Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Insulator Post

When I was a kid in the 1970's my best friend Kevin and I would play in the railroad yard behind his house.  Lots of memories from that place.  At some point a train came through that was hauling some kind of ore.  This material was little balls around half an inch in diameter and purple in color.  At some point something must have gone wrong because these little balls spilled out of a hopper car and were scattered along the tracks for about a mile.  We soon realized these made excellent slingshot projectiles and hauled them home by the bagful.
In the winter time we would break ice on the many puddles and truck ruts that were all over the yard.  In the summer we rode our bikes to a place we called sawdust hill.  A nearby shop of some kind must have been dumping sawdust in this spot for quite a while because the pile was huge. 
Somewhere in the yard one day we stumbled upon some green glass insulators.  I took mine home and kept it for many years.  I don't know what ever happend to it and forgot all about that big chunk of green glass.

Now almost 30 years later while researching land line telegraphy I found a picture of an insulator and it brought back the memory from my childhood of that green insulator.  After furthur investigation I discovered that there is a healthy community of collectors all across America and even world wide who enjoy these relics from a bygone era.  Glass insulators were used from the mid 1800's when landline telegraph systems were first strung up along railroad right of ways and later used in electricity distrubution once that technology was developed.  Glass was used to make insulators for roughly 100 years until it was replaced by porcelain in the 1950's.  Glass insulators were made in many shapes and sizes for different applications.  What makes these pieces interesting is the fact that the glass houses that produced insulators would use scrap or recylced glass called "cullet" to produce runs of insulators.  This resulted in many different colors and shades.  Insulators can be found in many shades of green and blue. Aqua marine being very common to beer bottle brown, yellow and orange and even deep blues and purples like antique medicine bottles.  For whatever reason some colors like red are more rare and these insulators command higher prices on the collector market.

I am not really into collectibles but I feel that insulators are unique because they were designed for a strictly utilitarian purpose and today are regarded as historical pieces of art by collectors.  I am new to collecting and have a small group that sits on my windowsill where they can catch the afternoon sun.  To me it is facinating to hold one of these pretty hunks of glass and imagine all the morse code messages that zipped by on the wire held atop a pole somewhere by this piece of antique utility hardware.

The insulator pictured above is a more recent example from the 1930's or 40's made by the Hemingray Company which was located around Covington, KY just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.  This piece I picked up from the "FREE" table at the Springfield (OH) insulator show in 2009.  Proving that even today you can get something for nothing.  These insulators are pretty common and if you pay attention along rail tracks you can still somtimes spot green and clear ones up on poles.  I decided to use this insulator for my first post because it is similar to the one I found all those years ago in the railroad yard.  I call this part of my blog the insulator post and will occasionally showcase one of my pieces and a few words about it.

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