1993 >> April >> Hunting For Mushrooms  

Hunting for "Mushrooms"
by Steve Jones

Reprinted from "Crown Jewels of the Wire", April 1993, page 9

My interest in insulators began as an interest in becoming a lineman. When I was three, I remember my father bringing me to downtown Mt. Kisco, New York. where we lived next to New York Central's Harlem line. He was going to get his paper, and get me my candy bar. On the way, a crew from Con Edison was replacing an ancient gray pole, and apparently I sat down and watched. That's when I became interested in poles and power distribution. This interest flourished as I began drawing poles and lines in just about every coloring book I owned. 

When we moved to Connecticut in 1976, my father took my brother and me walking along one of the local abandoned railroad beds. The New Haven Railroad had been kind enough to chop down the old poles and leave them where they fell. I was fascinated by all the crossarms. braces, pins, and wood cobs left on the pins. It wasn't until my father kicked up 3/4 of a 1907 Barclay's insulator that I became interested in insulators. I became quite adept at scratching and searching around old poles and railbeds. I began to notice insulators still in service and kept tabs on when the poles they sat on were replaced. I soon noticed these odd-shaped brown porcelain insulators on a power line that ran along an old trolley line in the next town. We drove this way often, and I wondered what on earth they were. I had noticed previously that there were mostly two types of insulators on the line; new modern styles and the old standard two-piece styles. These odd ones looked like the modern ones with the large rounded skirt, but then there was this long piece of porcelain covering the pin. I wondered what they were. Could it be a porcelain pin? How about a separate piece? I searched around these poles but could find nothing but a few pieces from the large rounded skirts. I called them mushrooms, and it seemed no one I explained it to was able to tell me what they were; not even my uncle who worked for Connecticut Light and Power. 

As I grew older, and somewhat wiser, I was able to tell these were a two-piece insulator, probably an umbrella type. Still I had no pieces to go by nor any connections to get any, and these were the only ones I had seen in Connecticut. I gradually forgot about them through high school and college. Then one day in the local paper there was an article explaining how C.L.& P. was going to redo this line and convert the entire town of Middlebury from 4 KV to 13.8 KV. At that time, the line the mushrooms insulated was a 13.8 KV feeder to the 4 KV distribution line that ran underneath. I immediately drove back along the line to see what was happening. New poles now followed the road instead of the old abandoned trolley bed, and they had put up crossarms with the new type plastic vise-top insulators. They had started to string cable on the new poles already. I followed their progress for several months until I saw that they had stripped the old poles of their crossarms. I pulled over by a section that stood down an embankment from the road. Past experience told me that this was a good place to look, since the crew was less likely to go down the bank to get whatever fell. My brother and I ran across the road and jumped down the bank to the old trolley bed that the line used to serve many years ago. I ran to the first old pole and found crossarms, braces, nuts, bolts, and pins but no insulators. DARN! I made my way to the next pole. Nothing. I knew that several of these had had the old mushrooms, but where were they? On to the next pole. This one I definitely knew had used them. I found two smashed ones among the big rocks. DRAT! . Then I heard my brother' s voice from the pole I had just searched, "I found some!". I couldn't believe it. There were three of the old mushrooms at the foot of the pole, where I hadn't bothered to look. We brought them with us, and I examined them more closely later. I couldn't find any embossing on them, except for a faint date on the top of the wire groove where it wasn't glazed. Seeing only date markings, I figured that these were probably made by Pittsburg. Two were dark brown in color, and the other was reddish-brown. One gave the year 1912, the second had no year marked on it, and the third said 1915. These were much older than I had thought. I began to wonder whether these were originally installed by CL&P or by the trolley company. The main thing was that they had survived all these years, I became curious about the dates. I also noticed that there were two styles to the wire grooves. The insulator marked 1912 had squared wire groove edges while the 1915 insulator had pointed wire groove edges.

I returned a few months later to retrieve those pieces I had left behind, and also to get a picture of the one remaining pole using 6 of these insulators. I was disappointed to find the one last remaining pole gone, as well as the pole next to it that had used three large Hewlett disks for dead ends. I sighed, put the cap back on the camera and returned to get  those pieces. Down over the bank I jumped, and soon I was retrieving pieces of the two smashed mushrooms. Both had broken on the rocks after being dropped 35 feet off the pole, and both had shattered the same way: the lower skirt was mint, but the upper skirt was 75% gone. I tried to get as many pieces as I could, but I never seem to get them all. I looked over at the old crossarm lying on the ground. One, two, three pins still on it. Then it hit me; I only found the pieces to two insulators. Where was the third? From my past experiences on this section of line I had found a lot of smaller insulators in the woods a bit. I turned around and started looking. In a minute I spotted the third insulator, upside down in the brush. I grabbed it and drained out the water left in the skirts. It was mint, and had a 1912 date. I couldn't believe my luck! I looked at my watch, and I had to get going. I brought my new find back to the car and left. 

After examining it later I noticed a large gaping crack up the top skirt, and several others around the wire groove. Most of the wire groove cracks were filled with green copper oxide, and there was tracking all over the inside of the top skirt. I reasoned that the insulator must have been jarred when in use. Possibly a tree branch fell on the line some years ago. How it survived a drop of 30 feet is beyond me!

Now I was determined to search as much of the line as possible. I went back with my brother a few times to look. One search yielded pieces, a much shorter mushroom by Ohio Brass, a few glazeweld crosstops, and a complete lower skirt of a mushroom but no top! Soon I had researched most of the line and found only pieces. Later I decided to go back and get that old original crossarm with the .three pins for historical purposes. l returned once more and dragged that crossarm up the bank. Then I remembered that I hadn't searched the last pole down on this section, below road level. I made my way over through the woods, looking everywhere and scratching around. By now the oak leaves had all fallen, and this made searching difficult. I reached the pole and found the usual crossarms and scattered hardware. I then located two smashed mushrooms under a bush. 

One was so smashed that I found an unglazed piece with the date on top, and a backwards date in the cement on the other side! The other was smashed in the usual way, with no upper skirt left. No date on that one. I searched some more before spotting the most recently used modern insulators. I went to look at them. Just three big brown Chance insulators CL&P put up in the 1960s. I glanced behind one of these insulators and spotted another mushroom! It was upside down in the brush with the pin still inside, and I picked it up. It wasn't dark brown like the others. This one was mottled caramel! I sat there stunned for a minute before running it back to the car and looking it up fast. I then searched the remaining area and found only an old trolley catenary insulator marked with O-B. I grabbed the crossarm and made my way home.

Soon afterward the entire line was relocated and the old poles replaced, but I was motivated now and started thinking about another line I had encountered while in college. CL&P had reconductored a 27.6 KV line and replace the white porcelain Chance two piece insulators with the three skirted plastic vise-tops. A  previous hast search of a section of this right-of-way revealed two mint Locke Hewletts, one two-piece Chance, and two broken Thomas M2260 mushrooms. One rainy Saturday I drove to that line and re-examined that short forested stretch of right-of-way. Before I even reached the pole where I had found the pieces, I searched around for Hewletts. There were many pieces of them around, and I managed to find 3/4 of one with a "LOCKE" ink stamp and the small incuse insulator stamp. I searched for more pieces toward the hemlock bordered right-of-way. I glanced up for a second and spotted a yellow-colored object sticking out of the leaves and needles. A rush of excitement ran over me... could it be? I ran over to it and pulled up a mustard yellow lower skirt, snapped off at the top. 

Next to it was the purplish "Hersheys' brown top marked Thomas. They fit perfectly together; what a find! My favorite two-pieces are the ones with two different colors, and this yellow was really different than anything I had found before. Although that turned out to be the only find that day, I was still happy.

A few weeks passed before I hiked onto a section of the line that had been recently removed. I made I my way through the grassy section and reached the forested section. The adjacent river brought a cool breeze which helped keep me motivated. I began searching around the poles. There were hundreds of pieces of Hewletts and modern suspension bells everywhere. After a few poles, there was a bend on the right-of-way. I looked around but found nothing new. I saw a small stone wall on the river side of the line. Since it was downhill from the pole, I decided to check it out. I kicked out the leaves and out popped a piece of mushroom. It was a lower skirt piece, so I kept digging out the leaves.

More pieces surfaced, and soon I had most of two mushrooms. I picked some more and heard the sound of stone on porcelain. I pulled three or four rocks out of the stone wall and then pulled out a mint purplish-brown Thomas mushroom! That was a shocker. Further searching revealed no more pieces so I continued down the right-of-way. I set the insulators aside for the return trip. I searched about a mile of the line and turned up only pieces. Just when I was about to turn around, the sounds of dirt bikes suddenly became apparent. I looked and saw three bikers making their way along the jagged right-of-way. I got this mental picture of them running over my insulator and smashing it to pieces, so I started to run back to where I had left it. Fortunately the bikers stopped to rest for a few minutes, so I was able to slow down a bit. Just before reaching the pole, I spotted a bright reddish-brown object in the leaves off the right-of-way, I ran over and pulled up another mushroom! It was mint, with a very mottled red-brown glaze. There was an irregularity on the edge of the top skirt, and looked like a small piece was missing for a second. I carried this and the other mushroom back to the car and returned home, but not before watching the local Central Vermont freight train speed up through the valley.

I returned a few more times to the right-of-way, and found one more mushroom, pulled out of the muck of a swamp by the river. Logically, I have decided to specialize in these interesting and ancient "mushrooms", and the search continues for more!

Drawings by permission from Multipart Porcelain Insulators by Elton N. Gish.

| Magazine Home | Search the Archives |