Pole-climbing class for telephone electricians, 1914


I particularly impressed that several of them don’t appear to have any type of waist belt holding to the pole, especially the gentleman bottom center.

There is a Lineman’s Rodeo in my town, where they erect a few dozen utility poles and hold competitions doing various tasks. One event is the “hurt man”, where the team rescues/extracts a dummy from the top of the pole. Not knowing what it is and what is going on, I have to say it is a startling sight to suddenly come across a few dozen utility posts with a body dangling from each one!

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The guys in the photo are lookin’ so happy 'coz they’ve got nice new poles to train on. Their smiles will turn upside down once they hit real-world poles that are checked, split, and rotting. (Not to mention all the crap that people like to attach to poles – signs, reflectors, fences, and more.)

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Q:How many poles does it take to climb a pole?

A: Poles don’t climb Poles, they climb poles!

Another fun detail is the two guys at the lower right looking up at the climbers. I swear their expressions are a lot of “you dumb idiots are going to get yourself killed.”

In Soviet Russia, Christmas trees YOU.

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No workman’s comp, no health insurance, no death benefits. A friends grandfather died doing this stuff, and his family got nothing until many years later when the union got his family benefits.

There’s a REASON for the ubiquity of Bucket trucks: It is a much safer and easier way to work than climbers are. As expensive as they are, they’re probably cheaper than the workman’s comp for people climbing poles. NB I was told that if you start to slip, you’re supposed to push yourself AWAY from the pole, because a broken leg is better than 12" splinters in your inner thighs and between them.

You’re right about pushing away, but there’s a little more to it. The #1 requirement for safely gaffing a pole is to always keep your hips and trunk away from the pole – if your legs become parallel to the pole the gaffs (aka hooks or spikes) have too shallow an angle to get or maintain a bite, and you’ll slip. (You can see this in the featured photo – every climber is maintaining a good angle between hooked legs and pole) So, in essence, you’re always “pushing away.”

The emergency push-away is drilled into a climber’s head to combat “instinct” – the natural reaction to sliding down a pole is to clutch it tightly for all you’re worth. Which, by bringing your legs parallel to the pole, ensures that you can’t stop the slide by digging in a gaff (in fact, hugging the pole will p’bly pop a hooked gaff right out of the pole). That leaves you at the final stage of a botched slide: massive, nasty softwood splinters piercing your face, neck, arms or trunk. (OTOH, saving a fall by pushing away and getting a gaff set has its own perils…if it takes more than a second to set a gaff, there is so much downward force on that leg that your knee will wind up behind your ear, with much tearing of meat and tendon. It’s a fun job!)

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What I consider more interesting is that, a hundred years later, we’re still using the same technology to transfer electricity from one place to another. No wonder any burp in the weather still leaves us in the dark for hours or days.

I went to pole-climbing school in the early '80s. At Bletchley Park (yes, Alan Turing’s Bletchley Park) there was a field with a little forest of training poles. Most of it was about how to make reliable connections in a joint box, whilst hanging off a pole and without dropping your dikes. So the poles were tiny - feet only a couple of feet off the ground. Instructors could see and check over your joint box whilst still standing next to you. It was a favourite photo for the in-house magazine, “Poles and Holes” to show a field of us, all fully kitted in hard hats, goggles and steel-toe-capped sheeping wellies, all hovering just a couple of feet above the ground.

“Pole-climbing class will be held at 9:00 - 9:40 am every Tuesday and Wednesday. Pole-descending class will be held immediately after at 9:40 - 9:41 am.”

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… pondering a combined pole-climbing and pole-dancing class …

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