Arizona Telephone Line Mystery

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fredmcain

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Dear Group,

This is gonna be a really LONG shot, but I was hoping someone might be able to solve or address a small mystery for me. It’s a rather long shot but I’d like to try.

I grew up in Arizona in the 1950’s and ‘60’s and around 1969, when I was in high school, we drove up to Payson, AZ on State Route 87.

I can’t say exactly where I first spotted this, but somewhere about halfway to Payson, I saw what looked to me like a single-wire, “ground return” telephone or telegraph line on short, stubby, wooden poles.

The line ran roughly somewhat parallel to the highway but not necessarily right alongside the edge of the highway. It seemed like the little line would disappear completely for a mile or two only to pop up again, occasionally on the opposite side of the road. This suggested that by 1969 some sections had already fallen down.

About 10-15 miles or so north and east of the small community of Sunflower, there had been a tiny little ghost town that seems to have gone by several names. Among them, “Stalker Village”, “Goswick” and “Mercuria”. The strange little line appeared to end in that vicinity since I didn’t spot it again north of this point.

Would anyone have any idea what this could’ve been or what type of insulators were used? I’m thinking that I saw both small, ceramic insulators and some glass.

I could add that I traveled this same road a year ago during a brief visit to my former “home state” of Arizona. I saw no remaining evidence or trace of the peculiar little line. I do know that there had been at least one or more major forest fires that went through this area and if any of the old poles were still left by then, they surely burned. Time has a way of obliterating things.
 

CanadianBottles

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There's a bit of info on Stalker Village here: https://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=1640 It sounds like your line was probably the telephone line for the mine office at Stalker Village, probably built in the 1920s and abandoned by the early 30s, hence why it was partially gone by 1969. This sort of thing was quite common in mining regions, a little company town like that would usually just have one basic communication line. The miners weren't afforded the luxury of home telephones and, since the town usually wouldn't be expected to grow or last beyond the lifespan of the ore vein, there wouldn't be any planning for future communications capacity expansion. No way to know for sure which insulators would have been used but I would expect the glass ones were something along the lines of a Hemingray No. 9, those were very popular for those little rural phone lines.
1680140873647.png
 

fredmcain

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Dear “Canadian Bottles”,

I think that is probably as good a theory as any. Although it’s also true that the Forest Service had a few lines like that to monitor fire activity especially in the days before they had radios.

However, since I seem to recall that the line ended somewhere in the vicinity of “Stalker Village”, your theory is probably a good one.

About 15 or more years ago, I was on another insulator forum, I cannot remember which one nor have I been able to find it again. I posted a similar question on that forum about this particular line and one member knew about it and verified the existence of the line. Unfortunately, he had no further information on it. It would be really SUPER if someone could find a picture of it although that seems just a tad bit unlikely.

I also have vague recollections from my early childhood of seeing more single-wire lines like this in various remote areas of the Southwest although I have no idea where I’d seen those. Like you suggested, this was something that was perhaps done quite a bit.

Single-wire, ground return communication lines worked O.K. for telegraph. In the early days of telephony, their function was “acceptable”. However, one retired telephone worker told me that once the utility companies began stretching power lines across empty country, ground-return lines had a very serious issue with “60 cycle hum” interference and their use was subsequently abandoned in favor of two-wire lines.

It would be really cool if someone in southern Arizona could go out there in the field and search for any possible remnants of the Stalker Village wire line. It’s quite possible they might just find a pole or two here or there and very likely they could probably find an insulator lying on the ground somewhere. I’d do this myself but, unfortunately, I now reside in the Upper Midwest and am just not able to get out there that often.

Thanks for the Stalker Village link and the picture ~ !
 

CanadianBottles

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Dear “Canadian Bottles”,

I think that is probably as good a theory as any. Although it’s also true that the Forest Service had a few lines like that to monitor fire activity especially in the days before they had radios.

However, since I seem to recall that the line ended somewhere in the vicinity of “Stalker Village”, your theory is probably a good one.

About 15 or more years ago, I was on another insulator forum, I cannot remember which one nor have I been able to find it again. I posted a similar question on that forum about this particular line and one member knew about it and verified the existence of the line. Unfortunately, he had no further information on it. It would be really SUPER if someone could find a picture of it although that seems just a tad bit unlikely.

I also have vague recollections from my early childhood of seeing more single-wire lines like this in various remote areas of the Southwest although I have no idea where I’d seen those. Like you suggested, this was something that was perhaps done quite a bit.

Single-wire, ground return communication lines worked O.K. for telegraph. In the early days of telephony, their function was “acceptable”. However, one retired telephone worker told me that once the utility companies began stretching power lines across empty country, ground-return lines had a very serious issue with “60 cycle hum” interference and their use was subsequently abandoned in favor of two-wire lines.

It would be really cool if someone in southern Arizona could go out there in the field and search for any possible remnants of the Stalker Village wire line. It’s quite possible they might just find a pole or two here or there and very likely they could probably find an insulator lying on the ground somewhere. I’d do this myself but, unfortunately, I now reside in the Upper Midwest and am just not able to get out there that often.

Thanks for the Stalker Village link and the picture ~ !
Yeah finding a picture would be pretty tough, although not necessarily impossible if you knew the right keywords to search for. I could only find two or three pictures of Stalker Village, neither one clearly showed any lines, but chances are somewhere out there someone took a photo on some section of the road while the lines were still up. From what I've read about these ground return lines they were fairly common until the 30s or so, so it would make sense for there to still be a decent number of them up in the 50s and 60s. There are still plenty of telegraph lines up today after all, and those haven't been used in decades. Chances are if someone went out there they could still find some insulators from the line, the ones from that era don't tend to be too collectible, especially the ceramic ones, so I bet most of them are still lying out there if they haven't been covered over by highway widening.
 

fredmcain

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Dear “Canadian Bottles”,

Your comment about insulators from that era is also, very likely, spot on.

Years ago, when I was on that afore mentioned insulator forum, there was a discussion thread about a single-wire telegraph line that once stretched across the Yuma desert which was very old and had some extremely rare insulators. Collectors sought in vain to find them and a few found broken pieces but no intact insulator.

That is when I mentioned the single-wire line in the area around the Mercuria Mines (Stalker Village). Then some guy responded that he knew which line that was and what type of insulators were used on it and he believed that they were worth next to nothing.

Nonetheless, I’d still just love to find a photograph. There are a few groups of people who secretly go out and explore abandoned mines which they really aren’t supposed to do. Perhaps I could contact someone from a group like that and ask them to keep an eye open for the long-abandoned telephone line.

Incidentally, during the period where I'd seen this, Arizona had many, many miles of in-use, open-wire (two-wire) lines. In fact, in the early 1970s, we traveled along this same road on the way to Payson (State Route 87) and I saw what looked like a brand new, recently installed two-pair open-wire line which looked like it had only recently been installed and put in service. It had "tramps" (transposition brackets) on about every other pole suggesting that the line had "carrier".

Needless to say, that stuff is all long gone today.
 

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