Electric poles, alias “telephone poles”
For people of a certain age, these wooden things with wires were called “telephone poles”, although the essential function was to provide electric power. Also dated we say we will “dial” a phone number even though the rotary dial, landline phones are also part of the story. Pushing the story further, they are “telegraph poles”. Just a few years after Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraph, he obtained a proof of concept grant from the federal government to build a wired connection between Washington, DC and Baltimore. were operational in 1844. By 1850, some 12,000 miles of telegraph wire crisscrossed the United States. Thoreau’s journal has a note that the telegraph reached Concord in August 1851. A journal entry for Harlan Maynard – Amory’s youngest son – confirms Assabet Village had telegraph service (possibly earlier) in 1857. The Creosote was already used to preserve railway ties, so the same means were applied to telegraph poles.
The woodpole.org site is a wealth of more information than one could wish for, unless it actually uses it in the utility industry. There are an estimated 150 million poles in place in North America. Lifespan depends on climate – short for the hot and humid deep south, moderate for Massachusetts. Three species of trees make up the vast majority of what is used in the United States: Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and Southern Pine. Trees that meet the standards are debarked, round and straight in shape, then loaded into a container that will be filled with one of the many approved preservatives. Pressure and heat are applied to sterilize the wood (killing all insects, bacteria and fungi) and impregnate the wood with preservative chemicals. The chemicals are approved and regulated by the EPA. Creosote, long used to preserve utility poles and railway ties, is no longer used and pentachlorophenol (âpentaâ) is on the verge of being phased out. It goes without saying that old utility poles and railway ties should not be burned for firewood or for outdoor bonfires.
Safe life requires posts to retain two-thirds of their required initial design strength. This is determined by periodic inspection and processing. Most utilities inspect every 10 years. The Maynard poles appear to follow a seven-year cycle, as indicated by the oval aluminum labels that say âOSMOSE INSP.â, With one year, and also âMITC-FUMEâ. The latter says the posts were treated with an antifungal compound through slanted holes drilled close to the ground, a slow-release cylinder inserted, and then capped with a plastic cap. With this preventative treatment, utility poles can last over 50 years.
Other tags will show a number for a street, a number indicating each post in the street, and often the name of the company responsible for maintaining the post. On older posts, these labels may be pewter, and you might see “BOSTON EDISON” or “NET & TCo. Â», For New England Telephone and Telegraph. On newer posts, badges can be plastic or even coded markings etched into the wood.
A few junk: If your vehicle breaks a pole, your insurance will be charged for a replacement. Posts at the corners provide support for yard sales and lost animal signs, as evidenced by the hundreds of staples and nails. All too common a view in Maynard is dual poles, meaning old poles next to replacements, as some of the wires have yet to be transferred. In theory, double-pole situations are supposed to be resolved by utility companies within 90 days, but there is currently no state law imposing fines.
As for finding Maynard’s oldest utility pole, limit your search to narrower diameter, creosote-treated poles that still have climbing spikes, then look for date nails, hammered facing the street, about six feet from the ground. These have two-digit numbers signifying the year of the twentieth century when the posts were installed. Many are missing – taken for memories. The oldest I have found is a 38 which means the post was installed 83 years ago. If you find it older, write a letter to the journal.
– South of the Cumberland Farms gas station on Route 27 there is a large wooden post with climbing spikes but no wires. The land around it belonged to Boston Edison – once Maynard’s electricity supplier. Climbing to the top of the pole was part of the job application process. Several mergers later, BE is Eversource.