Southern Power (cont'd, Page 3)
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We also found an original anchor clamp for dead-ending, just as described in the EW article. We stowed our finds in our packs and started back. The way we had come seemed very indirect, so we chose the direct route up the north bank of the creek---Bad Mistake. Never go up a north-facing slope in this country – the climb from hell!!! – The very attractive plant that we had come down through is terrible to climb up through with a pack – can’t crawl under without catching the pack and can’t climb over because it’s too tall! Finally made it back to the road – took two hours, which seemed like four!
The next day we followed the same dirt road to the line and took a line maintenance road in the opposite direction. It didn’t look very promising. The first 2 towers were on mowed right-of-way, with only a few scraps to show. The third tower was a home run – it was on a steep hillside and a number of Thomas’ had rolled down a hundred yards or so. One was mint, with a really wonderful red glaze with yellow swirls both inside and out. It had a big T incused on the inside of the inner skirt. Another dark unit had only a dime-sized chip. A third piece was whole but was cracked so we’ll have to glue it back together. All told, this one site made the trip!
The following day we took yet another dirt road farther west. We worked about ten towers and got NOTHING! The biggest thing we found was an enormous pile of broken pieces without even a single metal part. Some days you win, and some you loose!
The next day we went back to our lucky site and decided to follow the line maintenance road to the next tower site – wrong idea – it didn’t go there! Contoured around the hillside and crossed a little creek and finally got there – two hours later. The site looked good at first glance – it had a Thomas with complete inner skirt and 1/3 of the outer skirt just sitting under the tower. The whole area had burned and then regrown with awful brush totally entangled with the most vicious thorn vines. We searched as best we could and found one more Thomas in about the same condition. There was nothing worth packing out. We decided to take the line maintenance road up the hill – wrong idea again – it had fallen dead trees across it all the way up, and didn’t go back to our car anyway. Contoured again and crossed the creek again, and finally got back to the car – 2 hours later. Not a good day.
The next day it was raining. We finally got a map of this area. It showed a part of the line on public land that we didn’t know about. Went to a dirt road that we hadn’t seen previously. We walked to a couple of towers – clean. Third tower looked barren as well, but it was close to a steep bank down into a little creek bed. In the creek bed was an old paint bucket and some porcelain sticking up. There were 3 Thomas 2-part suspensions there – one was mint, one had chips on inner part of outer skirt, and the third had somewhat more damage to rim, but still really nice. We got stuck coming up the hill on wet, slimy clay, carrying our treasures without a pack, but got them all out OK after two trips. Saw several flocks of wild turkeys. This is the biggest single find we have EVER had. We came home soaked like drowned rats, but very happy.
We had one more day before we had to leave for business in DC. We went back to the new road and searched the remaining sites along that section – nothing. We then went back to the road where we first found Thomas pieces – one dead-end site was on a steep side-slope and looked promising. Sure enough, about 100 feet below the tower were two complete Thomas suspensions --- they both had very tight stress cracks, but that doesn’t detract from their looks at all. We searched a few more sites with not even a shard. Saw more wild turkeys, and two turtles crossing the road. Finished the day in very good spirits. We drug out our haul on the motel room floor and had a chance to savor it – WOW! We had a four-string, and could display them just the way they had been used on the original line, and also some fixer-uppers. It was tight packing it all into the trunk of the rental car. Decided we would drive it out west --- they were WAY to precious to ship. It was a great end to a line with many false starts.
When we got home we cleaned the pieces and hung our string from a rafter. Imagine a string like that hanging from the end of every crossarm on the line!
We found a lot of different markings. Two had only crude incuse marks on the inner skirt: a large “X” and a large “T” were almost certainly trimmer marks.
Outer skirts had either no marking, or THOMAS-L by itself or followed by another separately stamped symbol.
By 1914, the Southern Power system had grown into the most connected and reliable power system in the world. It was the genesis of the power grid, as we know it today. And the big Thomas 2-part suspensions were an essential step, a connection between the giant multipart pin-type insulators (M-4800’s, 4710’s, 3890’s) and the modern form of suspension string. They are, in a way, the “missing link” in this marvelous evolution of high-tension power transmission.
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