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Telephone poles (a high wire act)

By Tom Goeritz of St. James


Telephone poles that line the highways typically last about 40-60 years. Contributed photo

Driving down the road on a beautiful sunny day, the leaves are falling like snowflakes, fall is in the air. I have time to reflect on the beauty and the peace and quiet of being all alone.

No, I am not alone! Like soldiers standing at attention, solid and strong those poles are by my side. Every few seconds another one appears, mile after mile they stand by me, pillars of wood that once were trees.


Research tells me there are a wide variety of poles. For this article, I am going to generalize and put them all together in the category of “utility poles.” Can you guess when we first started planting these poles? It all started in 1844 with Samuel Morse and the telegraph. His first idea was to place wires underground, which was nearly impossible in many areas, so he decided to use poles dug into the ground. It worked, and what started out as telephone poles morphed into the category of utility poles.


When you start to observe these poles, you may still see a pole with a single wire. More often there will be a cross piece that can handle a variety of wires. The top three wires are primary conductors. Some facts about these poles... The cost of a single pole can run between $175 to $800 based on the length of the pole. Installation can run $3,000 to $6,500 depending on the location and type of terrain.


Most poles are made from pine, cedar, or fir trees. Poles are debarked and straightened. Then they are pressure treated to prevent rot and infestation. Poles will often last 40 to 60 years or more. The length of poles can vary from 40 to 120 feet. In most locations the poles are buried six feet in the ground and the average circumference at the base is 43.5 inches. In urban areas poles are placed 150 feet apart and in rural areas they are spaced at 300 feet.


How many utility poles are there in the United States? Estimates range from 160 to 175 million utility poles across America. Today we are seeing more wires buried underground and the larger poles are now made of steel. The single telephone pole is slowly becoming obsolete.

Driving down that country road or major highway I notice all the poles with the cross-piece. It makes me think of a higher power saying, “I am here by your side.” Okay, that may be a stretch, but they still seem to make a statement of their strength.


When you see all the poles and miles of wire connecting them it is awesome to think of the area they cover. Billboards may blanket the countryside in some areas; however, it was the utility pole that first told us civilization is present. Through swamps, mountains, deserts, and fields those poles are one constant.


How many birds must use those poles and wires every day in the U.S.? Hawks, swallows, blackbirds, mourning doves and more. They are frequent fliers finding a place to rest. They seem to be saying, “I will rest on the wires if I can’t find a tree.”


My wife’s uncle is Rich Haas. He is in the Minnesota Auctioneer Hall of Fame. Rich owned Continental Auctioneer School in Mankato. He coached students to use the poles when practicing their chanting. Every pole is a new bid, it really works!


Like the trees they once were, think of everything they have seen. Oh, if those poles could talk. Mother nature is one of their biggest threats. Wind, snow, and ice can wreak havoc on them, yet most stand strong. Did you ever experience weather so bad that while driving keeping those poles in sight helped to keep you on the road? Those poles even send messages to pilots, “beware of my wires” or “follow me I will show you the way to a town.”


On your next drive, look at those poles ... like the Energizer Bunny, they keep going and going.  The order and consistency of those utility poles is something that goes unappreciated. Back road or highway, observe the poles, I think you will agree, it is amazing what they stand for.

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