewart Miller's home in Michigan, I was invited in to see their collection. A wonderful collection it was! After a lengthy stay, Mrs. Miller said, "I want to show you something upstairs." There in the china cabinet (of all places) sat the most unbelievable insulator I have ever seen. A Twin Pin that was dug at the same time from the same dump as the other 5; BUT, this specimen was priceless -- it was MINT. I thought my heart stopped for a moment. I was truly breathless. I don't think I slept much that night and my thoughts for the next year or so were to acquire that insulator -- no matter what. 

After several negotiations, a price was agreed upon. I really believe the Millers would never have parted with their prize if they thought it was not going to a good home. I want to thank them for their trust in me.

I really find it amazing that the mint specimen was kept a secret for all these years. Maybe this will encourage others to "beat the bushes" in their pursuit of elusive specimens.

Here is the story of the "Miller Twin Pin" as told by the Millers.


THE TALE OF THE TWIN PIN

It was clearly a case of love at first sight, but we were assured that it was to be one of unrequited love. "Here is one that I'll never part with!" Les said as he pointed to the mint specimen of what was to be known as the "Miller Twin Pin Insulator."

We had been collecting insulators only for a short time, but had read several books on the subject, and this was nothing like anything we had ever seen or even heard of.

The color was nothing striking - a light aqua, and the only mark on it was "PATENT APPLIED FOR" - but the shape! The darned thing had a traditional head with one wire groove, but joined on like a Siamese twin was a shorter part with the same marking AND a place for a second pin!

"Yes, I found this up in your part of the country when I was digging dumps last year. I have asked every electrical and telephone man I know about it, but no one has ever heard of any such thing. This is one that I am NOT going to part with," he said again.

It looked nice up there on the shelf of his cabinet, along side of his Chambers and a couple other rare ones, so we admired it and moved along -- reluctantly -- to the many available insulators he had.

Lester had been accumulating insulators for a year or so. As with all his hobbies, he had pursued it with much energy. This was the period when they were taking out many of the above ground telephone and telegraph lines in his part of the state. He and his wife, Ruth, covered many of these lines as they were being torn down and had brought home thousands -- or so it seemed -- of the insulators, some good, some just insulators. Most of these had been stored in oil drums to save, but the oldest and best he had in his shop.

While he collected over quite an area, he did not enjoy dealing through the mail, and luckily there hadn't been too many local collectors in to skim the cream off his efforts.

Isabella had known him and his parents when they had lived in Harrison. When we were visiting with his father in Florida, he told us to be sure to stop and see Lester as he had thousands of insulators and lots of interesting "junk".

So here we were, there IT was and we had no thoughts of ever getting it, but were just thrilled to have seen it.

"I have a couple of broken ones that you can have," Lester said and brought them out of one of the drawers.

The first was the best -- all the base and half of the large head was there and for many months it was the high light of our collection. The second one was a complete base but only had about 3/8" of the large head -- broken off almost square. These two we swapped for. Luckily, we turned down a modest offer for the poorer specimen from another collector.

Lester is one of those fortunate souls who can take on a new hobby, ride it hard, and then as interest gradually lags, trade off the collection without regret and gleefully dash off in pursuit of a new interest. It was this trait that gave us a faint hope of getting some of his "untouchables" sometime.

We made several trips down there buying and trading. Each time we would get him to dig into a few more containers of insulators. While he had them pretty well sorted as to types, there were still some very interesting variations in color and markings that really sent us. It certainly was a thrill unwrapping each and every one not knowing for sure what might emerge -- I really believe that he had as much fun watching us as we had in unwrapping them! We bought and wrapped heavily, building our collection and swapping stock.

Finally the hoped for letter came saying that they had decided to get one of those new Dodge Sportsman's Van. These ran several thousand dollars and he had decided to part with his collection of insulators.

It was late in the day when we got the letter so we packed up a bundle of folding green stuff and EARLY the next morning we headed south.

As always, he was more than fair with his prices. In addition to having become very good friends, he was happy to see that much of his collection would be kept intact and available for him to see anytime he wanted to. So, in a sense, he was having his cake and eating it too!!

We left the pricing of the items to him and he put a very reasonable price on the Twin Pin. He has a wonderful psychology when it comes to selling, and one that we try to emulate. "If I get the price I ask, I am happy, and if you can make money on it, I am even happier!"

As we completed the deal for the Twin Pin and Isabella CAREFULLY unwrapped it and put it in her purse (she wasn't going to trust THAT to any packing box!) he said "Say, Iíll tell you where this came from. I cleared out everything there so I am not going to bother to go back. You might find some pieces of them or something." This we had hoped for, but hadn't expected.

He gave us directions ending with "...When you break over the hill, you'll see a farm in the distance. You'll see this old railroad bed on the right side of the road. There is a place you can park about half way down. Walk down the grade a ways and you will see a stone foundation with a lot of brush growing about it. That is where the dump is. There will be the remains of a lumber wagon and this oil drum on its side with a lot of broken insulatorsÖ Good Luck!!"

We got home late that night and gloated over the new treasures that we were able to add to our collection. The next day was cloudy and cold but we knew that it wasn't long till deer season -- and deer season just isn't a good healthy time to go poking around in the brush! Besides the lure of insulator hunting was upon us. So we packed up a lunch; our probes, our shovels, our raincoats, rubber gloves, our dog "Misty" and took off.

We finally broke over the hill and spotted the railroad grade as Lester had said. We parked the station wagon as inconspicuously as possible (Did you ever try to hide a WHITE station wagon in anything but snow?) and started down the old grade.

Isabella was ahead, and while I was looking out in the field for the `foundation' she was checking the ground near the edge of the grade where it was grown up with tag alders, etc.

"I found it" she called and I headed for the place with all the enthusiasm of an archaeologist in an Egyptian mummy field.

It was definitely the place! There was the dump of bottles and tin cans; the old wagon, and finally the oil drum, rusty and lying on its side spewing pieces of insulators into the grass and marshy ground.

"But, where's the foundation?" I asked, a little envious that I had been so far afield. We finally agreed that he must have meant the concrete culvert over the stream and the rocks that they had put on the slopes of the grade to cut down on erosion.

We started pawing thru the broken and chipped insulators with great enthusiasm but with caution for their razor like edges. We soon found that he had indeed gone over the barrel very thoroughly -- but discovered a couple definite pieces of another twin pin. There were several different kinds of insulators perhaps a dozen different, the best of which was an OVG Co. Signal, scattered about, many below the surface of the turf. Isabella started probing and digging and came up with a few pretty good ones and a couple more fragments.

While she was doing that I spread out a raincoat on the marshy ground by the barrel and for the next three hours sat there sorting through the mess and picking out suspicious fragments and putting them in baskets. They seemed to be a slightly different shade which helped a lot.

Isabella had just about covered the rest of the field. One place she located some Hemingray #12 about 20 feet away by a big flat rock. From the broken pieces it looked as though kids had carried them over there and then thrown rocks at them. We found a few more among the rocks that lined the grade, as though they had been carried that far and then ditched.

After about three hours we had gotten pretty cold and had covered everything, so we picked up our loot and headed back for home.

That evening the kitchen floor resembled nothing as much as a bombed out glass factory! Isabella washed the fragments to get the dirt and mud from them, and we started sorting. A closer inspection of many revealed drip points or fragments of inscriptions that relegated them to the dump box. The other shards were put on the floor where I sat trying to fit together 5 simultaneous three dimensional jigsaw puzzles. We got down the two incomplete ones that we had gotten from Lester and started in. It was pick, try, cuss a little, and try again. As they eventually combined I brought rubber bands and finally masking tape into play so as to get the contours to show.

We didn't keep track of the time but it was several hours before we were done trying all the possible combinations, and gloated over the fact that we had five specimens, but still didn't have a complete base for the one we got from Lester.

The next morning Isabella said that she would like one more chance at finding that piece, and one other piece that we needed. So, even though there was a freezing rain falling, we returned on what I was sure was a wild goose chase.

She probed and dug while I went over the barrel "just one more time!" I did come up with a handful of possible missing links. With victory so close I was taking even the most improbable ones that I had passed up the time before.

Isabella was probing about 10 feet from the barrel when she held up a chunk of glass and said "This is it!" "NO, itís too big." I said and thought. But knowing how good her hunches are, and how poor some of my guesses are, she brought it along anyway.

She unlocked the door and went in first as we got home while I was getting the stuff out of the car, and when I entered the kitchen there she was holding the insulator in one hand and the new chunk of glass in the other. "LOOK!" she said with a happy grin on her face -- and it fit perfectly!

One small piece that I had sorted out likewise fit and she tackled the painstaking job of restoration.

It took several days of spare time. She washed the pieces perfectly clean then with much patience, skill, masking tape and casting plastic, she did a beautiful job.

The results were that the two bases that we got from Lester were completed and three more were reconstructed from the fragments that we brought back. This added to the one mint specimen that we got from Lester made the grand total of six known specimens.

As I have mentioned, there was no record of this insulator in any book, so we took pictures of the mint one -- with one of the others lying on its side to the twin threaded and sent it to Frances Terrill of the Old Bottle Magazine and asked her if she could help us.

We were quite flattered when she published the photo plus one of her drawings in the April 1971 issue of the Old Bottle Magazine and gave the "Insulator of the Month" award. It was she who christened it the Millers Twin Pin.

We also sent a copy of the photo to Mr. and Mrs. Milholland, who where likewise impressed with it. They, along with Mr. Mulinhoff went to great trouble to try to find out something about it, but to no avail. Nor did the article in the OBX bring more data to light, nor any record of other specimens.

The Milhollands wrote that Mr. Woodward was going to visit them for insulator research and would like to see one of these at that time as Mr. Woodward was skeptical as to their authenticity. So we packed up our second best specimen and sent it out to them.

It was returned in due course with their sincere thanks and the satisfying note that Mr. Woodward was convinced of its legitimacy and had assigned it the consolidated design number of CD 444. The Milhollands said that they had given it a nice write up in their new hard covered book and included a full page photostat of how it would appear.

We had a number of people write us with the hopes of getting one of the reconstructed jobs, but we decided to wait for a while to see if anyone came up with any more and to get some idea of value.

On our trip down to Rodney Wing's -- probably the biggest insulator dealer in the country, we took one along and he was very enthusiastic over it. Then Mr. Milholland called and asked what value we thought should be on it for the catalog. We had no idea and left it to him, and were pleased with his decision.

We also took pictures of the entire lot and saved them for our files.

On another trip to Wings, he offered us an ultra rare specimen of the Pluto or Dog Ear, CD 181, for one of the poorer reconstructed ones, so we parted with our first.

Then this fall, the Milhollands stopped and spent most of the day. We were very impressed by them both and enjoyed the visit immensely. He expressed a desire for even the worst of the reconstructed. So in recognition of their help and interest, we swapped them it for a mint Tillotson threadless that we had always wanted.

We have puzzled long over the history of these insulators... Why they were in the barrel... Did the barrel come on the wagon or were they rolled off the embankment...What was the connection with the railroad, etc.

The railroad was a spur line that is mentioned in the Polks, Michigan directory of 1897 and 1907 -- but that is about it. We walked several miles of this grading but the only thing that we found were a half dozen #19 Hemingrays that are still in use on an electric line that uses the grade, so its doubtful if there is any relation to the barrel.

So that leaves us with several theories. 1. When the railroad line was torn out in the early 1900s, they were first going to salvage the insulators and put them in the barrel, then gave up the idea and ditched the barrel at this point. 2. These might have been an accumulation of miscellaneous insulators from the main freight depot and just dumped here in a clean-up campaign. 3. This was a barrel of salvaged insulators bought for use on this spur line. We have not yet been able to find whether the line was built by the main line or whether it was put in by private enterprise, like a logging company. If this last premise is so, this barrel might have been part of the "assets" of the spur line that were sold to the main RR company and then just ditched as not worth taking. 

So -- You pays your money and you takes your choice. 

It is interesting to note that there were at least three different shades of glass denoting three different batches of insulators, so there should be more around SOMEWHERE (but where??).

It will be noted that these were marked Patent Applied For - so far no one has come up with any patent data, so it is fairly safe to assume that there was no patent issued.

But what is the purpose of this unusual shape, and how were the insulators attached?

It is the consensus of opinion of the various linemen that we have asked that these were intended for use on curves or in places where strain and vibration might cause the regular type insulator to unscrew and loosen.

Fastening them to the cross arms is another curiosity. Since two pins must be used, it is impossible to screw one onto pins already in place on the cross arm. Therefore, we believe that the pins were put into the insulator first and then placed in specially drilled cross arms and fastened with the usual nail driven through the arm and into the pin. While regular wooden pins will fit both threads -- it seems obvious that a shorter pin would have to be used for the shorter `head'! 

So now you know all that we know about the Miller Twin Pins -- the only difference is that we got 'em -- you ain't -- so start looking!



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