Open Wire Telephone Lines

An example of telephone history.

At one time open wire was the media for phone and telegraph lines.  The wire is gone and some of the insulators and supports are missing but this is a collection of pictures of these lines as seen just off Grantley Street in York PA.  These poles parallel a railroad and were used to support the power, phone and telegraph lines. 

DSC_2316-102.jpg

Picture by Author

This pole is interesting for a couple reasons.  First, the pole itself is relatively rough with the limbs of the tree it was cut from visible.  Most of the insulators are missing.  They have either fallen off or more likely they are victims of target shooting.   The guy wire hangs lamely because the pull of the wire in the other direction is missing.  Another sign of deterioration can be seen on the left end of the lower crossbar.  The peg that supports the insulator has come loose and fallen through.  These are slightly tapered so they go in the hole and are tight.  Some of the pegs have been exposed to the weather enough that they are showing signs of deterioration.  These are actually threaded wooden bolt that the insulator screws on.    

DSC_2321-104.jpg

Picture by Author

This shows a crossbar with four intact insulators.  These pieces of glass sell for five to twenty dollars today.  The wire that was strung on them was 104 to 165 mils hard drawn copper.  I wasn’t sure of the size but I know the wire looked heavy from the ground and it had to span about 500 feet and support itself in wind and ice.  An article in Chapter 18 of Insulators http://www.insulators.info/articles/openwire/ shows the wire size for telephone on this as 104, 128 or 165 mils.  In some other articles it is just listed as 104, 128 or 165 wire so the mils measurement rather than wire gage was the norm.  I compared mils to wire gage and found #10 is 101 mills and #6 is 162 mils.  If we want to look at it standard house wiring which is mainly #14 and #12 they are 64 and 80 mills respectively.  Number 6 is double the DIAMETER of #12 and thus contains four times the copper.  A comparison of #10 to #22 which is the largest wire in a standard cable of today, #22 is 25 mils compared to the 101 mils of #10.  The diameter ratio is 1:4 with the area and the amount of copper being 1:16!  A mile of telephone wire at #10 takes With copper prices now approaching $3 a pound (this is refined copper, not copper processed into wire which would of course cost more).  A cubic foot of copper (550 pounds – $1650) will produce over 16,000 feet of #10 putting the material cost for that wire at about ten cents a foot and it takes two strands of this wire for a phone line.  Approximately 16 times the amount of #22 and 40 times the amount of #26 can be made from the same copper.

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19 Responses to “Open Wire Telephone Lines”
  1. Douglas G. Schema Says...

    On November 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    As a former Bell Outside Plant Engineer and contractor, it is interesting to see the remanents of open-wire construction throughout different portions of the United States. I went to see the linewrecking of the Bell System’s Central Transcontinental Line in Nevada, constructed in 1929 and removed in 1989.

    I have a large collection of open-wire artifacts including the last open-wire toll carrier terminal structure in five states, preserved from the only open-wire line left in Northwestern Bell territory. It is to emerge in full glory once a national center of power system history and communications is completed.

    Thanks for your take on this incredibly interesting topic.


  2. Richard Magoffin Says...

    On December 10, 2010 at 1:58 am

    I am also an ex Bell employee, and I watched as they wrecked the historic North-South DBR open wire line in Central Nevada. I also saved the dead-end line structure from one repeater station.
    The line you picture here is of RailRoad ownership, and is a much more common sight than the toll lines of Bell or Independent Companies.
    Still, some preservation of this era of communication needs to be preserved, as even the railroads are rapidly removing such lines in the West.


  3. Ralph Brandt Says...

    On December 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    This is in fact Railroad lines in the City of York PA. I probably should have stated that. I have two other places that may have some poles still in place near me.


  4. Doug Schema Says...

    On March 2, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I need some assistance with open-wire plant information and hope one of you might be able to help me? Around the early 1970s, the Kansas City to Council Bluffs, Iowa (Omaha) AT&T Long Lines open-wire toll lead was linewrecked. It was an interesting line for one major reason: it used no “butterfly brackets” or phantom transposition brackets commonly applied during its construction but was equipped with a special bracket called a “phantom point-type” bracket. I have one of these. They were equipped with CS steel pins/CS, CSC, CSA borocilicate glass for low leakage use. Very unusual. It was bolted (and bonded below each attachment bolt) and took up four pins on either side of a 10A crossarm. I have the BSPs on outside plant dating back to 1926-2001, but this unique hardware was not specified anywhere in the Practices. To my knowledge, the Phantom Point-type transposition bracket was used on this KC-Omaha lead only. I have never seen it in any of the 38 states I’ve visited. Do any of you have the specs for this bracket and can give me some of its history? Was it an experimental use by Bell Labs, as some have claimed? Thanks for the help.


  5. Ralph Brandt Says...

    On March 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Doug, you have more information that I do on this. Hope someone gets it. One comment. The railroads have the model RR people who hold a lot of history. Do you know of any Phone line group like it?


  6. Doug Schema Says...

    On March 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Dear Ralph:

    . . . sadly, no . . . but there’s no reason why people who have open-wire in their heart and passionately miss this technology can’t start a group!

    Back in 1957, I began collecting insulators. But they never were my alpha and omega; merely a stepping stone to more important aspects of open-wire construction artifacts and topics: the physical architecture of line design and construction, the technology of early phantoming, carrier current systems, test equipment, BD and B-Boxes, cross-connect systems, loading coils, improvements in conductor, splicing, pin and transposition systems, terminal devices, open-wire to aerial cable junctions, filtering, electronics and numerous other aspects of this large-scale investment which all telcos made early in their progess towards today’s systems.

    Surely, there must be others–who like myself–had either worked with this technology or do simply miss what they remember as a kid and early youth.

    I can remember going to the Atlantic, Iowa NWBell I & M (Installation and Maintenance) office to see if the remains of an old toll lead across southern Iowa might be obtained after a linewrecking. Looking primarily for phantom brackets and drop brackets, I had to compete with a farmer dropping old ten pin arms in the ground for fence lines and he was pretty irate about having to give up just ONE arm with a bracket..

    My fondest memories are of open-wire were of Northwestern Bell in Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota. The old Council Bluffs-Sioux City open-wire lead carried 70 wires and a couple of lead BTKS cables with horseshoe clamps affixed to the strand below. Seven ten pin arms! That old line remained until it was line-wrecked in 1971. Copper theft was such a problem that NWBell in Omaha tied alarms into the existing wire plant so that a severed wire would signal the security forces at the C. O. heading them off at the pass . . . in or near such towns as Missouri Valley, Mondamin, Onawa or some such town along the western border of Iowa long old U. S. 75.

    Until 1980, a few odd poles remained along a fence line near Altoona, Iowa, where the old A and B cable (the transcontinental aerial lead cables) replaced the old open-wire. They are gone now. One by one they crumpled, resisted and then fell. All cleared from the location today.

    The A and B cables: the central transcontinental cable system from Chicago to Council Bluffs, was wrecked out in the 90s. They are now gone.

    At Sterling, Colorado in the summer of 1974, immediately west of the Interstate on Colorado 71, old five 10-pin 10A multiple open-wire arms with porcelain (!) insulators instead of the DPs, Toll and Exchange types could be seen and were . . . working!

    Parallelling U. S. 83 North, between Liberal and Garden City, Kansas, there was once a W-8 toll lead for Southwestern Bell with CS insulators and pins (4-inch point type units). By the 1980s, that line had bitten the dust.

    We had nearly the highest rated system (Northwestern Bell) outside of New York and Washington, D. C. for a very important reason: we were the retalliatory agent for the Strategic Air Command at Offutt, A. F. B. and the War Room. Omaha, during the cold war, was much more important than Washington, D. C., for its response strike force capabilities.

    I know this from experience, as a former (and now deceased Vice President of Bell) employee used to call me over for coffee and say, “Let’s take a look at the ‘Blue Report.’ This was in the 60s when AT&T was indeed known as the all-knowing, all-seeing “Bell System.” In the report, the operating entitites’ entrepreneurial progress was captured and graded according to various excellent, good, fair and poor definitions into one report. Within these 10-12 pages–with limited company distribution–made critical appraisals of all Bell Operating entities over each year and then classified by various rankings their administrative, quantitative, financial results vis-a-vis one another. Northwestern Bell nearly always ranked very highly in nearly every aspect of AT&T’s performance appraisals. Ironically, SWBell, Mountain States and others paled by comparison. Western Electric, Bell Labs, Long Lines, and others were also included in this report.

    Northwestern Bell received some of the firsts (and near “seconds”) in Bell System history: electronic switching systems installations, redundant fiber systems, burial of rural communications systems and the like. Because of Offutt A. F. B. and various missile installations in the Omaha area, new equipment was high priority.

    Meanwhile, the other agent of change: climate–dictated that open-wire was soon to meet its maker. Ice storms, cold, wind, severe spring and summer weather all acted to demand cost savings measures.

    The Sleet Storm of December 1971, rendered many open-wire circuits useless. Open-wire’s greatest foe was ice. In December 1971, my recollections of southern South Dakota and northern Nebraska was one of mile after mile of open-wire “spaghetti” in the bar ditches along the highways. Naturally, Northwestern Bell management, after 1966 or so, came to the conclusion that constructing any new open-wire was pointless and each year’s disaster/rehab/labor expenses only required “quick fixes”–not entire rehabilitation projects as in the future. Clearly . . . eliminating costly aerial plant (both open-wire and aerial cable) allowed even greater efficiencies. At that time, buried fiber began to expand after NWB in Omaha constructed one of the first 405 mb asyncronous fiber systems.

    Perhaps the most devastating strike against open-wire–and aerial plant in general–in NWBell territory was the Sleet Storm of 1976. Furthermore, if technical progress had prompted a thougthfully planned demise of open-wire up to that time, it was indeed this avalanche of rain, ice and wind which colossally removed hundreds–if not thousands–of miles of line and structures. This most memorable Nebraska-Iowa disaster acted as a swiftly moving axe to fell what remained of the open-wire aerial plant in five states.

    By 1979, little open-wire plant yet remained in NWBell territory except fortuitously . . . at the western edge of one little county seat town in southeast South Dakota.

    During the period, starting in 1979 and ending in 1982, I fought N. W. Bell from linewrecking the last open-wire toll lead in a five state territory. It remains a story . . . and a half. . . Quiet NWBell advocates occasionally assisted my efforts, while I found significant support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, congressional and other political organizations, professional and historical-interest groups. We actually found financial and insurance support for the project. Up to then, no one had ever considered saving three poles in one direction and three in another with a terminal structure at the juncture, for nomination to the National Record.
    It was a unique idea to those whose traditions revolved around saving old (and appropriate) industrial archeology. Bridges, barns, houses, rock walls, old highways, and such.

    Adding to the mix was the line’s location. From my earliest memories of traveling to relatives, this line was always the landmark which signalled the edge of town and the beginning of the final stretch of travel.

    Could you have imagined the good luck of having located the last line in the only town in the United States named for John Tyndall, the father of light physics, while at the Royal Institution of Science in Great Britain during the latter half of the 19th Century. A protoge of Michael Faraday! And what was replacing these two open-wire toll leads? A buried 135 mb asynchronous fiber system!

    Such irony.

    The line was an excellent candidate for preservation. It met all the qualities of historical preservation according to my colleagues at the U. S. National Park Service. Interesting, as it included phantomed construction, O-Carrier technology, 1885 10A and 10B wooden pin crossarm construction, B and C wooden bracket construction, 109, 128 conductor sizes, traditional pole selection, spacing, Western Electric products, several combination of Western Union and compressed splices with a variety of other symbolic particulars.

    Even after all the effort put into this effort by good friends, supporters, advocates around the United States, we could not get this line nominated–and not for lack of initiative or creative thought. The date was 1982 and the Bell System was about to split and N. W. Bell’s management attention was focused elsewhere. Never-the-less, the people at the National Park Service must have passed along this initial first to the people in Arizona, as shortly after this unsuccessful attempt, a line was nominated (not toll, nor wooden crossarm–but pipe construction!), to become the first on the National Register.

    A significant photographic survey was made of those two existing lines. It is fortunate that such records will exist for the future when kids will ask why there is a telephone pole icon on a computer screen when the original iconic monument to electrical communications has bitten the dust many decades before.

    For my efforts, NWBell management couldn’t wait to get me off their backs as I had sturred up all kinds of provocation to preserve it. They simply asked: What can we do to get you off our backs?” I said: “Pull out the terminal structure and give it to me for preservation. Cut off all aerial wire within a foot of the strand vices and remove not a thing from it.”

    With its five guys, this Class-3; 40′, Southern Yellow Pine pole, ten crossarms, C-type deadends, filters, autotransformers, NC-25 terminals, buried epoxy-type splices for the 50-pair ANTW buried cable, bridling runs, drops and a host of other typical Bell open-wire features, it was quite a stunning monument to the technology.

    NWBell hired a contractor with crane from Sioux Falls to move it 30 miles to a nearby farming relative of mine who stored it over the first year. Subsequently, a transportation contractor loaded it on a flatbed at my behest and we moved it 260 miles to the south, where it is in storage today. Soon it will be part of national center of electric power system history, joining a host of other artifacts.

    Other remenants of the line were rescued. Some alley-arm type 10-pin arms for obstructions were maintained and I saw to it they were delivered to a local railway museum.

    Union Pacific’s good people at their communications department HQ in Council Bluffs, Iowa offered other items after my inquiries to them, so that we could help a museum maintain some valuable materials. I thank them most cordially.

    This message has become quite lengthy, but let me insist that the only reason this information is publicly added to this very fine website is to perhaps encourage good people out there interested in this incredible technology. A technology having endured longer than any other 19th-20th Century communications systems–aerial copper cable, buried copper cable, fiber, microwave, coax, satellite–so they may appreciate the first technological communications steps taken by all telcos–Bell and independents alike. Open-wire began in 1843, I believe with the first experimental telegraph system, and will end when the nation’s railways dismantle the last open-wire in 2020. What a record of achievement!

    Occasionally, in parts of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, open-wire service station lines (old two wire bracket leads) will sometimes be seen and remain in service. There are some still in use near Reno and Tonganoxie, Kansas; some near Gainesville, Texas (if my work there didn’t get them line-wrecked by now), a few in Arizona or an occasional stand of poles along an old highway in New Mexico. In 1998, the Texas Railroad Commission demanded that all open-wire be removed by a September 1999 dictate–something like that–and so few will be seen. As a contractor I took the sad duty of visiting the remaining sites and stands of open-wire in North Texas. My plans sadly did not specify them, but to have them linewrecked and removed from the MPLRs (Mechanized Pole Line Records).

    At that time, being on-site, offered opportunities where my work managed to save as much as possible from these projects for the historical record. We were fortunate that these projects fell into my hands . . . where the Railwest (and other museums) Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa could benefit from my donations to them.

    Nearly every step taken towards the development of other communications systems owes its comparative development to open-wire systems. And . . . one other thing: Don’t you think there is something much more romantic about open-wire than SONET fiber . . . or buried 600 pair cable . . . don’t you think?

    Yes, Ralph, I hope there will be others who respond to this missive and your kind comments to celebrate open-wire’s outstanding legacy.


  7. Doug Schema Says...

    On March 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Dear Ralph:

    . . . sadly, no . . . but there\’s no reason why people who have open-wire in their heart and passionately miss this technology can\’t start a group!

    Back in 1957, I began collecting insulators. But they never were my alpha and omega; merely a stepping stone to more important aspects of open-wire construction artifacts and topics: the physical architecture of line design and construction, the technology of early phantoming, carrier current systems, test equipment, BD and B-Boxes, cross-connect systems, loading coils, improvements in conductor, splicing, pin and transposition systems, terminal devices, open-wire to aerial cable junctions, filtering, electronics and numerous other aspects of this large-scale investment which all telcos made early in their progess towards today\’s systems.

    Surely, there must be others–who like myself–had either worked with this technology or do simply miss what they remember as a kid and early youth.

    I can remember going to the Atlantic, Iowa NWBell I & M (Installation and Maintenance) office to see if the remains of an old toll lead across southern Iowa might be obtained after a linewrecking. Looking primarily for phantom brackets and drop brackets, I had to compete with a farmer dropping old ten pin arms in the ground for fence lines and he was pretty irate about having to give up just ONE arm with a bracket..

    My fondest memories are of open-wire were of Northwestern Bell in Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota. The old Council Bluffs-Sioux City open-wire lead carried 70 wires and a couple of lead BTKS cables with horseshoe clamps affixed to the strand below. Seven ten pin arms! That old line remained until it was line-wrecked in 1971. Copper theft was such a problem that NWBell in Omaha tied alarms into the existing wire plant so that a severed wire would signal the security forces at the C. O. heading them off at the pass . . . in or near such towns as Missouri Valley, Mondamin, Onawa or some such town along the western border of Iowa long old U. S. 75.

    Until 1980, a few odd poles remained along a fence line near Altoona, Iowa, where the old A and B cable (the transcontinental aerial lead cables) replaced the old open-wire. They are gone now. One by one they crumpled, resisted and then fell. All cleared from the location today.

    The A and B cables: the central transcontinental cable system from Chicago to Council Bluffs, was wrecked out in the 90s. They are now gone.

    At Sterling, Colorado in the summer of 1974, immediately west of the Interstate on Colorado 71, old five 10-pin 10A multiple open-wire arms with porcelain (!) insulators instead of the DPs, Toll and Exchange types could be seen and were . . . working!

    Parallelling U. S. 83 North, between Liberal and Garden City, Kansas, there was once a W-8 toll lead for Southwestern Bell with CS insulators and pins (4-inch point type units). By the 1980s, that line had bitten the dust.

    We had nearly the highest rated system (Northwestern Bell) outside of New York and Washington, D. C. for a very important reason: we were the retalliatory agent for the Strategic Air Command at Offutt, A. F. B. and the War Room. Omaha, during the cold war, was much more important than Washington, D. C., for its response strike force capabilities.

    I know this from experience, as a former (and now deceased Vice President of Bell) employee used to call me over for coffee and say, \”Let\’s take a look at the \’Blue Report.\’ This was in the 60s when AT&T was indeed known as the all-knowing, all-seeing \”Bell System.\” In the report, the operating entitites\’ entrepreneurial progress was captured and graded according to various excellent, good, fair and poor definitions into one report. Within these 10-12 pages–with limited company distribution–made critical appraisals of all Bell Operating entities over each year and then classified by various rankings their administrative, quantitative, financial results vis-a-vis one another. Northwestern Bell nearly always ranked very highly in nearly every aspect of AT&T\’s performance appraisals. Ironically, SWBell, Mountain States and others paled by comparison. Western Electric, Bell Labs, Long Lines, and others were also included in this report.

    Northwestern Bell received some of the firsts (and near \”seconds\”) in Bell System history: electronic switching systems installations, redundant fiber systems, burial of rural communications systems and the like. Because of Offutt A. F. B. and various missile installations in the Omaha area, new equipment was high priority.

    Meanwhile, the other agent of change: climate–dictated that open-wire was soon to meet its maker. Ice storms, cold, wind, severe spring and summer weather all acted to demand cost savings measures.

    The Sleet Storm of December 1971, rendered many open-wire circuits useless. Open-wire\’s greatest foe was ice. In December 1971, my recollections of southern South Dakota and northern Nebraska was one of mile after mile of open-wire \”spaghetti\” in the bar ditches along the highways. Naturally, Northwestern Bell management, after 1966 or so, came to the conclusion that constructing any new open-wire was pointless and each year\’s disaster/rehab/labor expenses only required \”quick fixes\”–not entire rehabilitation projects as in the future. Clearly . . . eliminating costly aerial plant (both open-wire and aerial cable) allowed even greater efficiencies. At that time, buried fiber began to expand after NWB in Omaha constructed one of the first 405 mb asyncronous fiber systems.

    Perhaps the most devastating strike against open-wire–and aerial plant in general–in NWBell territory was the Sleet Storm of 1976. Furthermore, if technical progress had prompted a thougthfully planned demise of open-wire up to that time, it was indeed this avalanche of rain, ice and wind which colossally removed hundreds–if not thousands–of miles of line and structures. This most memorable Nebraska-Iowa disaster acted as a swiftly moving axe to fell what remained of the open-wire aerial plant in five states.

    By 1979, little open-wire plant yet remained in NWBell territory except fortuitously . . . at the western edge of one little county seat town in southeast South Dakota.

    During the period, starting in 1979 and ending in 1982, I fought N. W. Bell from linewrecking the last open-wire toll lead in a five state territory. It remains a story . . . and a half. . . Quiet NWBell advocates occasionally assisted my efforts, while I found significant support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, congressional and other political organizations, professional and historical-interest groups. We actually found financial and insurance support for the project. Up to then, no one had ever considered saving three poles in one direction and three in another with a terminal structure at the juncture, for nomination to the National Record.
    It was a unique idea to those whose traditions revolved around saving old (and appropriate) industrial archeology. Bridges, barns, houses, rock walls, old highways, and such.

    Adding to the mix was the line\’s location. From my earliest memories of traveling to relatives, this line was always the landmark which signalled the edge of town and the beginning of the final stretch of travel.

    Could you have imagined the good luck of having located the last line in the only town in the United States named for John Tyndall, the father of light physics, while at the Royal Institution of Science in Great Britain during the latter half of the 19th Century. A protoge of Michael Faraday! And what was replacing these two open-wire toll leads? A buried 135 mb asynchronous fiber system!

    Such irony.

    The line was an excellent candidate for preservation. It met all the qualities of historical preservation according to my colleagues at the U. S. National Park Service. Interesting, as it included phantomed construction, O-Carrier technology, 1885 10A and 10B wooden pin crossarm construction, B and C wooden bracket construction, 109, 128 conductor sizes, traditional pole selection, spacing, Western Electric products, several combination of Western Union and compressed splices with a variety of other symbolic particulars.

    Even after all the effort put into this effort by good friends, supporters, advocates around the United States, we could not get this line nominated–and not for lack of initiative or creative thought. The date was 1982 and the Bell System was about to split and N. W. Bell\’s management attention was focused elsewhere. Never-the-less, the people at the National Park Service must have passed along this initial first to the people in Arizona, as shortly after this unsuccessful attempt, a line was nominated (not toll, nor wooden crossarm–but pipe construction!), to become the first on the National Register.

    A significant photographic survey was made of those two existing lines. It is fortunate that such records will exist for the future when kids will ask why there is a telephone pole icon on a computer screen when the original iconic monument to electrical communications has bitten the dust many decades before.

    For my efforts, NWBell management couldn\’t wait to get me off their backs as I had sturred up all kinds of provocation to preserve it. They simply asked: What can we do to get you off our backs?\” I said: \”Pull out the terminal structure and give it to me for preservation. Cut off all aerial wire within a foot of the strand vices and remove not a thing from it.\”

    With its five guys, this Class-3; 40\’, Southern Yellow Pine pole, ten crossarms, C-type deadends, filters, autotransformers, NC-25 terminals, buried epoxy-type splices for the 50-pair ANTW buried cable, bridling runs, drops and a host of other typical Bell open-wire features, it was quite a stunning monument to the technology.

    NWBell hired a contractor with crane from Sioux Falls to move it 30 miles to a nearby farming relative of mine who stored it over the first year. Subsequently, a transportation contractor loaded it on a flatbed at my behest and we moved it 260 miles to the south, where it is in storage today. Soon it will be part of national center of electric power system history, joining a host of other artifacts.

    Other remenants of the line were rescued. Some alley-arm type 10-pin arms for obstructions were maintained and I saw to it they were delivered to a local railway museum.

    Union Pacific\’s good people at their communications department HQ in Council Bluffs, Iowa offered other items after my inquiries to them, so that we could help a museum maintain some valuable materials. I thank them most cordially.

    This message has become quite lengthy, but let me insist that the only reason this information is publicly added to this very fine website is to perhaps encourage good people out there interested in this incredible technology. A technology having endured longer than any other 19th-20th Century communications systems–aerial copper cable, buried copper cable, fiber, microwave, coax, satellite–so they may appreciate the first technological communications steps taken by all telcos–Bell and independents alike. Open-wire began in 1843, I believe with the first experimental telegraph system, and will end when the nation\’s railways dismantle the last open-wire in 2020. What a record of achievement!

    Occasionally, in parts of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, open-wire service station lines (old two wire bracket leads) will sometimes be seen and remain in service. There are some still in use near Reno and Tonganoxie, Kansas; some near Gainesville, Texas (if my work there didn\’t get them line-wrecked by now), a few in Arizona or an occasional stand of poles along an old highway in New Mexico. In 1998, the Texas Railroad Commission demanded that all open-wire be removed by a September 1999 dictate–something like that–and so few will be seen. As a contractor I took the sad duty of visiting the remaining sites and stands of open-wire in North Texas. My plans sadly did not specify them, but to have them linewrecked and removed from the MPLRs (Mechanized Pole Line Records).

    At that time, being on-site, offered opportunities where my work managed to save as much as possible from these projects for the historical record. We were fortunate that these projects fell into my hands . . . where the Railwest (and other museums) Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa could benefit from my donations to them.

    Nearly every step taken towards the development of other communications systems owes its comparative development to open-wire systems. And . . . one other thing: Don\’t you think there is something much more romantic about open-wire than SONET fiber . . . or buried 600 pair cable . . . don\’t you think?

    Yes, Ralph, I hope there will be others who respond to this missive and your kind comments to celebrate open-wire\’s outstanding legacy.


  8. Doug Schema Says...

    On March 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Ralph:

    I wrote an . . . apparently, too lengthy reponse to your comment . . . but think you and your readers would enjoy it never-the-less. Let me know how I might communicate with you by email.

    Doug Schema


  9. Ralph Brandt Says...

    On March 8, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Doug, I will let it there but have you ever considered setting up an account and posting that with a little cleanup. It is neat.


  10. Doug G. Schema Says...

    On March 10, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    I am preparing a website. It will deal with power systems history, communications and signal technological history as well as a vibrant dose of public policy narrative. Because the contribution written above was so long (sorry about that!) your computer had trouble loading it–adding ////s and deleting some paragraph indention and the like. Never-the-less, it should generate some good comments to your exceptional website.

    Doug. G. Schema


  11. Ralph Brandt Says...

    On March 14, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Doug, would appreciate having an opportunity to discuss with you – email or phone, my bill if phone.

    Write me at ralph.brandt@comcast.net if you like


  12. Don Woods Says...

    On April 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I worked as a lineman in the 60’s, just as open wire was being phased out. I had the privledge of building several miles of open wire toll line due to highway construction. Some comments on your interesting article. The “crossbars” are called crossarms, the wooden pins weren’t . In one picture (1st pic 3rd page) you have captured a cable suspention bracket and a short piece of strand. They were used to support aerial cable. The cable was attached to the strand early on with “clips” later by use of a lashing machine. I think the “ground wire” you show is actually a piece of aerial strand, could have supported a cable or have been used as an overhead guy. I was searching for info on phantom transposition brackets and notice a mention in one comment. They were used to provide transpositions for a phantom circuit. There were 4 types – too complicated to go into here. I have a picture of a phantom bracket (without wire) and if you are interested contact me. I also collect insulators but stay on the inexpensive side. I have collected a regular drop tramp bracket a 4″ point bracket, and a lightweight bracket that could have been crossarm mounted or simply inserted mid-span. I neglected to steal a phantom bracket and am now searching for one. I have a 42″ section of 3000 pair cable, I doubt a cable of this size was ever placed in the air, it was confined to use in an underground conduit system. Interestingly 42″ of 3000 pair cable results in about 4 miles of wire. Do contact me.


  13. Richard Magoffin Says...

    On April 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Doug, thanks for your post, wasn\’t too lengthy for me and I found it very interesting. When I started with Pacific Telephone in 1982, the remaining open wire included sections of toll line used to serve POTS to remote residences and communities that happened to be along the route. I provisioned and maintained N1 to N4 carrier systems following such routes, usually utilizing the same poles.
    I have always had an appreciation for open wire construction and progression of carrier technologies that utilized it. I have photographed, collected artifacts, and been involved in several open wire wrecking jobs over my career. As I noted above, I was there for the DBR line job in Nevada, I photographed and
    saved what I could, including a repeater entrance pole structure.
    Sections of this line are still standing in California.
    I am still employed with a telephone operating company, and am assisting with a museum dedicated to telephone history.
    I would like to see a picture of that line structure you saved, if available.
    Thanks again for you post.
    I can be reached at bmagoffin@sbcglobal.net

    Richard Magoffin


  14. Ralph Brandt Says...

    On April 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Don and Richard, Thanks for the comments. I will be contacting you in a week. I have nuclear power plant drills this week.


  15. Doug Schema Says...

    On April 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    It is such a pleasure to hear from such knowledgeable and experienced open-wire affectionados. One of my great regrets was not having a camera during the early part of my life, when we had such massive doses of openwire investment in our southwest Iowa and South Dakota areas in the late ’50s and ’60s.

    My parents didn’t feel such “nonsense” warranted using film and expensive developing, for phototaking. I tried to make up for it later when older with a 35 mm camera, but by then, things were changing so fast, and O-W was being wrecked out at a pace which challenged photographic record keeping.

    One area which we haven’t talked much about is that of O-W in Russia and the Soviet Union. It is quite amazing to view color films (in Agfa Color, of course) when the Germans were “intruding” into the Ukraine, White Russia and Russia in the fall of 1941. Many times, amidst the German troops, sunflowers and fence lines, will be seen 10A and 10B arms with point-type transpositions and other telco plant nearly identical to our own here! Sometimes “O-Carrier type” configurations, but installed with white porcelain insulators of a “CS” type.

    It is also important to note that during World War I and then later in World War II, the U. S. Army Signal Corps, installed many miles of ten-pin open-wire plant–looking all the while like anything in southern New Jersey, western Tennessee, or southwestern Iowa, with “Bell System” type equipments. In the Bell System Journal, there is a very informative article about how the U. S. Army drafted many Bell people for World War I and photos “with the familiar American crossarm.”

    There’s some food for thought.

    Doug Schema


  16. D. G. Schema Says...

    On June 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    For all of you who are fans of open wire, I’ve finally commenced a website which is a “work in progress.” You may find it at: the-electric-orphanage.org. There is much more to add to this column and I am actively seeking “friends” of this technology to contribute columns and other information to enhance people’s appreciation of this technological communications medium. I hope you enjoy it and that it will also enhance your colunn, Ralph. –As I so much enjoy your scienceray.com column myself.


  17. D. G. Schema Says...

    On June 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    For all of you who are fans of open wire, I’ve finally commenced a website which is a “work in progress.” You may find it at: the-electric-orphanage.org “Song of the Open Wire.” There is much more to add to this column and hence, am actively seeking “friends” of this technology to contribute columns, technical expertise and career adventures to enhance our mutual appreciation of this passing communications medium. Hopefully, you will enjoy reading it as well as adding comments to nurture its momentum. In return, it should also enhance your informative column here too Ralph as I want to give it your link.


  18. Steve Says...

    On March 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Do you happen to know the metallic makeup of open wire? There is still open wire in Nevada, and I am writing a job to wreck out a portion of it now. My understanding is that when it was placed more recently- say around the early 1970s-, the makeup changed from hard-drawn copper to copper plated steel wire. Can anyone verify that? I am having a sample cut- so I know whether it’s worth salvaging or not. If it’s steel, then the amount I’m wrecking isn’t worth salvaging, but I need to document this information to make that decision. Steve


  19. Ralph Brandt Says...

    On March 16, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Steve I don’t know the answer but there are a couple other people who have commented who might, Doug is one. If you click their name you may be able to write them.

    I will try sending him a message


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