The Wooden Bracket Lead

The Wooden Bracket Lead

Sometimes known as the “service station line”


Where a side arm lead joins the main lead.

Typical side bracket lead with Figure 8 cable attached.

The “backet lead” typically was used as a lateral from a main and served party-line residences along its route.  The limit of any party line single pair service was eight farms. 


They even staged a “walk on” film role in the first portion of The Wizard of Oz (1939), where Dorothy’s farm road is lined with them in the distinctive, if not cluttered fashion, of many 1930s farmer-built subscriber lines.


But . . . first, a little public policy to explain why the hardware evolved.  Following the Second World War, growth of telephone service mushroomed.  Rural subscribers wanted not only telephone service, but GOOD phone service and were willing to pay for it.  Where Bell offered rural service, the rates actually declined through the war years and in the years following the return of the troops from the Europe and the Orient.


Telephone associations, farmers’ mutual companies and similar independents experienced significant growth, too.  Their rates also remained largely stable.


However, both serving entities were confronted with the same customer demands and needs for improved service, additional lines, lower costs.  In regards to rural service, as Bell defined it, meant that the Company provided for all the facilties as well as all services and owned the instruments. 


Service-station service, whereby a cooperative or mutual independent formed the entity where subscribers paid their bills, received their local loop service, and had part of their lines designed, built and maintained, as well as owning their own telephones, but connected to a larger independent or Bell operating company, was the other dominant type.  Typically, Bell or the larger independent would furnish the central office switching.


Service from these lines was a bit of a mish-mash.  Some were well maintained and operated at average to good proficiency.  Others were “grounded telephone circuits” using a fence wire and bottles arrayed along the gravel road in what must have been a real sight to urban travelers.  These lines supplied . . . intermittant and sometimes just poor service.  Terminals, splices and other possible sources of electrical and physical problems were commonly antiquated and run down.  Others were well managed along “metallic circuits.”


Many a reader will recall the “good ole days” when getting summoned to the phone meant two short rings and one long ring. . . or some semblance of this “coded” signal. The phone company had a phrase for that: “code ringing.”  Party lines were just that–many parties subscribed and anyone could listen in to a subscriber’s call.  No privacy what-so-ever. 


On the other hand, with “selective ringhing,” only a few parties on your line might be able to share your message.


Now, following the war, urban subscriber phone numbers gradually increased, but rural service needs really skyrocketed.  However, there was a great irony to this increase in rural phone needs.  By the late 1940s, the number of farmer mutual phone companies declined.  This was due to the number of rural subscribers who were tired of maintaining their own “home built” lines and wanted to pass this responsibility to Bell or a larger Independent company.  In doing so, the rights of the farmer to maintain his line were relieved, but the . . . anticipated higher quality of service by the new owner would guarantee continuation of service at a better rate.


Economics played a significant role in the number of “home built” lines and their evolution to telephone cooperative, Bell and Independent systems.  First, not all parts of the United States are economically balanced.  A farmer’s income in West Virginia might be considerably different than a rural farm owner in northeast Iowa and in the Imperial Valley of California.  Terrain and population also figured into the equation.


Hence, by the mid to late 1940s, the nation was on the verge of both technological break-throughs in the communications system itself as well as governmental changes in the way phone service was rendered.  Approximately 66% of the rural public resided along existing aerial wire and aerial cable lines at the end of World War II.  If you considered all the farmers, ranchers and agricultural consumers at that time, approximately half of those persons along communications lines had telephones.


The problem was: extending service to the remainder who had poor service or no service at all.  World War II’s needs for war-directed commodities prevented new line construction, as copper, steel, zinc, bronze, brass, aluminum, were focused on winning the war.  With decisive developments in war-related technologies, coupled with a loosening up of the previously war-directed economy, and the newly released labor to activate these resources, telephone service really began to improve.  Money was available for construction, rehabilitation, new services.  Technology was there to offer more bang for the buck more efficiently.


By 1948, the Rural Electrification Administration under the United States Department of Agriculture, had now been given new mandates by Congress.  The Rural Telephone Act had been passed.  Expansion of telephone service to areas underserved–or without service at all–could be tied to a rural telephone association–much like the rural electric distribution cooperatives. 


The death knell of open wire was heard when the first mechanical cable trenchers begin to deposit newly developed plastic insulated wire into the ground right after 1947.  Cross-linked polyetheline cable sheath was used on underground and buried power cable for the first time in 1948 at a TVA facility.  Things were beginning . . . to change.  With these changes came visible differences in the way open wire lines were being designed, built and operated, which explains how the wooden bracket lines slowly evolved into side bracket and two pin crossarm leads–and finally gone forever by the 1970s and 1980s.


Bell and many farmers’ mutual telephone companies used the wooden bracket construction on small sized class six- and seven-sized poles.  They were not usually over 25 feet tall and many were limited to just a few feet above the ground where airports and other potential obstructions required special easement restrictions.


Typically, a bracket lead was confined to a total of four wires.  With the use of B Type brackets, the length of the bracket was the same as the C type: about 12 inches.  However, due to the larger sized conductors and insulators, the C bracket was widened to two inches, whereas the B wooden bracket was one and five sixths inches in width.


Insulator thimble holes incorporated all manner of insulators with the exception of toll carrier and some transposition styles.  However, since a transposition of two strands of wire could be handled with the use of a single bracket on one pole and an TW insulator, this was the only exception.


Also: the threads cut into the B bracket ascended two and three sixteenths higher than the C bracket–as it used only two inches of its upper portion (above the shoulder) to serve as threaded area.

Top view: Type B bracket on left; Type C bracket on right.

Wooden bracket lead where phantom construction may be added with second pair.

Type B utilized Pony, Exchange and Toll type insulators. Type C used larger sized DP and TW insulators.

Many people have asked: without a crossarm and its attendant numbering system, how could you tell if four wires (two pairs) on a bracket lead were phantomed or not?


First of all, bracket leads did have a numbering system, although their placement made it very difficult over numerous transpositions, to determine number placement at the serving end of the line.  However, there was one good test of whether a bracket lead was phantomed, or not: the placement of brackets on one or both sides of the pole. 


For example, let’s say we have a non-crossarm farm country lead which will never be expected to carry arms of any nature, four, six, ten, and etc., and because of lack of customers, potential future customer growth, small pole sizes, etc., we will never expect this event.  In those cases with one circuit, two brackets–both on the left side of the pole (away from the C. O.) would be used.  Let’s say we had to add another pair: four wires?  Again, if non-phantomed construction, these two additional brackets would be mounted (again) on the left side of the pole.  So each of the four brackets, all aligned on the left side of the pole would be separated by one foot each.

Typical side arm brackets c. 1900 with reinforced steel hardware.

Reinforced angle side bracket construction. 1900-1910 Northwestern Bell pole top from N. Council Bluffs, Iowa.

At the top of our little discussion on bracket leads, there is an illustration of a structure carrying two strands of 109 line wire and an eleven pair figure eight cable.  The cable is attached below the aerial wire and the cable has a sheath which incorporates the strand (or messenger in power parlance) to support the various colored conductors within.  Additionally, the 5/8-inch placement bolt and hardware has a safety device which can catch the cable, should it come lose from its physical attachment.


Notice the two wooden brackets offset, but on different sides of the pole.  It is likely this is a transposition pole.  The transposition is affected by reversing the bracket locations to either side of the pole for two spans. 


This line also happens to be a lead which could have a second set of brackets attached and would be designated “phantomed” construction.  If a second set of brackets were attached, twelve inches below the brackets on either side would be mounted another pair.  That would indicate a “phantom group” and that a side circuit is being utilized; four wires converted into three party line circuits.

Take closer inspection of the old circa 1900 pole head with two reinforced B brackets.  This pole is over a hundred years old and once supported both a burred wire cable (25 pair) and two strands of open wire.  The insulators are original to the line design, using early 1900 AT&T glassware.  Note the bridle wire clips where drops were attached: there were five customer drops from the burred wire cable.


The structure leaned out 30 feet above a road, was guyed and resolutely stood at the summit of a small hill.  There was some strain on this pole as it also made a 15 degree corner, hence the reinforcement brackets.  These top reinforcement steel brackets were called BU and CU types.  The lower bracket reinforcement hardware, also made of steel, were called BL or CL types, accordingly.  Each bracket strap required steel wire nails on either sides to counter balance the stress upon the bracket from the line wires.


Sometimes a severe, or hard angle structure would be necessary.  At that point, two parallel wooden brackets would be mounted, so that the conductor would have additional support when a grade was particularly steep or span unconventionally long.  The grade of construction was not as strict on these bracket leads as a major toll line and many liberties were taken with them. 

Typical two-wire vertical dead-end with C-brackets.

Vertical dead-ends were of two types: the more conventional and used in the later years of bracket lead construction used two or four C-type deadends twelve inches apart, attached with 1/4-inch carriage bolts through the pole, one above the other.


Before the C-type dead-end came into wide use (1880s – 1900), the use of wooden brackets (single or double) on each side of the pole, would be reinforced with BU, CU, BL and CL bracket straps.  A bridging connector might be used, but more often, the line wire was simply looped around the insulator groove and twisted back in a lay upon the line wire.

Typical early 1950s REA telephone borrowers specifications of vertical deadend.

Detail of a typical dead-end two wire lead terminal, Sivell’s Bend, Texas 1998, FM 1201 and County Road 406. Note bridging sleeves at bridling points. Joint Cook County REC ownership accounted for large pole class size.

While a longer exposition on the topic of “conductors” will be found elsewhere at this website, for our purposes here, let me make a few comments about “bridle wire.”


Most of you reading this information may or may not be familiar with this unique insulated conductor. 


“Bridle Wire” is called such because it is “wed” to the other conductor in a crossed fashion throughout its length.  It is used mainly in connecting terminal blocks to open wire bridging points.  The soft copper had a very high impedance.  Because of this factor, all “bridling runs” had to be limited as much as possible to combat any losses that this unique connection might lend to the local loop. 


The connection polarities seem at first, difficult to decipher.  Actually, if you look closely at any bridle wire, there is a small ridge on one side of the vulcanized soft rubber insulation of one of the two wires.  This is the ridge, or “ring” identity.  The “tip” connection is not marked.  Tip and ring are two connections which make a complete circuit to the subscriber from the central office and back again.


Bridle wire came in different sizes.  The railroads favored a heavily insulated form with a large copper wire guage.  The Bell and many Independents, favored a multiplicity of sizes; however, for most open wire jobs, the heavier guage was selected. 


Some telephone utilities utilized a small guage bridle wire connection as a “fuse wire,” thus allowing the wire to burn and melt when undergoing large surge currents from lightning or accidental power contact, such as in storms.  Such wire replacement was considered labor-saving, as a short re-connection replacement of wire would save costs of damages to the phones, terminals or cable.  Sprint’s local exchanges in Texas utilized this idea near Houston and in the north Texas areas.

Cover removed from the old Bell 101A single pair wire terminal. There is no protection at terminal block. Here bridling run ends and the transition to the drop wire begins.

These inspectional photos show a joint use Cooke County Rural Electric Association pole also used as the lower support for an aerial communications lead and a 50 pair self-supporting cable.  When highway construction dictated the removal of the original REA/RUS power distribution structures, the aerial phone cable was relocated to the new easement as a buried 200 pair type cable and the open wire wrecked out. 


In September 1997, Southwestern Bell was given a mandate by the Texas Railway Commission, to remove all existing operating (and if possible, non-operating) open wire leads, to upgrade commercial Texas state service.  In so doing, the road project also served to eliminate some aerial open wire, such as this line which went to four farms to the east of F. M. 1201.  Just for your interest, this pole was rescued from a pole yard of a line construction contractor in Sherman, Texas.  The author located it as it was quite distinguished by its oversized pole and excellent condition of hardware.  The pole portion was sawed from the 40′ length and preserved.

12-inches between C-type deadends. Bridle wire’s soft copper created significant impedance and runs were kept as short as possible.

Another interesting facet of wooden bracket construction was that it had two competitors: the wooden 2A or 2B “side arm,” typically furnished with two locust one inch threaded wooden insulator pins and the early 1960s steel bracket furnished with two CS, CB or CT pins.  There are actual color illustrations of these steel brackets in the website’s Insulators, Hardware & Other Items Of Interest section. We will consider both types and show how these were used. 


There was a need to offer an alternative to the expensive labor costs involved with continued wooden bracket construction.   Borrowers made suggestions to the REA telephone engineering staff for a useful option other than a 19th Century standard.  After World War II, carrier telephone was being extended to rural areas and much phantomed construction was being eliminated.


Because increased customer services required additional brackets which needed to be re-arranged, many telephone borrowers wanted to move away from the old Bell and Independent wooden bracket construction.  Because it evolved as a new means to carry small circuit traffic, we are classifying it under Bracket Leads.  By simply appointing a wooden or steel bracket with pins much money could be saved in construction costs. 


Wooden arms, especially when used in joint-use construction, offered higher insulation properties (the electric utilities call this Basic Impulse Level or BIL) protecting both the a.c. power and low voltage d.c. voice frequency or carrier frequency circuits.  By coordinating insulation, both utilities could enhance their service–and if a few precautions were applied–dependable service at that! 


The steel arm, while more conductive, offered higher strength and resiliancy.  Longer 350 to 500 foot spans of REA power distribution systems dictated high strength conductors and supports.  By applying steel pins mounted on a reinforced steel U-channel angle bracket drilled for two 5/8-inch bolts, guaranteed dependability with both standard service conditions and sleet/ice winter climate situations.  With these brackets installed in newer (1950s) construction, and eliminating the bracket leads, more lines could be easily added with changes in the field, hence driving down further labor costs.


The wooden C and B brackets had two big drawbacks: despite the longevity of locust wood, they would rot and break.  Additionally, they were mounted with heavy nails which required some personal persistance in removing them for replacement or reconfiguring them for future additional customers’ circuits.  


Drilling two 5/8-inch bolts through the top (or side) of a pole would easily mount one bracket on one side of the pole and if necessary, restrain another bracket on the reverse side.  Below see official REA specifications for this type of construction from the early 1950s and early 1960s.

The Classic REA 2-Pin Side Arm

On joint use poles, one emerging feature in rural areas in the years following World War II, was the two pin wooden sidearm configuration.  This classic style had the advantage of taking advantage of joint use construction: that is, a pole being owned by one entity and leasing rights being granted to the communications company (or power company, cooperative, municipal) to place their facilities on the same structure(s).  In rural areas, mutually serviced areas by both the rural electric distribution cooperative and the local cooperative telephone association offered a friendly option: use of the two pin side arm. 


For example, Douglas County Rural Electric in Armour, South Dakota, leased out pole space below their rural electric single phase line and single upset insulated neutral, provided sufficient clearance space was available.  Because many telephone cooperatives and rural electric cooperatives were in the same “members=owners” catagories, customers could save money on line construction costs.


The wooden side arm post-dates the wooden bracket leads.  In the early 1950s, these rugged little arms became a fixture in rural areas because of their ease of placement and maintenance.  Additionally, with one wooden brace, these could eliminate limited easement issues and could be hung on the roadway side of each single or multiple primary a.c. phase distribution line structure. 

“Pure R.E.A.” in all respects!

This illustration, photographed in August 1988, is a pole serving a ranch in rural Del Norte, Colorado.


The pole is a typical 7.2-kV single phase REA (RUS) specification distribution line owned by a cooperative in Del Norte, Colorado.  The open wire lead dead-ending below is a telephone cooperative circuit (party-line) which served the last customer on this rural valley road.


A typical open wire lead of a single pair could serve up to eight customers.  Of course, this was “party line” technology and every neighbor could lift up the receiver and learn the “latest” news of any callers.

2A and 2B side arms were nearly the same, with the exception of pin spacing.

Double armed 2-pin REA style side arm with wooden brace, c. 1956.

By the late 1940s, the use of improved steel 109 line wire increased the span of the average open wire bracket lead from 135 feet to 450 feet accordingly.  Additionally, the mechanical connections made to splice line wire together at reel ends, were greatly improved when compression splices were made available.  Not only were the splices stronger physically than the line wire itself, but afforded electrically bonded surfaces which could not pry loose to induce losses in the line.  Without static and attenuation, the circuit “rang clear” and with proper inductive coordination (use of transpositions), the quality of the service rose appreciably. 

Additionally, the versatile little two pin 2A crosarm had the ability to be mounted parallel to the line conductors and served as a tandem transposition point–without the use of a heavy steel point type bracket.  TW insulators were used on standard one inch wooden pins and hardly any special changes in construction were necessary.  We have some illustration of this technique below:

Point type transpositions could be very effectively installed on 2A and 2B side arm structures.

While we are using a 2A crosarm construction example here, it does not take much imagination to consider how a 2-pin side arm assembly can also take advantage of this transposition construction arrangement.  Many side arm assemblies were transposed in this fashion in Kansas, South Dakota and other states where rural telephone borrower practices were in effect.

The 1960s Channel Steel 2-Pin Arm for Rural Subscriber Carrier.

When high strength steel line wire came into being–later alumoweld and copperweld types–with coatings of conductive aluminum or copper bonded to a steel base–longer spans dictated heavy duty hardware.  The steel channel bracket was the answer to long span and heavier conductor sized arrangements.


The channel brackets incorporated two pins to fit TS type insulators–the CS, CSA and CSC having been made obsolete for carrier service by 1962.  The distance between the pins was six inches and pins could be removed to insert a single through bolt to attach a 4-inch 1955 period steel point-type transposition bracket. 


Single L-shaped galvanized steel bracket for single pair use, REA 1962.

Double REA galvanized steel support brackets joined for two circuit performance, 1962.