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The Life History Of An Insulator
by Eric Halpin
Reprinted from "Crown Jewels of the Wire", February 1988, page 13
Long, long ago, when today's artifacts were the latest in industrial
concepts, I began life. My mother was a deposit of pure glacial run-off beach
sand, located in the eastern townships in the county of Faudreuil in upper
Canada, now known as Quebec. My father was a mixed breed of soda-ash and lime from
parts unknown. After a tumultuous and brief courtship, my life began in the tiny hamlet of Como at a glass factory called the Canada Glass
year is 1867. My early memories are somewhat vague but I came out of a manually
operated mold press in the shape of an insulator, of all things!
There was a
large family of us young ones and before we could get so much as a scratch, we
were loaded into a wooden barrel, all one hundred of us. My first home was far from
comfortable, and I must say, that the sawdust packing wasn't the cleanest.
It was while in this barrel that the rumors began to spread that we were
headed for new and airfresh home. Unfortunately, the ride in the horse drawn
wagon was along a very rough road and even then some of us got bruised up a bit.
It seemed like several weeks before the lid of our barrel was smashed open and
we were roughly pulled out by a rather dirty person some men we called
"grunt." Before I knew what was happening, I was tossed to a man on a
pole, some 12 feet in the air. This sudden altitude change caused my dome to
feel as if it was spinning round and round. Then a rather rough iron wire was
wrapped too tightly around my wire groove. Gad, was this to be my new home? At
least one of my family was only about one foot below me on the opposite side of
It wasn't until some hours later, that with all the commotion being over that
I really got a chance to look around. But what a sight it was. I was securely
attached to a nice hardwood pin on a straight cedar pole. Apparently we were
along side a railway track in a scenic and remote part of the Ottawa Valley. Low
rolling hills covered in maple trees could be seen in the distance.
And there I sat for years. Twice a day a train went by, blowing smoke and
steam into the air and that's about all that happened. Often a humming noise
would reverberate in my dome, but I would attribute that to the wire being tied so tight. It was a good childhood really. I could watch all the animals
pass by and every once in awhile a man would ride past on the tracks using something they called a velocipede. He
would look at each pole and sometimes climb one to replace a broken insulator
or repair a snapped rusty line. But other than that, I just sat there for many
One day, I guess it was around 1883 or so, a supply train dropped off wooden
crossarms, poles, coils of wire and barrels of insulators all along the roadbed.
Within days, dozens of men were digging holes, hoisting the new poles, attaching the arms with pins and stringing new wire. Oh, there was
no talking to this crowd. With their higher poles, multi-pinned crossarms and
galvanized wire they were so high and mighty. Even the insulators thought they
were special because they had embossing along the skirt. Big deal! Just because
l had no-name, did that make such a difference? Imagine having a name
like Great North Western Telegraph Co. anyway. Mind you there was some talk about
me being double threaded or something. Things went poorly at this stage of my
life, for within months of the new neighbors arriving, I was promptly stripped
of all wire and can you believe this, unscrewed and tossed -- tossed, mind you,
onto the ground near the brush line. At least I landed right side up so that I
could see what was happening. Know what was happening? Nothing! For years it
was a big day if a leaf fell on top of me. I could barely see after awhile what
with the grass and roots taking over. I just admit, the next 80 years went by
fairly quickly what with the seasons always changing and everything. By now I
was almost completely covered in old grass, weeks, roots and what all. Life as I
knew it was over.
Then, on a sunny spring day in April, 1965 I was reborn. You see on that day
a young man was out walking along the long abandoned telegraph and railway lines
of the Brockville and Ottawa Railway. His boot accidentally kicked me right out of the ground. Well, what
a sight for sore eyes he was. Heck, I must have looked a mess what with a
pinhole plugged with dirt and roots and a layer of mud all over me. Yet, he picked
me up gently, holding me carefully in his hands while scraping off the dirt.
Well, the rest is history I suppose. He took me home, bathed and dried me before
placing me on a window sill. Those next 5 years were great after what I had been
In 1970 I found myself on a table at a collectibles show in Nepean, Ontario. There
were hundreds of people milling about the hall, looking, touching and talking.
But there was sure a lot of junk at this show what with bottles, jars, medicines,
signs, toys, patches, medals, etc. Finally, someone with an obvious feel for
quality picked me up with the same type of gentle but firm and knowing hands as
my first owner. Only this time he held me up to the light for the longest time.
Then out came $5 and I had a new owner. That was okay with me since this guy
showed me off to all his pals as if he was real proud of me. They kept yakking
about my color -- whatever that was. The next seven years were a blur. I found
myself with new owners, it seemed, every few months or so. I would no sooner get
used to a new shelf and make a few friends than I was traded or sold off. It was
a bit much. First I went to Kingston, then Toronto, and then over to Halifax,
Nova Scotia. After a few years it was over to Montreal, back to Toronto and then
over into New York state (and I don't even have a passport!) Next it was down
into Pennsylvania and back into Canada at Vancouver of all places. I am still
embarrassed about how they snuck me past customs too. By year's end it was
Manitoba, before my final stop in London, Ontario. I have put on enough miles to
circle half the globe. My latest owner is the best. Not only did he buy me for
$200 but he has me at the front of his display shelf with many of my cousins. He
dusts me every year whether I need it or not (sometimes twice if company comes).
About once a week he picks me up and smiles as he examines me again. He says I
am one of the prettiest little 143's that he has ever seen. I can't see it
myself, after all, I'm just a true "CORNFLOWER BLUE."
Illustrations by Dave McDougald and Chrissy Mahoney.
Afc~~z~~d ~ 6~xi~! ~