The “Boomer” Lineman

The “Boomer” Lineman in Photos


A lunchtime break in 1925, affords time for a group photo.

In 1975, James C. Rippey published “A Centennial History of Northwestern Bell” entitled: “Goodbye Central; Hello World” through the Telephone Pioneers organization.  It is a good, concise little history of Northwestern Bell Telephone Company’s growth out of many little companies throughout the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa up until the mid-1970s.  At that time, the headquarters for NWB was in Omaha, Nebraska.  Later it became part ofU S WEST headquartered in Denver, Colorado and further mutated intoQWEST and so forth, forever losing its vital identity.  Today, that area is served by CenturyLink, having purchased QWEST and having moved into its downtown Denver 51-story headquarters.


2016-07-21 12.37.29Display at the Museum of Independent Telephony, Abilene, Kansas.


However, in the happier managerial days preceding the grand break-up of the Bell System, this book appeared and was well received. 


On page 171 of the hardback edition, there is a homage to the “Boomer” lineman and would like to quote from this inset, which was included in Rippey’s book from the contributor, Gil Brackett.  Mr. Brackett was a traffic results supervisor in Des Moines, Iowa and set out to furnish Northwestern Bell Magazine with many written contributions about the history of the company, its service and personalities once his working life with the company had ended.  He died in April 1975.

1920s Indiana “Boomer” telephone lineman.

Pre-OSHA days of linework.  Sometimes there were pole hole drilling races on especially long toll lead projects.  When it came to the “high wire acts” things moved a bit more slowly for surviving a project, since height and weights of equipment, were sure to eliminate the methodical speed of ground-level efforts.  Never-the-less, some very impressive projects generated impressive “top off” photos, where linemen would scale the last terminal structure en masse and wave to the photographer–who himself would often be one of the luckier linemen owning a camera–to record the final event.

“Probably the most romantic and, at times, the most cantankerous individual ever to don a pair of hooks and mount a telephone pole was the “boomer” lineman.  This gent was a salty fellow, a nomad of the telephone industry from its birth until somewhere near 1918.  Like the geese, when the first sign of frost brought a chill to the night air, Mr. Boomer was in a dither until he was on his way south, vanvas “tote” bag in one hand, a pair of hooks slunng over a shoulder as he waved farewell and shouted, “See you next spring!”

The Foreman’s Model T and ‘Boomers’.

Pole setting equipment of 1929 (below) and (above) Specifications for climbers, 1940.

” . . . Mr. Boomer was a rugged sort of a man . . . tractable with a foreman he admired as a master, but became feisty and hard to ahndle under one less knowledgeable than himself.”

Even a thumb over the Brownie camera’s lense didn’t kill the drama on this 50-wire toll lead!

Newly constructed Gary, Indiana toll lead lifts its burden over 2400-volt a.c. distribution alley structures. Note the old carbon-arc burning street light, 1925.


How to Raise a Young Pole Without Really Trying

AT&T Long Lines vehicles of the late 1920s.

Before the pole was to be raised, it would be rolled to the site (if heavy) or carried by the cant hooks so that its little butt rested directly over the targeted hole in the ground.  By using the oak plank, its length could be placed so that one end of it was at the bottom of the hole directly opposite the pole butt.  What was important was to use the plank as a sturdy and slippery guide so that the pole as it descened, had little resistance as it slowly inclined to a 90-degree angle.  


The foreman had previously assigned one man to be the “Dead Man,” four crew members assigned piking duties with one at the hole, holding a cant hook and supplied with a crowbar so to mercifully guide the pole into its final position.  Also, since the pole raising crew was putting its important attention on seeing the pole ascend, the cant hooker was barking instructions to the crew so that the pole butt would enter the pole without being rolled out of position and possibly causing an accident.


When the pole was high enough to use the higher piking poles, the Dead Man would continue to guide the pole so that alignment with the crossarms (if so pre-equipped) would be successfully accomplished.  Naturally, it was essential that when the pole was in the midst of rising, the men directly under it, would reposition themselves to avoid the potential danger, should a pole fall and potentially crush or maim a crew member.

If you were the foreman of a line crew clearing, digging, pulling, dropping and stringing from early dawn to late afternoon, you had among your men a dependable group.  A single crew would be supplied around the turn of the century (c.1900-1910) with these implements:


two 12′ pike poles

two 14′ pike poles

two 16′ pike poles

two dead-men, 6′ and 8′ in length

one cant hook

two tamping bars

one short-handled shovel

two carry hooks

a piece of plank, namely of hardwood and durable, like oak or walnut about nine inches wide, one ahd one half inches thick and seven feet in length

one set of four-inch double-sheave block and tackle, with about 300′ of one half inch hemp rope


These piking poles, surely an anachronism left over from feudal times with a short comeback during the American War of the Rebellion, were not weapons of war.  Instead, they were a favorable tool when properly trained to set poles upright.   These pikes were made of pine.  Their diameter was about two and one half inches at the largest end.  The point on the opposite end was placed so that it could project into a pole burrowing deeply.  This spike was about three and one half inches in length–making the typical piking pole a powerful weapon and not something to hurl at your neighbor!  A strong iron or steel ferrule maintained the point at the very center of the tool end.


The “Dead Man,” was a short four inch diameter heavy oak bar with a two-tined fork at the end which was used to secure the pole to be raised.  Within the deep portion of the this “fork” was a small, but sharp point, centered at the bottom of its “U” shape.  This tool allowed the pole to be handled without slipping back and forth as it was raised to vertical.


As the Dead Man secured the pole at the base, the pikers–groundsmen–would continually move the pikes (and the pole) higher and higher.  Several would secure the pole, while others disconnected their pikes and then secured new positions so that the effort could be repeated effortlessly until the pole was moved into proper vertical position.


The Cant Hook was also a stout little object of affection.  Its handle was composed of a varnished oak or sometimes waterproofed hickory wood, which offered a pivoting motion if needed.  On one end was a jaw which could be used to snare the pole so that it could be intentionally turned or rotated as it was descending into the hole–or secured so that required rotation might not be applied.  Sometimes these tools were also used to roll the pole on the ground, so that the through bolt crossarm bolts, crossarms and hardware, could be aligned properly before the pole would be raised.


The Carry Hook was simply stated . . . a means to “carry” the pole by two groundsmen.  It consisted of two iron jaws which pivoted and swiveled to the center where a stout oak handle about five feet in length was maintained.  These were used to carry (if the pole were light enough) to the job site.


Now the oak plank?  Well, if you’ve never placed a long pole for a deck, corral or fence, you’ll quickly learn that “round pegs don’t always go slavishly into round holes,” meaning that shoving a weighty 600 lb. pole down a hole isn’t that easy without a “guide” to ease it into the hole without some resistance–capturing a lot of dirt on its way down.  This plank assists in sliding and uses the pole’s center of gravity to effortlessly slump into the butt into the hole.  And finally, the block and tackle becomes a necessary–and important item–only used when confronting an easement where the geography poses the problem of pulling obdurate poles up hills or safely easing them down embankments.

Pole setting with pikes, 1900.

Piking poles for communications lines, probably early 1880s to 1900s. Illustrator credit unknown.

Ready to use new mechanized and hydraulic pole hole boring devices, 1925.

Once the pole is 90-degree vertical, the Cant tool is used to make any adjustments in its alignment and crossarms are in proper location with the direction of the lead.  Alternate poles will have the crossarms attached to the face of the pole in the opposite direction so as to prevent extra strain from span weights between structures.  The remaining work to be done is that of the men who stick the pole with their pikes at about eight feet above the ground and then plant the ends of their poles firmly into the soil.  This provides a good brace while filling and tamping are underway.


Now filling the pole hole with surface soil begins and should be done slowly and methodically, ensuring that with each ascending level of soil is tamped firmly and packed so that the pole will be soil-braced adequately.  In the early days of pole line work, it was found that several people multiplying the work of one in covering the pole hole with soil was the cause of raked poles and settling in after rain storms, causing the ruling span to become irregular and stressed.  AT&T by the early 1900s, would instruct their men that only one person would use the shovel while all the others continued to tamp as the soil entered the hole until the entire hole was filled.


It was at this time, the other men, eager to erect and prepare a new pole, would move to the next staked location and begin work.

Hey, hey, the gang’s all here!

“Few ever married but tht didn’t mean they weren’t interested in the fair sex.  Sometimes it meant trouble. . . . 


The Bommer has been gone now for more than (a) century.  I wonder what he would say about the elimination of his beloved [open wire] toll leads, replaced by Telstar, television, radio, shortwave and other means?  I can hear him complain: “Gee, Boss, they done ruined the phone business.  No poles to climb?  It jest aint human!”

Hard physical labor demanded a few pauses in between . . .

And the “Boomer” lineman wasn’t a monopoly of simply the Bell Companies.  The independent companies had their counterpart in men who worked for Lincoln Telephone and Telegraph, the early farmer mutual companies, General Telephone and significant competitors to the Bell scheme of things.

A 1924 spring Sunday morning brought a well-attired AT&T line construction crew to pose in front of an Iowa boarding house many miles from home.

Nothing like a watermelon break during the noon hour!

“A” Frame Push Brace on open wire toll lead, AT&T Long Lines, Algona, Iowa 1924.

New pole requires transferring circuits.

For those interested in obtaining a copy of James C. Rippey’s book, Goodbye Central; Hello World: A Centennial History of Northwestern Bell, here is the ordering information:


Published for the Telephone Pioneers of America, Hawkeye Chapter No. 17: Iowa

C. P. Wainman Chapter 18: Minnesota and North Dakota

Casper E. Yost Chapter No. 19: Nebraska and South Dakota


Copyright 1975. Library of Congress Card No. 75-13986; Wagners Printers, Inc. Davenport, Iowa.


I’m sorry, but there is no issuance of an ISBN for this particular volume.  You’ll need to check prices, as my copy was a gift.  It was available in both hardcover and softcover versions.

“Late Boomers” of the 1950s

These pictures were given to me knowing I would appreciate them and use them in a future constructive way.  This followed an in-depth oral history interview for which the interviewee enjoyed speaking about his many fascinating career stories during his tenure at Northwestern Bell over 35 years.  Enjoy comparing these “late boomers” with the ones taken approximately 30 years earlier.  The date of these photos is unknown, and the persons are not identified.  However, trucks and equipment appear to be mid- to late-1950s vintage, so safely the 1955 date would most genuinely approach the photographs’ date.

Note the evolution of the Bell equipment between the 1920s and 1950s.

All I can tell the observer is that these were from the southwest Iowa area, presumably around Red Oak and Shenandoah.

Vehicles have changed greatly and so have the safety practices.

Valuable pictures of the evolution of pole setting equipments.

Note the use of side-board mounted storage which was fabric canvas in the 1920s.

Who are these people? Do you know them?


Tools of the Trade: Communications Linemen & Linewomen


What the Well Dressed (and Equipped) Line Construction Crew Carried


Above is a Bell System-issed Body Belt for use at Michigan Bell, an AT&T operating company.  Note the belt has four loops along its side.  This means it is a size 22 or 24.  The size 20 belt had only three loops.  Equipment courtesy of Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

There is no less an important item for lineman-installer-splicer fashion in the telecommunications industry than the . . . Body Belt!  It is an essential pairing of the body belt with safety strap and lineman’s climbers which makes or . . . breaks . . . the safe daily work in this profession.


Above we have an excellent example of a Bell-System approved (and contracted) Mathias Kline body belt made for Michigan Bell employees.  AT&T had a standard-issue, uniform supplier process, which guaranteed all operating companies possessed ideally suited climbing equipment to the highest standards.  The Independents also obtained their climbing gear from similar suppliers, such as Kline. We’re approaching this topic in a general way here, based on Kline’s universally good reputation as a quality tools source for utilities of all kinds.

In the photo above, we have a body belt which incorporates the following features: a) the buckle and strap to firm up the device to the lineman’s body;

b) the incorporation of Tool Loops into the rear portion of the unit;

c) a Tool Holster, for pliers and other finer implements;

d) a Wrench Keeper, for the Lineman’s Wrech equipped with appropriate sized openings for standard lag screw, pole line machine bolt and nut sizes; as well as,

e) a Tape Thong, which allowed rolls of electrical tape to be hung conveniently; and finally,

f) the all-important “Dee” Rings, which allowed the safety strap to be securely and effortlessly attached to the climber.

Detail of the embossed brass tag which reads:



3 – 57  Size 22

B Belt 4-K



Equipment courtesy of Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company. 

Let’s talk a little lineman “anatomy”: the whole performance of climbing a pole, tower or structure depends upon the security of the equipment and the comfort of the worker.  Find your hip bones.   Where the “Dee” rings meet slightly above the more “prominent” points of these bones is typically the most comfortable stance for wearing the belt.


With the use of this equipment, every telco to my knowledge, required its climbing forces to inspect their belts each week.  Essentially, their lives depended upon this security and safekeeping trust.  Strength of the belt was uttermost in importance, for it supported not only the weight of the lineworker, but the stress under movement and in the case of “gaffing out,” supporting the entire body weight of the lineman in stress.

Safety strap for use in snapping onto the opposing Body Belt Dee Rings.  This belt is oversized, meaning it allows maneuverability on the pole or at the splicer’s balcony on a SAI installation.  Equipment courtesy Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

Body belt inspection required attention to these details:


Where Dee Rings attached, evidence of broken or steel reinforcement plates coming loose or missing;

Torn leather–especially where the reinforcing plates might show significant wear–and insufficient strength might be obvious in an inability to support a lineman;

Rivets either loose or broken–with first attention drawn to those supporting the Dee Rings;

Dee Rings required some stitching in the leather; to check for rotted threads or simply missing stitches;

Dry leather–which shouldn’t be allowed to happen at all–if prudent care has been performed on the belt, but which might occur when rainy weather conditions have been repeatedly encountered over days or weeks of work, such as in a hurricane or severe storm period;

Cracked dry leather.  Proper lubrication with oil or saddle soap was typically the remedy of this condition;

A Wrench Keeper distorted or missing;

Buckles which would not fit, or would be insecure in the insertion holes;

Broken buckles;

Excessive heat problems which cause leather to be burned, blackened or contorted.  Many times in the old days, the wet leather would be dried with the use of old steam heat radiators (not recommended) or pipes; additionally, in the days with wiping lead sleeves on lead cables and splices, sometimes the belt would come in contact with a pot of hot solder, soldering copper or a splicer’s furnace;

Surface cracks should show minutely, when the belt is bent, but not deep and dry spaces between the leather’s surface when closed, above 32 degrees F.

Overhead view of same body belt with snaps.  Note it can be adjusted to different personal dimensions.  Equipment courtesy Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

Care of any leather, whether it be a good saddle for a horse and mule, leather for driving oxen, or even a good personal belt or wallet, is up to the owner.  For telephone employees generally–as with most leather items–it is not wise to ignore cleaning and oiling of leather for more than three months.  With more moisture and wet conditions–such as in winter situations, hurricane, storm and flood conditions–a more frequent oiling and conditioning should be undertaken.


Oddly enough, oils and preservatives used on poles do not noticeably damage leather.  In fact creosote, for example, doesn’t injure the surface, but simply can be removed at the completion of work that day when the equipment is removed and put away prior to further use.


Some linemen tried to use gasoline (!) on their belts to make them more supple, however gas tends to dry quickly and causes the leather to become brittle and very dry quickly.  However, the best method was to use a dampened sponge, dipped in some alkali-less soap, then applied to the leather surface.  The entire belt was cleaned in that way until a cloth was then applied to clean the surface of all soapy residue.  


After that application, saddle soap was then used with some rigorous motion so as to completely cover all outside surfaces of the belt and then the belt was put aside to dry out.  Finally, when the leather has practically dried, a thick cloth is used to rub the sides of the belt to remove any left-overs.


Saddle soap was and is, a very effective way of keeping the leather soft and supple, while maintaining strength and flexibility.  When these tactics don’t offer sufficient soft pliability, then it is time to get out the oil.


Oiling is typically done only after about six months, according to Kline and other manufacturers of this equipment.  Neatsfoot oil is used to gradually cover the surface–not flood the top of the leather–so that 1/4 ounce can go a long way.  The whole idea of using oil is not to completely saturate it so that it is slippery and mushy–for that is not recommended–and unsafe–but to work into the leather enough lubrication so that whtin 24 hours it is dry to the touch.

Bell System issue canvas tool and equipment bag.  Note the rings for attachment to the Body Belt.  Sturdy, strong and full of space to carry lag screws, carriage bolts, 5/8-inch bolts, square washers, palnuts and a host of other pole line hardware when working.  Equipment courtesy Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

Can you imagine a lineman using a body belt to assist in piking poles for pole line erection?  Apparently, this had been done with a prompt disapproval from superiors, because in several instances–before it was stopped–for an all too obvious reason–the piking pole would slide down between the belt and the body causing serious injuries.

When a lineman in the telephone industry goes to procure and use a body belt, he or she, can specify sizes: 20-, 22- or 24-inches.  This is NOT the waist size of the wearer!  To measure a “C” Type body belt you you seek the distance between each of the two Dee Rings.  The belt isn’t terribly heavy, weighing a little over 2 lbs, without all the tools and other job-required items attached.

Lineman’s Wrench: two views either side.  Note it is sized for 5/8-inch machine bolts and nuts for attaching crossarms or 3-bolt cable support clamps for strand on non-self supporting multi-pair cable as well as self-supporting cable; an opening for placing lag screws or removing them where poleline hardware such as crossarm braces were used, as well as a means to tighten carriage bolts on crossarm braces.  Probably wasn’t too bad a weapon of defense–especially against threatening dogs!  Equipment courtesy Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

The Climbers incorporate a number of items, paired so as to offer both feet and legs, comfort as well as security, as ascending and decending a pole might depend.   The climbers are exactly similar in size and nature, available in thirteen sizes from No. 14 (14-inches) to No. 20 (20-inches) in half sizes.  To measure the length of a climber is easy: it is the bottom of the stirrup to the extreme end of the “Leg Iron.”  In the Bell System world, the imprint “Bell System” is shown with some pertinent identification information and maker’s marks.    


Let’s identify the climbers’ nomenclature:

The Leg Iron which is the main member of rigid leg and foot support;

the Gaff, which is the sharp “spike” which penetrates the structure or pole surface and is about one and thirteen sixteenths in length; 

the upper Strap Loop, which guarantees that the strap around the upper leg will be anchored to the Leg Iron to hold it without too much flexing;

the Stirrup, which is where the foot rests; and,

the bottom Strap Loop to fix the leather securely without movement around the boot.

Climbers equipped with leather padding to protect the harsh rigidity of the belts around the calf of the leg and provide broad support for the leg during climbing up or down a pole.  The yellow devices on the gaffs are protectors, so that the gaffs will not contact the ground and be damaged.  It was a Bell and general telephone rule once dismounted from a pole, to remove the climbers, before walking.  In this way, the gaffs might be protected from concrete or asphalt surfaces and dull or damage them.  Equipment courtesy of Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

How do you measure for climbers?  Find your knee bone.  Measure from that area to the underside of your boot’s arch.  Subtract one half inch.  That will be your size to order climbers.  


The leg iron is adjustable with set screws and also can be slightly bent, without the need of heating up the steel.  To make certain your adjustment is correct, be sure to re-try the appliance by wearing it assuring that you’ve been able to clear the ankle bone.  Step down.  The properly worn climber should seat on the calf of the leg.


Now, it is important to assure the gaff–the little sharp point on the opposite side from the bottom foot belt–is at least one inch above the bottom of the boot sole. Before any serious climbing is undertaken, some review of the gaff’s condition is imperative, so that no one “gaffs out” or is insecurely attached to a pole when climbing.


Here are some things to look out for when examining the quality of the leg iron and gaffs:

A gaff which has cracks or appears to be fractured;

a dangling or loose gaff;

when measuring a previously used gaff, finding that its length is less than 1 and 1/8th inches–according to the inner surfaces;

any leg or boot straps outworn, torn, dried, or rotted;

a distorted leg iron which bent or cracked;

a stirrup which is noteably worn or thin;

gaffs which no longer are sharp, dulled or worn; and

gaffs incorrectly honed.

Close-up of the bottom stirrup straps, detail of gaff structure and protective slip-on device (Gaff Guard) for shielding the gaffs during transport, non-use, by telephone employees.  Equipment courtesy of Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

Can you guess what this device was used for?

A hint: poking around in tight physical spaces within a frame or central office switching didn’t allow a metal screw driver to be used. Tool courtesy of Jim Miller, Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

Whether Bell, Independent or Railway communications pole line construction forces, the amount–and variety–of late 19th Century and early 20th Century implements for building open wire was amazing!  Basically, these personnel were versed in many crafts, as can be seen by the tools and hardware used to outfit and complete a toll lead or signal lead.  Let’s just review “List No. 1 – Standard Tools and Equipment Necessary for a General Construction Gang, Consisting of From Fourteen to Twenty Men–” from the March 1922 Report submitted to the American Railway Association’s Telegraph & Telephone Section, found between pages 115 and 122:


Anvil: 100 lb. steelface blacksmith’s anvil.

10 Arrows, Land Chain: made from No. 6 B.W.G. (Birmingham Wire Guage) steel wire, 14-inches long, with round loop at one end and the other end sharpened.

3 Augers, Earth with handle:  One 8-inch, one 14-inch, one 16-inch.  Consisting of an 8-inch, 14-inch or 16-inch blade iwth a six foot telescopic handle [the 8-inch size is used for anchor holes; the 14- and 16-inch sizes are used for post holes.

6 Axes, hand:  Consists of a hickory handle, 17 1/2-inches long, with a steel head.  Has a 5 and 1/4-inch cutting blade.

4 Axe picks.

1 Axle, steel:  For use with cable reel jacks: 2-inch x 6 foot

8 Bags, canvas tool.

8 Bars, Digging: octagonal steel bar 8′ x 1 1/8-inch, one end pointed, the other sharpened as a chisel blade.

6 Bars, tamping type: 8′ long fitted with an iron shoe.

2 Barrels of Sand:  One 3′ and one 5′ of a diameter of 29″.

8 Belts, Lineman’s Body.

27 Bits, Auger: 3 1/4-inch, 3 3/8-inch, 6 1/2-inch, 6 11/16ths-inch, 6 3/4-inch, three of 1-inch diameter.

15 Bits, Car:  3 1/2-inch 3 9/’16-inch, 3 11/16-inch, 6 13/16-inch.

18 Bits, Car, Ship Auger: 12 21/32nds-inch, 3 5/16ths-inch, 3 33/32nd inch.  Wooden bit with long twist to clear from the opposite side of pole, length of over 18-inches and 21/32nds is standard gain boring size.

2 Bits, Expansive: No. 1 Bit furnished with two cutters: one from 7/8ths -inch to 1 3/4ths-inch, the other from 1 3/4ths inches to 3 inches.

9 Bits, Ship Auger: Consists of a wood bit with long twist to clear itself; intended especially for boring anchor logs and gains; lengths over 21-inches.

12 Blades, Hack Saw: 6 8-inch; 6 12-inch.

6 Blocks, Snatch, Steel:  Three-6 inch, three 8-inch.

6 Pairs Blocks, Tackle, Steel: Three pair 4-inch, two pair 6-inch, one pair 8-inch.

10 Pairs Blocks, Tackle:  Three inch, two sheaves, Used iwth 3/8-inch rope for pulling line wire.

2 Boards, Reel, Hand Car: A support for reel heads on hand cars paying out wire.  The reel heads of the standard carrying reel will fit spindle of board.

2 Boxes, tool: 36-inches long; 16-inches wide and 15-inches deep.

1 Box, First Aid.

2 Boxes, Tool Framers: a light, open bos or tray divided int two sections with handle in the middle for carrying light tools required for framing poles.

1 Brace, Ratchet: 6-inch sweep.

6 Braces, Ratchet: 12-inch sweep.

3 Brushes, Metro: No. 2.

3 Brushes, Paint: Flat, 4-inch.

2 Brushes, Stencil: No. 9.

1 Car Cable:  Various kinds used for riding messenger or strand wire when installing or repairing aerial cable.

1 Chain, Land: A steel chain with brazed links and rings.

2 Chains, Coil, Log: One 7-foot and one 16-foot lengths.

2 Chisels, Cold: 8-inch x 1-inch.

7 Chisels, Wood: One 1-inch, Six 2-inch.  Socket firmer without bevelededge.  Two inch framing chisels are standard for framing poles.

Climbers, Eastern Pattern: Four 16-inch; four 16 1/2-inch, two 17-inch and one 17 1/2-inch.

Connectors, Combination:  Fourteen 10 1/2-inch, four 13 1/2-inch.  For making connection in copper wires by means of copper sleeves, and for holding the two ends of iron wires parallel to each other when making a hand or iron wire joint.  The 13 1/2-inch are for use with No. 4 and No. 6 B.W.G. wire.

3 Coppers, Soldering: one 1-lb; two 3-lb.

1 Pole Counter.

2 Cutters, Bolt: No. 2 and No. 3 each.  Used for cutting guy strand, bolts, and etc. up to 1/2 inch diameter.  No 3 for extra heavy work.

2 Deadmen: Consists of an 8 foot wooden handle, 3-inch by 3-inch with steel yoke of 19-inches diameter on one end and a steel spud on the other.  Used for raising and supporting heavy poles.

1 Drill, Breast: Consists of a two-speed drill with detachable breast plate.  Used for drilling through metal.

6 Drills:  Two 1/4-inch, two 3/8ths-inch, two 1/2-inch.  A high grade steel drill suitable for all general purposes.

4 Drills, Rock: two 4′; two 6′.  Consists of 1 1/8th-inch octagonal steel with 1 1/2-inch face.

10 Drills, Twist Bit Stock: two 4/32nds-inch; two 8/32nds-inch, two 16/32nds-inch, two 21/32nds-inch and two of one inch.

12 Files, Bastard Flat: Six 8-inch, six 12-inch.

3 Files, Second, Half Round: 12-inch.

6 Files, Three Square: three 4-inch, three 8-inch.  The 8-inch is used for filing hand saws.

2 Files, Bit: 7-inch.

2 Frames, Hack Saw: Adjustable for various length blades.

2 Furnaces, Charcoal: A portable sheet iron furnace 12-inches high, 9 1/2-inches in diameter, burning charcoal, coal, coke or wood.

1 Grindstone: 70 to 80 lbs.

30 Grips, Buffalo: No. 1.  Machined smooth, gripping jaws for pulling line wires.

10 Grip, Haven’s Pattern: A tool steel grip for pulling guys and strand.

1 Hammer, Blacksmith’s Hand: 3 lb. type.

1 Hammer, Claw: 1 lb.

2 Hammers, Striking:  One 8-lb. and one 12-lb.

3 Handles, Axe, Hand.

3 Handles, Axe, Long Handled.

1 Handle, File, Medium.

1 Handle, File, Large

3 Handles, Hammers, Striking.

2 Handles, Hook, Cant.

2 Handles, Hook, Carrying: 4-feet.

2 Handles, Hook, Carrying: 7-feet.

3 Handles, Peavie.

4 Hooks, Carrying: Two 4 foot, two 7 foot.  Consists of two hooks mounted in a swivel attached at center of handle.  Used in carrying poles.

2 Jacks, Ratchet, Cable Reel: Made of angle iron with a two inch by 12-foot adjusting ratchet screw.  For handling heavy reels of cable.  Will swing reels up to 5′ 10″ in diameter in the clear.

2 Jacks, Simplex pole: A single acting, non-tri-pping, lever controlled operating jack, of fifteen ton capacity, with a 23 inch lift.  It is so pivoted at the base that the standard may be inclined at any angel to the vertical.  It is equpped with eight feet of chain, a five foot steel lever bar and a ftwo foot ten inch 25-lb. I-beam base.  Used for pulling and straightening poles.

2 Kegs, Water: ten gallon.

1 Kettle, Iron: ten quart, for creosote.

2 Knives, Draw: 14-inch.  Used for shaving poles.

1 Ladder, Extension:  16 foot.

2 Ladles, Melting: An iron ladle with a 14-inch handle, used for dipping and pouring solder.

4 Lanterns, Railroad type.

1 Level, Spirit, Iron: 12-inch.

50 Links, Open: 2-inch.  A wrought iron link used for attaching Buffalo and Havens Grips to tackle blocks.

12 Padlocks.

2 Pails, Galvanized Iron: 12-quart.

6 Peavies: Consisting of a hickory or ash handle, 4 1/2 feet long, with malleable iron socket, steel hook and pick.

2 Sets Pin Guards for Payout Reels.

2 Piers, Diagonal: 5-inch.

2 Pliers, Long Nose Half Round: 5 1/2-inch

2 Pliers, Side Cutting: 6-inch.

10 Pliers,Side Cutting: 8-inch.

16 Poles, PikeFour 12-foot, four 14-foot, four 16-foot, two 18-foot, two 20-foot.  Consists of a D”ouglas fir pole with pointed mild steel sput set in one end.  Handles 2 inches in diameter.

2 Pots, Solder, Line Wire: Consists of an iron solder pot, 3 7/8ths inches high and 5 3/8ths inches inside diameter.  Has 5 inch handle and hooks to permit haning pot on lipe wire directly under the joint to be soldered.

1 Pump, Bilge: Made of round tool steel, 18-inches long and 5/16ths inch in diameter, with 2 inch point and handle.

1 Punch, Spring, 6-inch Single Tube, 1/8th-inch Hole: A pocket punch for cutting holes in leather straps.

4 Reels, Carrying, Payout: A single horizontal reel on frame carried by two men for paying out line wire.

2 Reels, Taking Up: A single vertical reel with removable side and crank on wooden frame used for reeling up wire.

Rope, Manilla: 1600 feet at 3/8-inch: Used with 3-inch blocks, all sheaves, also for handlines; 500 feet at 1/3-inch used with 3 inch blocks, all sheaves; 1000 feet at 3/4ths-inch used with 6 inch blocks, three sheaves, also unloading poles; 300 feet 1-inch; Used with 8-inch blocks and all sheaves.

2 Saws, Cross Cut, One man: 4 foot length.

2 Saws, Cross Cut, Two men: 6 foot length

6 Saws, Hand: 22-inch, 7 point.

1 Saw, Keyhole: 10-inch.

1 Saw Set: Used for setting teeth in cross-cut saws.

1 Saw Set: Used for setting teeth in hand saws.

2 Screw Drivers: 3-inch.

2 Screw Drivers: 8-inch.

6 Shovels, “D” Handle: A round pointed shovel with “D” handle 27″ long.

10 Shovels, Long Handle: 4 1/2-foot: A round point straight handle shovel.

10 Shovels, Long Handle: 8-foot.  A round point straight handle shovel.

6 Slicks, Digging: An 8 foot wooden handle with a 4-inch tool steel cutting blade.

10 Spoons, Digging: Consists of an 8-foot wooden handle with steel blade and straps; overall length 8′ 3″.

6 Squares, Steel: 2′.

1 Stone, Oil.

60 Straps, Climber: 30 upper; 30 lower: Consists of a single thickness, oak tanned harness leather strap 5/32nds inch thick, 1 3/4ths inches wide and one foot 11″ long with buckle.  Upper strap has 4″ square leather pad.  Lower strap has no pad.

2 Straps, Jack: A 2″ leather strap 55″ long; has a sliding clevis with a small eye for attaching an eccentric for holding wire being pulled.

4 Straps, Reel:  Consists of two leather shoulder straps with side straps for carrying wire reels.

8 Straps, Safety: A harness leather belt 5′ 1 1/2″ long and a 1 3/4ths-inches wide, equipped with malleable cast iron snap hook on each end.

2 Supports, Pole: 8′.  Consists of two wooden uprights crossed in a gained joint, which joint is reinforced by strong iron plates bolt3ed through the uprights.  The bottom has spiked iron shoes bolted thorugh the uprights. An iron cradle is attached to the uprights at the top.

2 Tapes, Linen, Measuring: 50′.

1 Tape, Steel, Measuring: 5′.  Used for measuring butts of poles.

2 Test Sets: portable telephones.

2 Thermometers: Standard Line.

1 Tong, Forging:  Used with portable forgers.

2 Torches, Blow: A hand torch, operated with gasoline, with attachments for heating soldering copper.

1 Trimmer, Tree: A steel hook with knife mounted on an 8′ wooden handle and operated by a lever.  Also has a 10-foot extension handle, which is joined to the tree trimmer by a ferrule on one end.

1 Trowel, Brick: 9 inches.

1 Vise, Machinist’s: A medium weight iron vise with stationary base; width of jaw 4 inches; depth of opening 2 7/8ths inches; jaw opening 6-inches.

6 Wrenches, Alligator: 8-inch.

10 Wrenches, Crossarm: A steel wrench 13 3/4ths inches long, which fits, without adjustment, nuts of bolts and heads of drive, lag and coach screws from 3/8-inch to 1 1/8ths inch heads.

6 Wrenches, Monkey: Two 8-inch; four 12-inch.


And we haven’t said a thing about the . . . poles, crossarms, steel braces, guy clamps, lag screws, anchors, 5/8-inch and 1/4-inch bolts, nuts, washers, locknuts, transposition brackets, pins, insulators, dampers, splices, wire reels, dead-end assemblies, tree wire, pole numbers, ground wire placement and stapling, ground rod placement, risers, straps, protectors, terminals, drops, strand vice and other small items too numerous to mention!!!


And . . . furthermore, this treatment was not much different than the Bell Long Lines crews who assembled at some distant, sometimes urban–mostly rural–areas where magnificent toll leads were to spring from the ground . . . it didn’t happen magically.

Top: Digging Bar; Middle: Round Pointed Shovel; Bottom: Digging Spoon

The Qualifications of a Section Lineman, Stationed Lineman, or Boomer Lineman

Ahh . . . the storied exploits of the Bell or Independent “Boomer” linemen . . . caught the attention of many a Wire Chief . . . and made them take notice.  Where the railroads utilized their pole lines to coordinate freight and (in the early days, “people” traffic), and leased crossarm space and circuits to telegraph companies, other nomenclature was applied to the aerial acrobatic forces building, mending and maintaining their wire systems.  These people were not called installers or splicers–although railroads did have in their employ, ” cable splicers” per se, the rail authorities gave them the official moniker of “Section Lineman” or “Stationed Lineman.”


They were, like their telco counterparts, able and expected to install and maintina telegraph and telephone equipment in structures, on poles, and way stations.  No college was needed; in fact a farming background suited many just fine, as common school, some technical or trade school, education was only that which was needed.

In the Bell, General Telephone and other companies, employees were expected to come with “the intellectual goods” and simply “be trained thoroughly” by their own telephone company training schools.


Naturally, a decent physique, hardiness of character, a good constitution, capable eyesight, nimble hearing and “no disabilities” were desired of these “men”. Sorry, women installers and splicers at railroads were to wait many years, although it was AT&T and GTE who took the first steps at hiring co-ed employees in these crafts by the 1950s.

Anyone–who was male–with a slightly higher than average intelligence–was welcome to apply for the job.  Naturally, the ability to read and write proper English was standard; along with the ability to learn to read blueprints and understand symbology in use by the railway, was acutely important.  Basic comprehension of the rules of his job with the railroad and direct application of his experience and training were demanded.


Many linemen came with experience; others came with merely training and encountered other supervisors whose lived experience was shared and taught to them through the everyday performance of their jobs.  Their installation know how might include such applications as working with all nature of telegraph and telephone equipment, selector systems, electric clocks (really important in a well-run railroad!), fire and other alarm systems, watchman’s systems, annuniciators and other signaling devices.


Many of these devices applied generators, both a.c. and d.c., with attendant rectifiers, motors storage and primary battery systems, with their auxillary switching apparatus–all of which–the Section Lineman had to possess significant understanding.  With this comprehension came the ability to not only find, but correct defects and make repairs on this equipment.

Just to give you a rundown on the many tasks, responsibilities and duties of the Section Lineman, here are just a few, taken from a 1922 manual on the topic:

For example, under “Wire Break Repairs:”


Receive instructions from the Wire Chief (or Test Board Operator) as to probable location;

Inspect line en route to location;

Determine proper guage and type of line wire to be repaired;

Use of sleeves, if copper conductor;

Western Union joints if iron conductor or sleeves (if standard to that company);

Method of making splices:

Copper Wire: a) Cutting in new section; b) Care in handling hard drawn copper to avoid nicks and kinks; c) Preparation of wire to insert in sleeve; d) Care not to injure hands; e) Use of splicing clamps; f) Number of twists; g) Cutting off ends of wire.

Iron Wire: a) Cutting in new section; b) Care in handling to avoid kinks; c) Preparation of wire for splicing; d) Use of pliers; e) Kind and number of twists; f) Preparation of wire to solder; g) Use of flux; h) Application of solder; j) Clean off flux; k) Painting joint where standard.

Insepction of pole before climbing.

Use of climbers which should be safely and carefully cared for.

Use of hand line.

Use of body belt and safety strap which should be in safe condition.

Care to avoid fouling other wires.

Crossarm and braces inspected for safe condition.

Pulling up slack

Leave proper slack in the line wire.

Use of grips.

Making splices at pole same as in 6 (A) and (B).

Disposition of old line and tie wire if replaced.

Tying line wire to insulator: a) Good insulator in place on good pin; b) Wire on proper side of insulator; c) Length, guage and kind of tie wire; d) Method of applying tie wire; e) Care not to damage line wire.

Test with Wire Chief, Test Board Clerk or Adjacent Office Station.

Use of a portable test set: a) Attaching test set to line wire; b) Signaling office; c) Talking test.

Report to Wire Chief, Test Board Clerk or Adjacent Office Station nature and location of break, time cleared, clearance received from Wire Chief.

Fill out trouble report blank.

The Carry Hook for “carrying” the pole to the job site from trailer.

Top tool: “Dead Man”; Bottom: piking pole for placing poles to vertical.

The Cant Hook. This short, strong oak handled implement was used for rolling the pole on the ground or turning it to the required position for dropping into the hole.


To Encourage and Prepare Students for Linework . . .


By March 1922, railroad authorities–where their employees were providing vital assistance in maintaining communications and signal facilities–were quickly realizing they were probably not doing enough to encourage prospective outsiders to partake in the railway communications employee experience.  To attract further competent personnel to their communications and signal departments, an American Railway Association committee read officially into the minutes [Quoted in Exhibit B of the Proceedings of the ARA Telegraph and Telephone Section] this statement, recommending:


On account of the great development of the methods and means of electrical communication in railroad work, the extensive and varied uses of such means and the importance of having the service always available under widely varying conditions, it is becoming increasingly important that electrical engineers adequately trained in communication service be available in the Telegraph and Telephone Departments of the Railroads.


On many railroads the telegraph and telephone plant, which is very much larger than is realized by those not intimately informed, compares favorably with some ofhte large commercial wire-using companies.  In such a system, extending as it does over hundreds and in many cases thousands of miles, there are problems . . . to . . . be solved that are not encountered in the smaller plants.  These problems involve an intimate technical knowledge of a specialized nature that requires careful and extensive investigation and study to obtain the best solution.


While many of the graduates from the technical schools may be well informed in mathematics and the fundamentals of physics, chemistry and applied electricity, all of which are essential, yet it is felt if such institutions and students contemplating such employment were more familiar with the railroad communication problems there might be some advantages gained and time saved both by the technical graduate and railroads if there were included in the curricula more practicable applications of abstract theories and principles to concrete cases as met in this department.  Many of our problems are common with the large wire using commercial companies, but others are peculiar to the railroad systems.”


” . . . . Among the various problems with which the department has to deal might be mentioned:


Construction of pole lines carrying open wires or cables or both.

Construciton of conduit and cable systems.

Telegraph and telephone transmission.

Design of circuits.

Specifications and tests for construction and maintenance material.

Electrolysis of underground structures.

Inductive interferencel

Telegraph and telephone traffic.

Accounting and estimating.

Preservative treatment of woods and metals.

Radio and wire carrier systems.

Contracts and patents.

Electrical protection.

Wire testing, maintenance and service restoration.

Engineering research.”