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DO YOU HAVE POLYINSULITIS? Take our easy questionnaire and find out!

Closet insulator collectorHello all. My name's Craig Johnson, and I'm here to confess to a deep, dark secret. A secret that's been kept in the closet for a good twenty five years:
I've always loved insulators, but never knew they were on the web - until now (1999 or 2000).
This obsession of mine began when I was very young, and all got started on a family vacation. We had just passed under some transmission towers, and I kept seeing these blue things like big flat beads on a chain. I asked my dad what those "things" were, and he told me, "They're insulators".

Turns out, he was right. Those beautiful shimmering blue things I saw up there dangling from those tall metal towers were transparent aqua suspension disks, assembled into groups of about 8 or 10 to hold the high voltage lines safely out of reach and off the towers.
Aqua suspension insulators (Photo of suspension insulators in Pennsylvania by Bill Meier)

When I returned to my hometown of Juneau Alaska and gained a few more years of knowledge (and observed a LOT of different kinds of insulators on poles), I decided it was time to go to the old goldmine on Mount Roberts and start poking around. Soon, I came up with my first insulator: the bottom half of a two-piece tramp in very light aqua. Then I dug up a brown porcelain cable-type insulator, used commonly on lower voltage distribution lines, and some small white porcelain spools. A power substation was located near the mines, so I asked a lineman about what was inside, and if any old insulators were available to be had.

"I was led to a darker, seemingly unused corner..."

What a thrill it was to get a complete tour of the substation, complete with diesel backup generators large enough to power half the city! But the best was yet to come, for after my little "tour" was finished up, I was led to a darker, seemingly unused corner of the substation, just crammed full of mostly porcelain insulators!

The large wagon I brought along in case I found old phones or magnetos soon began to fill up with insulators. Pin-type porcelain uniparts, umbrella-style multiparts, suspension disks, glass telephone insulators, and a porcelain strain or two started piling up in the wagon.
Most were in mint or near mint condition; the most serious damage to any of them being perhaps a tiny chip out of a skirt.

Within the hour, I left the power station, and struggled to pull the severely overloaded wagon through downtown Juneau, across the Juneau-Douglas bridge, up the very steep Cordova Street, and finally to the end of Nowell Avenue where my house was. After a brief respite, I started unloading my booty:
A number of porcelain uniparts in several sizes (type unknown, but physically they looked like brown versions of U941's), a couple of large porcelain multiparts (see the first porcelain photo on my Wants Page), several sets of suspension disks in three different sizes, a couple of porcelain strains (these were used on guy wires and as dead-ends for low volt lines), some glass insulators like Hemi 42's in blue, aqua and clear; a Brookfield petticoat in aqua, and some small white two-piece nail-on porcelains that were often used in early residential construction.
Not long after, I visited the remains of a prominent house fire on the way home from school. The site was now just a few inches of charcoal & ashes on the ground, and I found some white porcelain two piece "nail ons" that came from the rafters underneath the house.

And that's how the obsession began. That's what started me into my life as an insulator nut.

Unfortunately, I could not afford to take all of my insulators with me when I moved to Seattle in 1985. For all I know, they're still languishing in a basement bedroom in some house that probably belongs to a total stranger now.

"People collect those things?"

Fast-forward to today, approximately twenty five years later.
I'm now 42 and living in a Sacramento apartment, ~1,200 miles from my old friends and my old insulators - and a few years ago I started building my collection all over again, pretty much from scratch. Because of low funds at moving time, I lost all of my porcelain multiparts, all of my suspension insulators, and a couple of (fortunately, more common) glass insulators.
My new collection started small, but grew very fast. Only a couple of pieces came with me from Juneau; the rest have been acquired since moving to Seattle and since then, to Sacramento.
Some of my neighbors are still scratching their heads. "People collect those things?", and "what the heck are those?" are some of the comments I've received when somebody sees my special jewels sparkling in the living room window.

These are some of the people who will never know the joy of seeing some filthy blackened hunk of glass sink into a bowl of warm soapy water, and emerge a moment later sparkling like a giant amethyst or sapphire fresh from the jewelry store.

They'll never know what it's like to hold a battered and bruised insulator, wondering just what it lived through during the last hundred years of its life.
What kind of conversations filtered through that oxidized copper or steel wire it held in its wire groove.
Who's electric light globe received the gift of power because of it.
Or what fascinating insect overwintered underneath its protective skirt.
They'll never experience the joy of reaching into a musty rotted wooden crate and freeing a set of suspension insulators from their clapboard prison.
What it's like to become excited about a rotten old pole lying on its side; excited because of what is still screwed onto those little pegs on the crossarm.
Or what it's like to come across an old electrical station buried in the woods, rusty bits of broken wire still clinging to soot-covered brown things.

If insulators could talk, they could tell us stories to last a lifetime!
Help them talk. Help them tell their stories. TELL people about your insulators. A collector could be born!

The famous ITV (Insulator Transport Vehicle) which is like American Express: I never leave home without it.

Length: 46.0"
Width: 23.5"
Gross weight: 196 lbs
Lights: Red LED taillights & white LED forward running lights
Maximum speed (level): 6.0mph
Maximum range: 30 miles
Maximum insulator payload: ~150 pounds
Climbs utility poles: No

Since I'm in a wheelchair (the "ITV" shown above), I can no longer poke around old mines or railroad tracks or be a polecat, so I now have to get my insulator fix by going to flea markets or buying them from other collectors.
And with my disability stipend being just $369 a month, I've had to pass a LOT of good insulators up even though they might have only been a buck or two. So I consider it a rare treat when I can obtain even a relatively common, cheap insulator like a purple WT #1 or a Hemingray CD257 "Mickey Mouse".

Since joining ICON however, I have gotten a line on lots of insulators I would not otherwise be able to obtain. Insulators that don't show up on flea market tables, and those which would have never been on downtown Seattle's poles.

My most valuable? A National CD110.5, and a Muncie set.

My favorites? A "Chicago Diamond" CD135 with milk.

An alternative look
How a passing sparrow or air rat might see my collection.

When I'm not scrounging for insulators, I'm administering my group of web sites, adding custom modifications to my Pride Mobility motorised wheelchair, screwing around with homemade lasers & light emitting diodes, running an online museum, doing some and product testing of flashlights.

I also enjoy the Seattle Mariners and put up a fan website about them & their new baseball park, but they don't have any insulators to snag around there. :(

Q: How do you get insulators with the chair and all?
A: Clearly, railroad tracks are pretty much out of the picture, unless years of use by pedestrians has carved a path next to the tracks. Climbing telephone poles is also kind of hard to do. Flea markets may or may not supply some insulators in your area - very little to none in my part of town. You may also be lucky if an insulator show stops in or near your town.
I've been to one show and a potluck, and in both cases came home with some very nice insulators. My membership in ICON is what's really opened up door after door for me.

Join the Insulator Collectors On the Net (ICON) insulator club today.
Join any local insulator clubs you can, and don't forget to join the NIA (National Insulator Association) while you're at it.

UPDATE! Feb 2001
The CBICO Chronicles printed a two page article about me in their January 2001 anniversary issue!

If you ask nicely, CBICO founder Bill Winters might even send you a copy!

The following is a public service announcement from the Polyinsulitis Foundation of America.

Polyinsulitis is one of the fastest growing problems in the world today. It is caused by
one thing and one thing only: INSULATORS.  Polyinsulitis is mildly contagious, and
usually has a very short incubation period.  There is no known cure, but there is help.

Chances are, you know somebody who has it.  Maybe even you have it.
Take our easy questionnaire to find out.
Each of the following 41 questions can be answered "yes" or "no".

  1. Do you spend an inordinate amount of time around railroad tracks, even though you aren't very interested in trains?
  2. Do you own more than 1/2 pound of oxalic acid?
  3. Have you ever allowed a houseplant to die in order to display more insulators in a window?
  4. Do you visit a website with insulators on it more than four times a month?
  5. Have you ever spent more than 20% of your disposable income on insulators?
  6. Do you anticipate the appearance of the mailman, already knowing the contents of packages he or she brings to your doorstep?
  7. Have you ever cried when a package arrived tinkling with the sound of broken glass?
  8. Have you ever given or received an insulator as a gift?
  9. Do you regularly use terms like "drip points", "wire groove" and "petticoat" when in the company of strangers?
  10. Do you know more than 5 other collectors, either personally or via e-mail?
  11. Have you deliberately taken time off work or school in order to attend an insulator show?
  12. Have you ever scolded a child or a pet for accidentally breaking an insulator?
  13. Do you have insulators in any location inside the home besides a bare windowsill?
  14. Do you ever clean and dust insulators as if they were pieces of fine furniture?
  15. Have you ever shown an insulator to somebody who does not collect them?
  16. Do you own a shovel, rake, or hoe that is dirty yet has never been used in the lawn or garden?
  17. Do you put light bulbs in boxes just so you can show off your more colorful pieces or to impress the neighbors?
  18. Do you ever spend more time with insulators than you spend in front of the TV?
  19. Have you ever deliberately tried to "convert" somebody into collecting?
  20. Have you ever constructed or used a device specifically designed to remove insulators from crossarms?
  21. Have you ever had a dream about an insulator or insulators?
  22. If so, do you recall the name or CD number of any insulator in that dream?
  23. When you see a train on TV, do you immediately ignore the train and intently study the picture to look for telegraph poles instead?
  24. When driving or bicycling, have you ever stomped on the brake or quickly pulled to the shoulder upon seeing a downed utility pole, regardless of the pole's apparent age or type?
  25. Have you ever gone to a flea market or garage sale for the sole purpose of seeing if they have insulators to sell?
  26. Is "smokey purple" or "cornflower blue" one of your favorite colors?
  27. Do you know the primary difference between a CD154 and a CD155?
  28. Have you ever put off doing dishes so that you could use the sink to clean an insulator?
  29. Have you ever had to rearrange furniture in order to better display insulators?
  30. Have you ever owned or used a book with the name "McDougald" on the cover?
  31. Have you ever photographed an insulator and posted the picture of it on the internet or e-mailed the picture to somebody?
  32. Do you check the glass & cup shelves and the front display case at the thrift store in case somebody there set out an upside-down EC&M or ramshorn insert thinking it was an antique drinking glass?
  33. Have you ever accidently broken an insulator, and tried to repair or display it anyway instead of just throwing it away?
  34. Have you ever attended an insulator show or swap meet, and then had to find & use an ATM within the first hour?
  35. Do you have more than 4 insulators within reach of where you are sitting now?
  36. Have you ever purchased or attempted to purchase a novelty item (such as an Insulampclockthingie) simply because it had an insulator in it, despite how ugly the contraption might have been?
  37. Have you ever constructed an entire three bedroom house from crossarms and display boxes?
  38. Have you ever constructed a house purely as a means to store insulators?
  39. Does your family sleep outside with the dog because you had to remove the beds from the bedrooms to make room for insulators?
  40. Does your spouse prefer to sleep outside with the dog because his or her side of the bed is covered in insulators or the mailing boxes they came in?
  41. Do you have difficulty maneuvering across your living room/dining room/kitchen/bathroom floors because of wall-to-wall/floor-to-ceiling boxes filled with styrofoam peanuts?
If you answered "yes" to at least five of these questions, then you may be infected with Polyinsulitis. Here is the disease progression chart you can use to diagnose yourself: 0-2 answered yes: You probably do not have this disease... yet! 3-4 answered yes: There is a chance that Polyinsulitis is latent in your system. It will only get worse. 5-15 answered yes: Polyinsulitis is a major factor in your life. You definitely need help. Consult the resources listed below before it's too late. 16-25 answered yes: The bug is running rampant through your system. Complete abstinence may help, but is more likely to make the disease worse. Send me 1 purple EC&M and call me in the morning. 26-41 answered yes: The disease is in its terminal phase. At this point there is no cure, and no going back. By this time, your collection probably numbers in the hundreds. Keep collecting those insulators and have a great time doing so! If you think you have Polyinsulitis, don't worry. You aren't alone. Help is available. Call 1-800-INS-ULITIS or log on to right now to get help. This has been a public service announcement for the Polyinsulitis Foundation of America. IMPORTANT NOTE: This is intended to make light of a very serious illness. Please consult Insulators: A History and Guide to North American Glass Pintype Insulators if you feel you may have contracted this disease. Do not attempt to call the toll-free number.
Questions numbered 37 and higher were contributed by ICON members. Thanks :)

Index this you silly spiders