For the last couple of years, Henry has been an absolutely voracious reader of Crown Jewels of the Wire, one of the two main periodicals devoted to the hobby of insulator collecting. At the National show in June, he regaled the members with stories of our successful hunt on the salty planes of Utah, and one of the guys suggested that the magazine feature his great narrative & photos. Fast forward a couple of months, and presto, here we are!
After fifteen (!) solid years of updating this blog (1,600+ posts and counting!), we took the last six or so months off. Between work, school, and home, things got too nutty, and we’ve neglected to chronicle everything from birthdays to graduations to epic photo trips.
We’ll work back to fill in the gaps, starting at the present and working back. So, without further ado, I’ll pass the keyboard to Henry to describe our Friday night adventure in Utah!
For some months, I had been looking forward to hunting insulators on my road trip to the national show in Logan, Utah. I had seen a Facebook post from someone hunting on the Utah salt flats, and I figured it would be a very good place to try our new 24-foot extending picker pole.
The first passenger train on the line we hunted departed Salt Lake City heading east on August 20, 1910. We can assume that the pole line was built at a similar time. Insulators were changed out over time, leading to a mix of older and more modern insulators. The Western Pacific merged into the Union Pacific in 1982. The line is currently in U.P. hands. The pole line is now abandoned, with cut and dangling wires.
Ever since we began our trip in California, I had been watching the pole lines on the Union Pacific railroad. We stopped at a few exits along the way, but we did not hunt because the spots were too exposed. It was so tempting, as the poles were so low, but we had to err on the side of caution.
On Friday east of Wendover, just as the sun was starting to set, we saw a pole line on the U.P. from the road and took the exit for Knolls (an uninhabited area for off-roading). We turned onto an unmaintained frontage road which took us right to the tracks and the poles.
We took out our picker stick (a 24-foot painter’s pole with an aluminum V on top wrapped in duct tape) and started down the line.
The sun was setting, so we didn’t have much time. I would say we went about seven poles down the line. We could have hunted for hours! All the insulators had tie wires on still, which made it very easy to spin them, and we took home three.
Check out are some pictures of our hunt.
Henry continues successfully defending his crown as potentially The Luckiest Kid Ever™ 😌.
First, he was invited to visit Fresno to survey & sample from the huge collection of Lou Hall. Lou is the former president of the national insulator club & has been collecting for half a century! He and his lovely wife hosted us for four+ hours, setting up Hen with a great variety of interesting pieces. Thinking of Margot, they even gave us a cute painted snowman made from an insulator!
Afterwards we camped near Exeter, CA (roughly an hour south), where the hosts had previously given Hen some insulators. This time Big Henry (the host) came through with some even bigger glass, plus some hundred-year-old magazines that our Henry saved from being used as kindling (!).
The next day we drove into Exeter for breakfast with collector Dave Brown, who likewise entertained us with his impressive collection (even including insulators embedded underwater in his pool!) and generously provisioned Hen with as many items as our now-sagging Westy could carry. Here’s a gallery from our visits.
Following our return, the ongoing storms continued to wreak havoc on our area, and strong winds toppled a eucalyptus tree that in turn felled a giant electrical tower—narrowly missing our neighbor Severn’s yard! Noticing that repair crews were working around the clock to replace it, Henry & I drove over with our big camera lens. He of course proceeded to chat up the linemen—and they of course were happy to provision him with a bunch of insulators! 🤪
Check out a separate gallery of shots from the day.
For the last several months, Henry had last Saturday circled on his calendar, as it was the year’s last scheduled gathering of insulator collectors in our region. That, of course, was not to be missed.
Thus we headed out in the Westy after school, trucking out all the way past Fresno. We camped in dairy country at the ranch of a lovely couple named Frances and Henry, who kindly gave our Hen three insulators from his collection:
Afterwards we grabbed breakfast at a railway cafe that featured cute model trains running around the ceiling. From there we were off to the event, where Hen scored some great deals & got to visit with his old friends. Check out our gallery from the outing.
Oh, and here’s a little draggable 360º pano I captured at dawn with my drone:
Even though we’d just taken in two insulator-themed shows in the past month or so, Hen couldn’t pass up one last chance (until fall) to catch up with his tribe, so on Friday we left Finn & Seamus at home, then headed south to the beachside community of Cayucos. After battling through horrible traffic, we treated ourselves to sandwiches & sundaes at the Sea Shanty:
Afterwards we headed to our campsite where—in the absence of Margot and Finn—we found ourselves absent proper sleeping gear, making for a chilly night. Ah well: both the stars & the sunrise were spectacular:
After fueling up our cars & bods, we headed over to the pier where table upon table was teeming with insulators & other ephemera. It was heaven for Hen, in both his real & Lego forms:
The crowd was, as always, beguiled with our guy’s superhuman knowledge of the hobby, and they were incredibly generous in handing him freebies. (Tell mom not to worry, it’s all going in the basement. 😌)
On our way down we’d spotted various old insulators “in the wild,” still clinging to abandoned poles. Thus we stopped off at the funky little town of Bradley, CA (pop. 150). We contented ourselves with taking only pictures of our finds, and happily we saw dozens of old vehicles up close:
All in all it made for a memorable 24 hours—and I’m glad we’ll be getting a respite to recharge from these things for at least the next few months. 🙃 Here’s a gallery from the journey, and below you can click and drag to explore a 360º bird’s-eye view of our campsite, captured via my drone:
You know the phrase “red letter day”? You could say that Henry has had a few “blue bubble days” circled on his calendar for months—those being the first gatherings of glass insulator enthusiasts in the year since he discovered this funky passion.
Two weeks ago we took in our first show, up in Antioch, CA, but last weekend was the main event—a big meet-up in the farmland north of Fresno. Over a 100 folks descended on “Rohde Ranch” for the 26th annual such event.
Given that the median age of guys at the show is roughly 350 years old 😅, Hen was quite the point of fascination. People loved meeting him (naturally), and he was equally thrilled to meet many of the guys who write articles in Crown Jewels Of The Wire.
Folks were incredibly generous with their time, knowledge, and even (to Margot’s slight chagrin) boxes of free or dirt-cheap insulators. Henry made a new friend (14-year-old Jason), and we (okay, mainly he) look forward to future events.
Our man Henry is nothing if not just a little bit obsessive 🙃, and he spent many weeks ahead of our trip to Galena—where he caught the insulator-collecting bug during our March trip—plotting efforts to grab more of the little glass gems.
On our very first afternoon in town, we headed to Dubuque to meet up with Uncle Ted’s friend Tom who gave us three insulators!
The following morning, we grabbed some equipment & root beer at the hardware store, then headed out to the 1888 Winston Tunnel. The winding path got us turned around a few times, but thankfully Uncle Ted was our eye in the sky, texting us guidance right to the tunnel.
Despite a huge application of my elbow grease as I stood atop a very sketchy stump, we just couldn’t dislodge any of the insulators we found. At least the root beers hit the spot before we refueled with fried cheese curds at Culver’s.
The next day (Christmas), Hen & I took a long walk down the tracks below Grandpa Nack’s childhood home. “I feel like Tantalus,” he said, as we noted tons of insulators that were just out of reach. We came away with just a shard of glass as a consolation prize.
Afterwards we dropped by Uncle Louie & Aunt Dolores’s house, and in the course of catching up with their family, we talked insulators with Joe Nack. Having gathered insulators as a kid, he gave us some good pointers on where to go Sunday.
To our great surprise, Joe showed up at our house on Sunday morning, offering to take us out on a hunt. Thanks to his ladder & tools, we immediately scored an insulator that had previously eluded us, and shortly thereafter we hit pay dirt—finding tons of poles out past Rec Park. “I hope you brought diapers, Henry,” said Joe, “’cause you’re about to crap your pants.” 😝
In the end Joe & I teamed up to climb high & score an additional five insulators for Henry. As Margot texted in response, “Joe Nack saves Christmas!”
Check out our gallery, as well as Henry’s video recap of our three outings:
Henry, man… “character” doesn’t begin to describe him, as I’m sure you know. Being a man of somewhat obsessive interests, he’s lately dived head-first into the arcane but charming world of old glass insulators for telephone wires—something, oddly enough, that I used to collect while walking around Galena as a kid. He will gladly tell you the entire history of the Hemingray company while proudly showing off his collection.
Having noticed a promising-looking abandoned pole near the freeway, on Sunday he persuaded me to drive him up to Pleasanton & scramble around some abandoned tracks. Through the miracle of my 10-foot-long selfie stick, we were even able to wiggle a few loose & collect them! (This is the weirdest game of Pokemon ever. 🙃) I mean, just look at the sheer joy on our man’s face:
Check out some pics in this gallery from our day of hunting!