Seattle City Light -- Walt Sickler on the Line Crew, 1949-1973 -- A Slideshow

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 1/07/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7046

Walt Sickler (b. 1927) worked for Seattle City Light for 40 years. In 1989, he retired as the Director of Operations, in charge of all the dams, power transmission systems, and shops. His first job was on a line crew and he recalls those years.

"That was Vic Coudre's crew, a high-power crew. At this particular time in the early 50s, they had a job cutting Capitol Hill over from two-phase primary to the more modern, three-phase. They look like a bunch of vagabonds, but that was really a hot running crew." "In the 50s and 60s, heavy crews were really in demand. They had a line truck that carried the foreman and the driver in front and the linemen in the little cab in the back. In the rear of the truck, the helpers rode. And then we had the Dodge Power Wagon, used to take supplies out to the job and do the various things."

"A lineman helper was the extension of the lineman on the pole, he of course had to have material sent up to him and things done for him. So the helper went and got material from the truck and made up the material and sent it up to the lineman. The saying of the linemen used to be, 'I don't care how high the helper climbs as long as he keeps one foot on the ground.'" "This is George Dean and Charlie Lewis. We used to call George "Sniffer" Dean when he became a lineman because he would like to hook up transformers without using a voltage tester. He was quite a colorful person. He had one of the smoothest climbing techniques I ever saw. They're pulling on the handlines. That's the extension of the lineman. That's how the lineman gets his material, the crossarms, the wiring, anything he needs, up to him. Each lineman has a helper. The helper is his valet. We didn't have hard hats until the late 50s."

"That's an old reel truck. That was in the early 50's. Modern machinery was coming out, but we were very slow to adapt to a lot of it. We had these old -- the rear axel was driven by chains on these things, and the reels on them were not even hydraulic. They were all capstan operated. It was an antique piece of machinery. You had to winch it in."

"That was at the 4th and Spokane headquarters. Of course you wouldn't recognize the building now because in the 60s, because of the size of the bays that the trucks backed into, they tore that all out. They put high-arch bays so the trucks could get in." "These are the old Kenworth trucks. The foreman and the driver sat in the front seat. In the same cab there was room enough for the four linemen to sit there. The foreman could give the instructions to the linemen on the way out to the job. They had real close communication."

"The Street Lighting Department had that platform truck. It certainly doesn't bear any resemblance to what they have in modern days. This was an ideal thing for these fellows to get up to work on the street lights standards, especially in the downtown area. It had a hydraulic lift on the front with a platform that raised them up where they could work. It was a forerunner of the bucket truck."

"Frank Comar on the old pole and Tom Dicus and I on the new pole. We were transferring the line wires from the old pole to the new pole. Of course we didn't have bucket trucks and things to get up there, so... We were working above the DC voltage of the trolley feeders. So we just put rubber goods on them, so the shock couldn't go through, and then kneel down and work. I don't know that they allow you to do that now. Those are live wires."

"That's me standing on the wire. We just spread-eagled on the wires there to get out to the end of the crossarm. Those wires are live."

"This is "Squirrely" Squires, my helper, he's pulling on a set of blocks, taking the wires from the old pole to the new pole. The line truck is underneath. He came out of the warehouse. He knew warehouse nomenclature. When I'd ask him for a "dead-end" he would always quote me the stock number. I think he did that to irritate me. We had our own names for parts, "Johnny-balls" or "Wiggy" and like that."

"Removing kites. He's only at the secondary arm. We didn't worry much about kites there. It probably had something to do with the 115 KV (kilovolt, 1,000 volts) above him. We used to have a hot-stick with a torch light on it. We would hook that over the wire and set the torch off. It was just like a blow torch or acetylene torch. And then pull it out onto the wire where the kite was and burn the kite off it."

"This is a corner pole where they're dead-ending a 115 KV line. That was the sub-transmission lines. Below it was 26 KV and they have the grounds on the 26 KV and he's working on the dead-end insulators on the 115 KV. They have platform on there called a Baker Board, so they could get out beyond the insulators."

"We actually climbed every tower between Seattle and the Skagit each year to test the insulators. They're putting an armour-wrap on a 230 KV transmission line, standing down on a ladder at the end of the insulators. They wrap this armour on it. It's 10 feet long. It spirals aluminum that they spin on and then they clamp. That's to keep the wire from chaffing underneath where it goes through the shoe into the insulator."

This is a slideshow photo essay about working on a line crew for Seattle City Light in the 1950s. It is narrated by former lineman Walt Sickler and curated by David Wilma.

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