1986 >> February >> Searching For Insulators In Winter  

Searching For Insulators In Winter
by Eric Halpin

Reprinted from "Crown Jewels of the Wire", February 1986, page 16

This is the first of four seasonal stories which will be submitted to Crown Jewels over the next year. They are based on true experiences that have occurred to the writer during the past ten years. 

It had been about 3-1/2 months since I had been out looking for that CD 143 gem to add to the collection, and the confinement was showing. So the decision was made -- get out and search despite the cold and deep snow. With three days off coming up, I had plenty of time to look over my maps. Reports indicated that the wires had been removed from the lines in an area about 100 miles from here. This was deemed choice territory for the trip.

My back-pack was carefully filled with items needed for the trip. Matches, a small survival kit, extra socks, sunglasses, lip cream, pole strap, climbing hooks and waist belt, binoculars, thermos, food snacks, and maybe most important of all, toilet tissue. It was expected to be -25 degrees Fahrenheit with a moderate wind chill. Clothing consisted of thermal long underwear, heavy wool socks, flannel shirt, jeans, coveralls, jacket, hat, lined leather mitts, and snow boots. Fully dressed with pack, my gross weight must have increased by 50 lbs., but it feels like 100 lbs. After leaving exact map coordinates of where I was planning on going with my wife and having filled the gas tank, I was ready for an early start the next morning.

Up by 7 a.m., a light breakfast and I'm off. Yes, I can really feel the excitement start to build. It's a two hour drive and the time goes ever so slowly as the route has been driven so many, many times before. Finally I made it. Now, to find a spot where I can safely park on the side of the highway and hope a snowplow doesn't come along. Out of the car into the sunshine, pack on the back and the cold fresh air already is stinging the face. But not for long. You see, on the other side of the guardrails is a ditch level full of snow, and there is no way my now 225 lbs. can walk over 6 feet of snow. I'm thinking -- Boy, I must get snow shoes someday. I am up above my waist in heavy snow, half walking, half crawling and dragging myself to the opposite ridge. After 10 minutes I'm there, but I can't move as my arms and legs feel like lead. I can see the steam rising from my clothing due to the strain. My heart is pounding and I think -- Am I having fun yet? Finally I force myself to rise and move along through some 3 feet of snow, until finally after 1/4 mile I make the railway tracks. Again I must rest and end up lying in a snow bank for several minutes; the worst is over. Fortunately, I can see the wires have in fact been removed and my excitement perks up again.

The snow between the rails is only about 1 foot deep but walking is surprisingly tiring. I had forgotten just how tough snow can make travel but continue I do, with rest breaks every 1/2 hour. Tiring yes, but beautiful beyond description. This is rugged country full of high cliffs and gorges. It is almost silent except for my own plodding crunch of boot on snow and labored breathing. The pines are heavy with snow and the color contrast is almost black under white. Lakes are a frozen plain, criss-crossed with the paths of moose and the stalking wolf. I pick up a companion, a “whiskey jack", a large inquisitive bird and nearly tame. Overhead, large ravens swoop and play a game of chase.

The insulators, oh they are here all right, lots of them. Six Dominion-42's on the top crossarms, 2 U-1131's of white porcelain, two Hemi 145's, and two 143's on the bottom crossarms. The snow on the crossarms makes identification difficult. The binoculars help here a lot to tell me if a piece has a mold, base style, and embossing. I look at hundreds of insulators with the glasses before I see one that is of interest. Well covered in snow, it is just a bit odd in color for a CD-143. Off the rails I go, across a deep but short ditch, up a 6 foot rock wall onto a ledge. The snow is again deep, so in a half walk half crawl, I get to the pole base. It still looks good from 15 feet below, so on go the hooks and belt and up I climb. Now this is fun! In seconds I am at the pin and brush away the snow. Wow! It's a nice G.N.W. in green and looks mint.

Well I'll just unscrew this baby and, but wait! It's not that easy. You see, the insulator has been on that pin for a long time and it doesn't want to come off, especially with my leather mitts on. So off come the mitts, one makes my hip pouch and the other falls into the snow. Now imagine what happens when my warm, clammy hands touch the -20 degrees Fahrenheit glass. Presto, instant ice and pain. It takes a real effort to break the sealing bond between the glass and pin, but off it comes, and into the pouch it goes. Down I climb, heart pounding partially from the effort. Now I sit in the snow and admire the beauty. For sure it will go into the collection with all its cousins.

It has been 3 hours since I left the car and a light snow is falling with ever increasing winds. There is no sun now and all colors begin to merge into a white or gray-green. In the distance the expected unit coal train, laden with 10,000 tons of western Canadian coal, can be heard winding its way east. The snow can easily muffle a train's noise especially with wind and my head and ears covered from the cold. I must be on the alert when I am back between the rails. I decide that after 1 more hour I will head back to the car. And so the routine continues, of walking along between the rails, stopping and scanning each pole with the binoculars. Periodically I see a Hemi 145 in olive green, or a no-name 132 in gray or blue, but I am only after the CD-143. Seldom do I bother the others unless they are quite special.

That train is now getting too close, so off the tracks, thru the ditch and up under the poles at the tree line to await its passage. Over a cup of hot, sweet tea I glance at the next pole and, no, it can't be. I move closer, drawn like a magnet, eyes growing wider with the approach. Half covered in snow, but still partially exposed, is a light green Withycombe. I know this type has 24 ridges and is a nice item for trade. I finish my tea and snack as the train arrives. The thunder of the diesel's strain is upon me in moments. A huge wide snow cloud spreads as the engines and cars speed past. The ground and trees shudder with the trains passing. Within minutes the 80 unit train is gone and silence fills the void. On go the hooks, belt and pole strap and up I climb again. As I hungrily reach and touch the insulators surface, my heart sinks as I know what my hands are telling me. On the opposite side of the insulator, most of the crown, dome and skirt are missing. The damaged side was covered in snow and my hopes are to no avail. I wonder so often what broke the glass way up here on the pole. Was it a hunter, a wind swung branch, or a piece of ice from a railway snow plow? I don't know if I am more disappointed for myself or the insulator itself, its beauty marred by an unknown process.

This day a dozen or so poles were climbed and 4 insulators were kept. The long, slow walk and ever increasing cold take their toll on my return. There is no spring to my step as my leg and back muscles are beginning to ache. My lips feel dry and cracked despite applications of cream. And that ditch to traverse to get back to the car... the thought of it makes me wonder what am I doing out here? 

Back home I know why I was there. The adventure of seek and search for the insulators, surrounded by nature's beauty. The satisfaction of preserving a few more insulators in my collection and trading extra's to other collectors who have the same feeling. 

Yes, I did have fun! But, I can hardly wait for spring.

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