They don’t make ’em like they used to.
You hear that about cars, homes, appliances. But can the same be said about wooden utility poles?
Line crews at
Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Pickens, South Carolina, recently found out for themselves during a line-conversion project in Oconee County.
Operations Vice President Sam McMillan was at a job site near an elementary school this spring when Richard Barnett, a retired lineworker who lives nearby, tipped him off to a still-working wooden utility pole with a 1937 “birthmark,” or brand.
“I’ve been here 35 years and came up through the line crew, and I remember running across a few in the 1980s,” McMillan says. “I hadn’t seen one in 25 to 30 years, so it caught my ear when I heard that.”
McMillan told the crews to alert him if the pole turned up.
Today’s poles last about four decades, he says, and this one would be 82 years old.
Sure enough, Blue Ridge Electric crews spotted the pole, a single-phase, 35-foot primary pole missing its transformer but still operational. It had belonged to the South Carolina Rural Electrification Authority, a precursor to electric co-ops in the state during the 1930s. Blue Ridge Electric was organized in 1940.
McMillan’s explanation for the pole’s longevity? Good genes.
“Good wood and good treatment. It’s really all you can say about it,” says McMillan, who estimates the pole came from a 70-to-80-year-old tree.
He says the pole’s tight growth rings show it “grew slow and was extra strong when it was a tree. All that makes for a better pole.”
A portion of the Oconee County pole, with the 1937 birthmark still visible, now sits on McMillan’s desk.
“It reminds me of how old the co-op is, how long we’ve been doing it, and how many ice and wind storms it’s been through. It’s just amazing.”