2001 >> September >> Insulators Found in the Southern United States  

Insulators Found in the Southern United States

Reprinted from "Crown Jewels of the Wire", September 2001, page 27

Display by:
Jim Meyer
3310 State Road 40
Ormond Beach, FL 32174.-2537 

1st Place N.I.A. Threaded

My display is limited to insulators found in the southern United States. There are obviously many more that I could show, but I have picked ones for either their rarity, their color, or because of where they were found.

T-Pot Threadless
Except for the "baby" t-pots which have shown up in recent years that were found in Pennsylvania, I believe that all the rest of the t-pots that have been found were in states that were part of the Confederacy. I suspect the baby t-pots found in Pennsylvania were probably confiscated by the Union Army and installed in Pennsylvania. The first baby t-pot that I ever saw was in 1970 in the home of an early collector who had found it on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. In recent years a broken baby t-pot was found in Florida. I am able to document t-pots found in the following states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. All of these were found in coastal areas alongside river banks, bayous or marshy areas. I believe that they were used in these areas for several reasons:

  1. The arms allowed a wire to be strung by draping it over the arm without having to put a tie wire on every unit. It's possible that a tie wire was put on every third or fourth unit which would speed up the installation. 
  2. By having the lines strung in an open area, it eliminated most of the chances for a break which could occur in wooded areas from branches or other falling debris. It a break did occur, since they were in the open, it would be easy to spot in order for repair.
  3. For the above stated reasons, it would allow the line to be quickly dismantled and moved to another location. The Confederacy did not have enough supplies so communication lines were dismantled and moved many times. I have copies of archival material which goes into great detail on the constant need to relocate telegraph lines, as the tides of war ebbed and flowed.

My belief is that the t-pots and slash-tops and several other units were made in France and were imported by the Confederacy for the following reasons:

  1. Colors that the Slash-tops and t-pots come in match the colors of the French wine bottles of that period.
  2. The slash-top had a small pinhole such as the French insulators still do, since they were cemented to a steel pin which allows for a smaller diameter.
  3. The general appearance reminds me of French insulators such as nosers, t-bars, and the small waist and top groove on the slash-top. 
  4. I have copies of original invoices that list insulators, wire and chemicals used for the batteries that the Confederacy imported.

The Richmond Dig
I had not been collecting actively for some number of years due to other priorities. After going to the Allentown National, my interest was rekindled and I contacted some of my old friends and asked them to keep an eye out for insulators.

Shortly after this I received a call from an old friend in Richmond. He described some threadless insulators he had recently purchased from some relic hunters. He asked if I was interested as there were a few more available and wanted to know if he should buy them. I told him yes and I was in Richmond by the evening of the next day. After speaking with the relic hunters, I was told these were found in a construction site where new utilities were being installed. They assured me that I had in my possession almost all of the ones that had been found, as they were not into insulators and only kept a couple for themselves. I went to the construction site to take photographs and I discovered that the site where they had been found had been covered over and the construction work had moved further along. After asking around I found the back hoe operator, who had dug the insulators. He stated that except for the ones he had in his cab he had given the rest to a couple of relic hunters who had been hanging around the construction site. I asked if he thought there were still more in the ground and he stated there definitely were. After assuring him that I would pay him "x number of dollars" for each insulator found and that I had the money to pay cash, he agreed to meet me the next morning before dawn.

As soon as it was light enough to see, we started digging and the insulators started coming out of the ground. We were able to dig for approximately a half hour before the other workers came to work. This was on a Thursday and after talking it over we agreed to meet on Sunday morning as we thought there would be no one around and we could dig the whole site out. Since we were digging with a tracked power hoe, he thought we would be able to dig the whole site out within two hours. We agreed I would call him Friday night to finalize the plans and when I placed the call he advised me a gas line had been broken and all work had ceased for a day and a half. He thought that everything had been repaired and we agreed I would meet him Sunday morning with the understanding that if everything was all right we would resume digging. 

On Sunday morning we were half way through the third trench when one hundred yards away a car stopped and a supervisor from the gas company appeared with an electronic sniffer used to detect gas fumes. He walked around taking readings and occasionally looked our way. After he finished and walked back to his car he paused and looked our way again. He got into his car, drove closer to the area where we were digging and got out and walked over and asked what we were doing. Even though his readings checked out fine he told us that he didn't think it would be a good idea digging and left. While we had been digging, one of the original relic hunters showed up and watched while all of this took place. The backhoe operator was reticent about digging anymore in case his job could be in jeopardy and it was decided the digging needed to cease. We left the site but I had previously gotten the name and phone number of the relic hunter. About three days later after returning home, I called the relic hunter and he informed me that he and his friends had been digging the site at night and had found several cobalt blue insulators which had previously been unknown. He stated he was willing to sell and I arrived two days later. When I arrived the word had gotten out and there were approximately a dozen people digging the site during the day and I was told several dealers were going to be in town that evening. I bought some more glass and decided it was time for me to leave town. If the gas company official had not shown up on a cold Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m., I probably would have been able to obtain almost all of the insulators from that site. As they say, "Now, you know the rest of the story!" 

Listed below are the relative scarcity of the colors from my observation [Rarest to most common of the CD 701.6 Confederate egg]: Apple-minty green; cobalt blue; yellow olive amber filled with seed bubbles (maybe less than the cobalts; aqua; dark teal green (that passes light); different shades of blackglass.

At this site there was also found CD 737 and CD 735 glass top hats, porcelain eggs, porcelain t-pots and a few examples of other threadless.

Boston Bottle Works 
Even though single units have shown up at various places across the country, the majority of these insulators have been found in the southeast and northeast. The Bostons in my display have been found in the following states: Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, the majority of which came out of the state of Georgia. In every case in Georgia and Alabama, they were all found in close proximity to the Central of Georgia Railroad.

The amber CD 158.9 first appeared at a small antique show in Daphne, Alabama in 1971. A man walked in the door carrying three insulators -- the amber CD 158.9, a purple CD 154 Whitall Tatum and an aqua type unknown. There was a woman at the show that knew I collected insulators and told me that the man that had brought them in had the insulators in one arm and a young child in the other. She offered him a price which he did not accept and after none of the other antique dealers were interested, he returned to her and she purchased them. Even though he never stated where he was from, she got the feeling that he was from the general area. I believe that it came from somewhere in Alabama. After purchasing the insulator she called me and asked if I was interested in buying it from her. I told he that I had just returned from the 2nd National in Colorado Springs and didn't have the money at the moment to buy it. I asked if she could hold it for a few months until I could get the money to purchase it. After several months I still wasn't able to come up with the money, so she took it to the old Flea Market on the Mobile Causeway where many good pieces of glass changed hands. A local collector saw it and bought it. It remained in his collection for about 24 years until I purchased his collection. 

There has been a lot of conjecture on why the CD 158.9 is made the way it was, especially the threaded top. Here is my theory on how the CD 158.9 came to be.

Mr. Samuel Oakman was involved in the production of insulators of many years and was responsible for many innovations and the holder of several patents. Boston Bottle Works was in production for a short period of time, but it was the time period when threaded insulators were starting to be used and many threadless lines were being rebuilt and upgraded. I believe the CD 158.9 was the first style being produced. 

Over the years there have been a lot of theories about a cap made out of glass, wood or other composition material. I don't believe there was ever a cap or any intention that a cap be used. I've climbed many a pole in the old days and have never removed a CD 158.9, but I have climbed poles on the lines where some have been found and in most cases the wires used were heavy gage iron. The CD 158.9 has a traditional wire groove and I can't think of any purpose that a cap would be used. I believe that the CD 158.9 was designed for a replacement on a threadless pin, so that the cross arm or pin would not have to be removed. I believe that Mr. Oakman developed the plunger to make the segmented threads, not so he could have an improved plunger but in order that he could form the segmented threads. If you are familiar with a tap and die set, the threads in the Boston resembled how the die looks. I don't believe he thought you could cut nice clean threads on a threadless pin, but I believe he knew that you could take a segmented thread and it could cut into the wood on a threadless pin enough to make a good tight fit. I believe the reason for the threaded bolt was so a lineman could take a block of wood that had a threaded hole which could then be screwed down on top of the CD 158.9, then the insulator with the attached block could be set on top of a threadless pin. Then, by lightly tapping on the top of the wooden block, the threads would wedge on the threadless pin. At that point a wooden spandrel wrench could be applied to the hex top and then turned until the insulator was wedged tightly on the pin.

In 1971, I found an old country graveyard where they had used white quartz and insulators to line the walkways. The insulators found in this graveyard were 1870 patent beehives, CD 133.4, CD 127, CD 126 and Boston Bottle Works. There were approximately seventy-five to one hundred CD 158.9s. There were four that were mint, three that were about mint, and the rest were in various states of damage. I had permission to go into the graveyard as the last person buried there was in the 1920s. The farmer who owned the land said that about every three or four years some people would come from out of state and would clean up the graveyard. Many of the broken insulators were sitting in their original position and were broken where they set. There were also insulators outside of the graveyard along with the debris that had been cleared out of the graveyard. In one of the broken Bostons which had had the outer skirt broken off, I found part of a threadless pin that had been wedged in the pinhole. After that I tried turning some of the Bostons on a threadless pin and found that they could be turned down tight enough so they couldn't be removed.

| Magazine Home | Search the Archives |