It’s a combination of things, you see. The weather, for one thing. Hundreds of thousands with no power, telephone lines down and that means that stalwart men and women brave the bitter cold to “hook poles” and restore vital services for us. When I say I can imagine how painful that is, I really can imagine it because I used to hook poles myself. I was an installer/repairman in Church Hill, Highland Park, Fulton, Shockoe, Oregon Hill, Jackson Ward…in other words, all of Richmond’s downtown neighborhoods where the utility poles are really old, really skinny, and in really weird places sometimes. And EVERYTHING is aerial. So, my empathy for these guys runs deep.
Then, this morning, I gave a presentation at the Eastern Henrico Rotary Club on Eubank Road, the road where the ‘storeroom’ I worked out of is located. Haven’t been on that road in decades but it took me back. Way back.
Lastly, we found a Stilson picture that I’ve been looking for. Harry Stilson’s journal entry stated “Joe Pace et al, lineman up a pole at Lathrop’s” so I got excited. I thought I’d see a telephone man from the early 1900s up a pole. Cool. Except that I never found that picture. Until a couple of days ago when Randy said, “This guy has a belt of some sort on him.” Hey! Let me see that! Oh, wow. A check at Ancestry.com showed a Joe Pace employed by the ‘street railroad’ (streetcar company) so he wasn’t with C&P, as I was, but the guy hooked poles, just like I did, WHERE I did. Really cool.
Only he didn’t work ‘just like I did.’ He climbed power poles in a fedora, a business suit and tie. His safety belt is strapped around his waist, tool belt slung over his shoulder but those are about the only similarities. I wore T-shirts, jeans, steel-toed work boots, safety glasses and hardhat. Had to. OSHA requirements. Joe Pace tucked his necktie into his shirt so he wouldn’t get it caught as he climbed. Take THAT, OSHA! Here’s Joe ‘et al’ posing for Harry:

Joe Pace et all lineman

I’m going to give you a reason to howl with laughter. That’s how generous I am. I know that the nasty, debilitating snow storm has everyone depressed so this is my gift to you: pictures of me in 1976 at C&P’s “new training facility” at Eubank Road. Our training supervisor, Dick Wright, asked me to help him create a brochure because he thought seeing me (a lot smaller than I am now!) handling a 28’ wooden ladder and climbing telephone poles would encourage guys to apply for installer positions. We did the brochure and a training film, which I have a copy of, thanks to Ed Taft, and these pictures are from that brochure. It was the middle of August, hot as the devil on that blacktop, and the sweating people in the hardhats are R.V. (Dick) Wright and me.

tying off ladderhooks 001ladder off truckDick and me

I’ll let you in on a secret. While filmng, Dick told me to remove the ladder from the truck. I hopped up onto the bumper to unhook the ladder and he said “What are you doing! You can’t do that!” I explained that I was too short to reach the ladder otherwise. He pondered the situation, then shot the film with me reaching up to the ladder, then cut to me sliding the ladder from the top of the telephone truck. Cecile B. Demille had nothing on Dick Wright, film director extraordinaire.
In those days, C&P installers and repairmen did it all…from connecting the service at the pole, sometimes going to three or more poles to complete the connection, known as ‘tip and ring’ (your basic dial tone) to drilling holes in walls, concrete, plaster or whatever and knocking the cockroach eggs out of the phone so the ringer would work. Once I was working at the back of a house and a pony came up and bit me in the butt. I admit. I didn’t report that “on the job injury” to my foreman. No way.
Our (hopefully) last Comcast technician, Mike, came out yesterday when we lost internet once again. He told me that his safety belt had frozen to the cable up a pole so he just left it there. It can happen. Trust me, it’s at least 10 degrees colder up a pole than on the ground so be appreciative of these valiant utility employees in this fiercely cold weather. I can’t remember where my steel-toed boots went and they took my “baby hooks” as the guys called my gaffs (climbers) when I got promoted to Marketing after three years outside but I miss them. I admit…I loved climbing poles. When I applied for the job, my grandmother offered to call and give me a reference. She knew I could do the job because when she needed me, she never looked in the yard. She looked up in the trees or on the roof. That’s where I’d be, usually hanging by one leg.
Loved hooking poles, hated the cold wind, frozen hands, numb feet. When you’re warm as toast watching TV, laptop beside you, take a minute to say a prayer of thanks for the guys (and girls) braving the storm so you can enjoy the comforts their service provides. From Joe Pace to Mike-the-Comcast-guy, Dominion Power and Verizon repairmen, we owe them our gratitude. And a cup of hot coffee when they restore our service. I’d clean this up, edit the pictures, etc. but the power has gone off a couple of times so I’m on borrowed time here.This will have to do. Stay safe and warm here in Richmond, Virginia and wherever you are.

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