Great Storms and Their Aftermath

A March 1966 Blizzard in North Dakota left these Burlington-Northern open wire signal and communications circuits at man-high levels.  Original caption: “I believe there is a train under here somewhere.”  Credit: NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection.  Jamestown, ND, March 9, 1966.  Mr. Bill Koch, ND State Highway Dept., Collection of Dr. Herbert Kroehl, NGDC.


Profound Storm Conditions and the Wake of Their Aftermath . . . Foes of Open Wire


In this episode of the Era of Open Wire, we will explore the greatest foes this transmission medium ever faced: blizzards, ice, sleet, tornadoes, hurricane winds, floods, which wrecked havoc on the open wire plant.  Through these stories of forces inflicting their greatest degree of sustained God-ravaged vandalism, we will see the maintenance and reconstruction forces at their best.  This was indeed the time of “spirited service” and heroics which defined the “Boomer” lineman, the operators in central offices and the other manned services which performed tasks beyond human expectations.

Tale of Weather Woe From an Indiana Bell Veteran …


In the early 90’s myself and several buddies went to New Castle, Indiana on ice storm related repairs.  We left Muncie and it was raining.  I said to myself, “This won’t take long…”   It’s raining here in Muncie.  Well, I got south of Muncie a few miles and it was like someone had drawn a line across the landscape.  Literally on one side of the line it was wet and above freezing; looking down on the other side it was solid ice.   The tree limbs were sagging and everything was well…”white as snow!”  I got further down the road toward New Castle…trees were down and drops (and power) were down everywhere.  I realized then, it was going to be a long day(s).  


I arrived at my first location and a customer’s drop was lying in the alley.  It had about an inch of around the drop.  As I picked up the drop the ice broke in 4 or 5 inch sections but stayed on the drop.  It looked like I was carrying a string of hot dogs like the ones in cartoons of long ago when the butcher was being chased down the street by dogs!  Thankfully, that didn’t happen to me!  Later, I was in a trailer park and I heard what I thought was a rifle shot.  I wondered what idiot was out on a day like today shooting squirrels?  Come to find out, the limbs–some as big as 6 or 8 inches in diameter–were snapping on the weight of the ice.  It wasn’t a slow process, it was a crack and those limbs fell fast!


There are so many adventures that happened in the telephone industry, I wish somebody would write a decent story about it.  Photo’s of long ago I enjoy too.


Ronald Clidence

Indiana Bell

Russ Clayton, a Southwestern Bell veteran writes of this photograph: “Some iced down wire taken in the mid 50’s around Sikeston, Mo.  Thank you for having the web site because open wire is yet another dated technology that is practically forgotten but at one point was part of the landscape of the U.S. tying cities, towns and states together along with the Linemen that built, repaired and maintained it.”


“The Ice Storm of November 1921 – The Lowell Electric Light Corporation


Aftermath of the Massachusetts 1921 storm west of Boston.  Credit: NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection archive.

The following little black and white booklet came into my hands recently.  This non-copyrighted edition is shared here so that the reader may completely understand the devestating effects of a major ice/sleet storm upon communications, rail, telegraph, cable and electric utility open wire services.  This book, entitled The Ice Storm of November, 1921, was published by a municipal electric system in Lowell, Massachusetts–a town which suffered greatly at the center of this massive storm. 


The Great 1921 Tarpon Springs Hurricane


“Kids playing on a downed telephone pole on 5th Avenue at 22nd Street in Ybor City.”

Credit: Photo Credit National Weather Service Tampa Bay Area/Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.