Linemen

01/19/2009 - 00:00 AM

  • Linemen
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Poised high up on high telephone poles or standing at the top of long ladders resting against house walls, the lineman was a specially qualified worker in change of the maintenance of overhead networks. The lineman was responsible for looking after and repairing a large part of the lines that stretched from the telephone exchanges to buildings and subscribers' homes.
Along with the women operators, the linemen were without doubt one of the most familiar and best known figures in the history of the telephone.
It was a high-risk job that demanded assured physical agility as well as specific technical qualifications.

The tools of the trade: Climbing straps

The accoutrements needed for working on telephone poles were ladders, foot straps and belts as well as an electrician's ordinary tools – especially those used for joining cables.
To climb up a pole, whose height could range from 7.5 to 9 metres, the linemen used special foot-strap "pole-chokers" that they fastened to their feet with leather straps. The foot straps included hooked metal "gaffs" that gave them grip as they climbed. The leather safety harnesses that the linemen used to secure themselves on the pole were attached  to a belt around the waist by means of a spring catch.

The Italian extension ladder

The "Italian" extension ladder is a particular type of telescopic ladder used in Italy. By adding several sections of this sort of ladder together, linemen were able to climb to heady heights, as much as 21 metres, which is more or less the equivalent of a five-floor building.
To use ladders longer than 15 metres, the linemen had to be issued with a special certificate of ability from the Fire Brigade. No-one was allowed to climb a  ladder longer than 21 metres.
Generally, the ladder would be mounted progressively against a wall, with section after section added until the desired height was reached. Only when the repair work required the ladder to rest directly on the overhead cables could the lineman unite the sections while the ladder was still lying on the ground (and never more than two sections at a time) before hoisting it into the air.
During the mounting of the ladder sections and while carrying out cable repairs, the linemen always had to work in groups of two or more so that one person could always be on the ground to keep an eye on the base of the ladder.

Training

The five licensed operating companies (Stipel, Telve, Timo, Teti and Set and, after 1964, Sip) trained the linemen in various centres located up and down the country.
The Lineman Training Centre on Via Tripoli in Turin allowed trainees to practise several skills:
cable hauling, attaching conductors to insulators, forming lozenges, connecting circuits to distributors, joining and welding cables and simulating the building of line networks.
The internal courtyard of the building included a special area (see image) containing training equipment and installations: poles placed outside allowed trainees to learn how to climb them using the right equipment, and a wooden wall allowed trainees to learn how to mount an Italian-style extendable ladder under the watchful eye of members of the Fire Brigade.The lineman no longer exists as a profession. He has been replaced by a "Total Assistance System" technician who, in addition to dealing with telephone lines, is mainly concerned with broadband installations and the delivery of a full range of new products and services to subscribers' homes.