Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Insulators In The Wild

Today I was out for a ride aboard my recumbent bike.  As I was cruising along the right of way of what was once a spur route of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad the glint of blue glass laying in this freshly worked field caught my eye.  I took a mental note of the location and continued on my with my ride.  I figured I would investigate on the way back.  Out in the middle of nowhere and only feet from the railroad bed the glass was most certainly a piece of an old insulator.

Sure enough on my way back I stopped and picked up the sky blue shard which was a piece of an old insulator.  In the photograph you can see a discoloration of the soil adjacent to the bike path.  This is caused by coal dust and cinders deposited by steam locomotives as they worked up and down the corridor long ago.  As I walked back toward the field edge where I had left my bike I forgot the shard in an instant as my gaze came to rest on an unmistakable shape resting in the dirt at the edge of the field.

Unfortunately when I pulled the object from the dirt I found that the insulator was cracked in half longitudinally.  In any case for me it was a stunning find.  Usually when insulators break they fracture in the middle along the wire groove creating a profile much harder to identify.

Clearly visible on the crown are the letters ATENT and below that 19 . 1871.

I wrapped the piece up carefully and stowed it in my pack and finished up my ride.  When I got home I thumbed through my insulator collector guide looking for the bullet shaped insulator.  Soon I located the familiar shape and positively identified my find as a CD 132.

The embossing on the crown of the insulator had it been complete would say Patent / Dec. 19. 1871.  This was a U.S. Patent issued to Robert Hemingray of Covington, Kentucky for a glass insulator molding technique he developed.  This insulator I found today is an example of one of Hemingray's earliest productions before the glass plant was moved from the banks of the Ohio to Muncie, Indiana in 1888.

While I would have been completely happy with my ride and the beautiful weather outside today finding this little jewel capped off my day perfectly.

Additional documentation at


  1. You're a modern archaeologist! + nice detective work (I wonder how many people have insulator collector guides laying around).

    1. Hi Rob!

      I suspect not too many have the insulator guide on hand. It's a pretty obscure hobby and often I run into people who don't even know what they are.

  2. RCT, always enjoy your posts. I was riding the Heart of Ohio trail between Centerburg and Mt. Vernon on Saturday and saw some insulators "on the tree". Besides trespassing and possible theft issues(ha-ha) are there any unwritten (or written) rules amongst collectors about obtaining these in the wild? Thanks for the entertaining blog. Dave in Columbus.

  3. Thanks Dave!

    No rules as far as I know. Only one piece of advice that I follow myself is: Don't climb poles. They rot just below ground level and while they appear sturdy most are far from. I make a mental note of pole locations and then wait for them to fall then try to be the first one there to recover the glass. Some collector/hunters use long poles tipped with rubber ends to coax or unwind the insulators off the pins when they are up high.

    The gray area is whose property these old pieces of glass are. I would say they belong to the parks dept. or whatever group maintains the trail as they usually lie right in or next to the railroad right of way.

    As far as my finds go with the help of this blog I'm creating a record of where the pieces came from and establishing a provenance. If I ever get rid of them I'll print up a detailed document that shows the information. I know in the collecting circles many have put a huge amount of work into documenting what insulators were in service and where. I think that's an important enough reason to recover an insulator from the wild and keep track of it rather than just letting it fall victim to the ravages of time or the farmers plow like the piece I found.

    Most of the glass insulators still out there (In this part of Ohio anyways) are relatively new (1930's - 1950's) and as such don't have any real monetary value. I do think they have historical value and that makes them worth preserving.

    Also thanks for cluing me in on the HOOT trail. I didn't even realize it was there. A great excuse to load up the bike and head down that way. Maybe I'll even spot your insulator!

    1. I wish I'd have thought to drop a pin on the GPS. Shouldn't be too hard to find. There aren't too many standing poles on the route. As a plus if you do ride the trail, you can visit the old Ohio State Sanatorium near Mt. Vernon. Neat old building. Maybe not old schoolhouse neat, but something to see. Dave