In search of the holy grail

I’ve categorized this post under vintage.  You see, it’s about our Honorary Technical Adviser Sir Keith S**** H.T.A. T.P.A.S (Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 prohibits me from printing his real name).  But anyway, what we do know about this mysterious Rochdale-based former pole inspector is that he used to be a pole inspector and is from Rochdale.  By pole inspector we don’t mean the jolly BT chap who knocks the base with a hammer to see if it’s rotten or not – no, Sir Keith, before retirement, travelled the northern hemisphere inspecting entire forests in sub-arctic arboreal landscapes in order to select timber suitable for making into telegraph poles.
These trees once harvested and cut to length had the initials of the inspector chiselled into the butt of the, by now, preserved pole.
And so Keith wrote this week to tell us of his eternal quest to find just one such retired telegraph pole somewhere that has his initials on the butt.  For it his plan to take off a slice and make into a display for his not inconsiderable mantlepiece.  He has scoured the internet, and wrote to Kilgraney (it wouldn’t send) and so appeals to us to send out an SOS appeal to all BT & telegraph pole contractors to check their stack of recovered poles for one bearing the initials K.S.  To help you identify a pole butt with KS here is an artists impression of a pole with KS on it, yesterday.  Come on pole gangs, let’s make his day.
The butt of a telegraph pole bearing the initials KS

Pre-climb test labels

Proof positive if ever ’twere needed that the machinations for keeping this website updated are ponderous at the least.  We move in geological timescales here at Telegraph Towers.  This next urgent bit of information came in last August.  David P. Salt wrote to us to tell us about the new labels BT are employing on their poles.  In his words:

Don’t know if you’ve noticed but BT poles now have a new label at the base of the pole (started in the last couple of years. It’s a white label the information is written in pen, it’s an engineers pre-climb test label. The engineer has to do a hammer test around at least three quarters of the base of the pole this involves hitting the pole and listening for a solid sound which indicates no decay at the base then a label has to be applied approx 4 inchs from base with the date and an ID.

A new fangled BT pre-climb test label.

What David didn’t mention is that to apply this label, 4 inches from the base of the pole, BT’s Health & Safety (gone mad) regime insists that the engineer must don safety harness, hi-viz, helmet, goggles, tipped boots AND get mummy or daddy to help him (or her) when using the hammer or any scissors or pointy things.  You couldn’t make it up!

Yet more on pole dates

Keith S****

Not for nothing is Keith S**** the Honorary Technical Advisor to this most august of societies.  Because he knows secret things about Telegraph Poles on Her Majesty’s Service he has to remain as anonymous as an M16 spook.  Luckily for us, though, he shadows our every post on this website and in times of need he pops up (a bit like or Billy the Cat) and offers us technical advice of a highly sagacious nature.  Like this on pole dates…

Not to be picky, but the date on poles was scribed in (with a scribing gouge) at the time a pole was dressed i.e. put through a machine with twin revolving planing heads to remove the inner bark and provide a smooth surface (outer bark was removed in the forest).  The pole was then open stacked for seasoning and probably  not  creosoted until the following year when it’s moisture content was suitable, hope this is of interest.

Remember wherever you are in the world, if you are looking at a telegraph pole and wondering about something in it, on it or under it, listen out for that voice from the shadows, it might just be our H.T.A.T.P.A.S. with the answer.


Z Poles

A Z-Pole, yesterdayAs well as not knowing or having ever heard of Campbell Brodie*1, Telegraphpoleologist, Disco Dave (#526) regularly travels the countryside looking at telegraph poles for a living.  He told me that as well as “C” & “D” poles there could also be found poles that were marked “H” or “Z”.

Oh, how I scoffed as I quaffed my creme-de-menthe down at the club that evening.  Little did I know that I would be the one with advocaat on my face.  For here it is, proof positive of the rarely sighted “Z” pole.  

He tells me…

…these poles basically mean there is a hazard next to the pole i.e. the spiked fence, but the engineer can position his ladders in such a way as to reduce the hazard rendering it safe to climb.

Well I never.And there we are, the spikes are there too.  Thank you for that Disco.  But “H” poles, really ?

By the way, an answer soon to come on the long awaited question of “Depthing Tubes”.  Also courtesy of Disco Dave.

*1 Even though he only lives 126 miles away


Erratum in FAQ

Typical!  No experts in the field of overhead line and telegraph pole maintenance on here for months then two come along at once. 

First, we are pleased to welcome Disco Dave as member #0526 to our exclusive society.  As well as playing all the hits from the 70s & 80s, Disco Dave is also an overhead planner and auditor for a national telecoms provider. (No names, no pack-drill!)

Disco Dave has kindly offered himself forward as a source of technical info for all matters telegraphic.  And as if to prove it, he has pointed out some errors in our FAQ pages…

D for Decayed or Defective or just plain Daft

Year stamp at doby mark

The red letter doesnt mean decayed. it stands for defective (although it usually is for decay). poles can also be D’ed for being too shallow or close to spiked railings for example.

He continued pulling us to pieces…

…also the year on the 3m mark is the year the pole was preserved not the year it was planted. A pole may have been lying at the bottom of a pole stack in a contractors yard for a good few years before it ever gets planted.”

Now, here’s where it gets spooky.  Just 2 days after Disco’s letter of correction, this very similarly worded document arrived from Campbell Brodie Esq.  Similar, but with some added gap-filler…

“The date on a BT pole does not signify the year it was planted; it signifies the year the pole was preserved. i.e. creosoted. (Some poles can lie on a pole stack for 2 or 3 years).

“D” on a pole means “Defective”, not decay. It could be condemned for being unstable (too may wires in one direction without a stay counter-balancing it), or it could be that it is “Shallow depth” (not planted deep enough) or it may have been condemned for Damage. i.e by a hedgecutter or vandalism.

BT do not use the “S” label anymore or the “SD” label. “S” was for “Suspect” of decay, but it either is or it isn’t now. “SD” was for Shallow depth, however, depending on how many wires there are in any 180° arc, a pole may be classed as S.C. or shallow climbable even though it may only be 0.9m in the ground. Any poles that are “shallow depth” now are classed as “D” or defective.

Campbell, not presently a member of this society*, tells us that he is an Overhead Survey Officer for the same national telecoms provider and has been since joining from the G.P.O back in 1977. That’s right, the 1970’s – an era from which Disco Dave also plays records.  You see, it all fits!  The similarity in writing style, suspiciously concurrent content, 1970’s contemporaneosity and the unhealthy interest in telegraph poles.  I put it to you that Disco Dave and Campbell Brodie are one and the same person.  I rest my case.


* Can’t think why not!


Telegraph pole markings A while ago, regular correspondent and telegraph pole connsoisseur, Jake wrote in.  He had read our post about hieroglyphics and wondered what might the green metallic plate embossed with a letter ‘C’ indicate?

I know I’d seen one somewhere and it’s taken me until now to remember where it was.  There were two adjacent poles with these plates, 9A & 10A, where else, but along the B5105.

Anyway, my relationship with telegraph poles has always been one of aesthetic appreciation and a slightly creepy anorak sort of admiration.  I’ve never actually worked with them or amongst them. And the only poles I ever climbed were the 100KVA pylons my dad used to send me up every time he got his kite stuck.  And that happened a lot.  Why he always made me wait until it rained to retrieve them I’ll never understand.

So I rely on my army of enthusiastic contacts.  And they always come up trumps when it comes to telegraph pole facts.  Here’s what the amazing Sean K from Hotmail had to say :

New poles do not need “testing for the first 12 years and thereafter require testing by a “pole tester” every 10 years.

In this case the tester has assessed the pole and found that it is not planted deep enough and so the green “C” means shallow climbable.

For what it’s worth, I nearly got run over by a maroon coloured Land Rover Discovery while I was taking this photograph.