The “Northeast Corner,” Duke Village, Perils of a Lineman
That rock wall in the photo was the lowest level of the office building. The door shown was just underneath Mr. Charlie’s office in the northeast corner. And that’s the way we used to refer to that office. We’d never say Mr. Charlie’s office; it was always “the northeast corner.” Anyway, beyond that door behind R. B. Watkins (my grandfather) was a little room that served as his “office.” Among other things, he kept the telephone company books there. Back then the rest of that lower level of the building was not used; it was a dungeon-like place. Later it was refurbished and used as office space. The payroll office used to be there. In the late forties I ordered a sewing machine from the Spiegel catalog, which was shipped by freight. It came in on the Cliffside Railroad and I was notified of the arrival. I picked it up from that same little room, which was then used as a freight storage room.
On one of the web pages you ask for info on the Duke steam station. I can date that construction for you. It was while I was working the telephones. It had to be 1939 or 1940. They had just finished building the homes in Duke village. I was by myself (it must have been while Guy Frye was out with back problems). We needed to run a telephone line into the village. I started where you turned off at the country store to go down to the village. All morning I would climb a pole (with leg spurs—no cherry picker baskets then). About 18 feet up I would nail a wood bracket on the side of the pole, screw on a glass insulator and climb back down, go to the next pole and repeat the process, climb up, nail a bracket, screw on an insulator and climb down. When all the poles were so equipped, I would string out a roll of iron telephone wire on the ground then tie one end to the insulator on the first pole. Then I’d walk to the next pole, take the wire up, lay it on the bracket behind the insulator, climb down, walk to the next pole and repeat. When all wires were up, the next thing was to stretch the wires from pole to pole and tie them down to the insulator. You can just imagine how this was a slow, time-consuming process.
One warm morning there was a crew of landscapers working 3 or 4 houses down the street when I climbed a pole to attach the wire. It was close to lunchtime and I was just worn out. When I climbed up I found the pole was larger than usual. My belt would not reach around the pole, which it needed to do if I was to use both hands to do my work. Exhausted, I looked down that pole—it seemed a long way—the recently graded yard below looked soft. So instead of climbing down I just leaned back and let myself drop to the ground. I lay there on my back with my eyes closed. All of a sudden there was a commotion. Someone in the landscaping crew had witnessed my drop and thought I had fallen. Four or five of them came running to see if I was dead. Instead of dying, I lived to a ripe old age.
I cheated death another time. The telephone cable ended on a pole at the very edge of a pretty good cut in the bank. From there the telephone lines went into the wires mounted on cross arms. On a dead end of lines like that, there were always double arms, one on each side of the pole. Now, there was also a street light on that pole, mounted just above the cross arms. We had a long wooden pole with a wire basket to grip a street light bulb and pull it down out of the fixture. There was a button fuse on the porcelain socket that would rupture and short out the fixture if the street bulb burned out. That was necessary to keep the line intact for this was a constant current lighting system.
But this was so high up on the bank our wooden pole tool would not reach the bulb. I climbed the pole, straddled the two cross arms and had to lean way out to remove the socket. My sweaty hands kept sliding off the bulb and I ran my hand up higher on the glass bulb to get a better grip on it. When I did I got higher than I should have. With my legs touching the telephone wires I made a circuit, and was shocked by that high voltage, and knocked out. This made me go limp and my hand came down with the socket, which broke the bulb when it hit the phone line insulators.
I was knocked out, lying on the wires. When I came to I looked off to the north and saw the schoolhouse. It started dancing a jig. I felt weak, and lay forward on the cross arms and wires and closed my eyes. I guess I fainted. Next thing I knew Guy had started up the hill to see about me. I called down that I was ok.
When I reached around to get my pliers from my tool belt, my right arm just would not reach it. I had to put the socket in my right hand and reach my left hand all the way around my back to get the pliers. Finally I got the bulb reinserted and it came on. When I started down the pole I was sore and stiff all over from that high voltage shock. At the bottom I just sat down and leaned against the pole for a while. Guy came up the hill. After a bit I felt strong enough to go down the hill, but I was soaking wet with sweat, felt lousy, and was not worth much for the rest of the day. Again, I lived to love another day. And that was not the only time I had a brush with high voltage.