Insulator Club holds 'Beat the Snow' show

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Enfield - posted Wed., Dec. 11, 2013
Jim Simpson holds up an insulator similar to one he just purchased, while dealer Dan Gray of Shrewsbury, Mass., looks on. Photos by Annie Gentile.
Jim Simpson holds up an insulator similar to one he just purchased, while dealer Dan Gray of Shrewsbury, Mass., looks on. Photos by Annie Gentile.

The Yankee Pole Cat Insulator Club usually holds a show at the American Legion Post in Enfield in late March - and they expect to again in 2014 - but this year the club decided to add a “Beat the Snow” show to its itinerary with a gathering on Sunday, Dec. 8.

“We’ve been holding an annual show for 30 years, but this is the first time we decided to do one this time of year,” said club president John Rajpolt. “We had a lot of vendors and collectors come out. It was a good crowd, despite it being the holiday season.”

Rajpolt said based on the electronic newsletter e-mail list, the club currently has about 150 members, mostly from New England and New York, and an additional seven new collectors signed up at this show.

“[Insulator collecting] is a hobby that started with the telephone and utility linemen who started taking them down in the 1960s when utilities started changing over from glass to ceramic and then later to plastic insulators,” said Rajpolt. “Rather than just destroy them, they started taking them home to collect.” Other collectors, he said, would find and collect them when they would dig for bottles in dumps or near old factories. “As for myself, I’ve always liked trains and would find them near tracks, and didn’t realize the variety of colors and styles that existed,” he said.

Insulator collecting often goes hand in hand with collectors of other glass wares, in part because it was the manufacturers of bottles, lamps, and glassware that often made the insulators for utility companies. At the show, hobbyists and serious collectors could find insulators priced from as little as $5 each up to more than $200. Collectors of milk bottles and other glassware could also find some rare or unusual finds at the show.

Chip McElwee, a hobbyist from Binghampton, N.Y., said he has been trading on and off for about 40 years. “This is the first one of these shows I’ve done, and it’s mostly just to meet expenses. My mom was an antique dealer and I started digging dumps with her for bottles as a kid, and the rest is history. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Al Johnson drove from Long Island to attend the show. A collector since the age of 12, he said Long Island wasn’t exactly the easiest place to get into the hobby about 35 years ago when he first started, largely because Long Island started updating its equipment much earlier than a lot of other parts of the country, and because the electric utility serving the area was primarily one major company, rather than multiple small companies.

“As a result, it was just one large power company with plenty of money updating everything at once, so you didn’t get the variety of stuff that you’d find with smaller companies that had to upgrade a little at a time,” Johnson said. As a kid, he said he and his friends would ride their bikes to power company substations and ask the linemen if they might give them some insulators. Back then, he said, they’d have some luck, but in these radically different times, as an adult when he’s gone to a substation and started looking around or taking pictures, there has been a suspicion of terrorism. “These days most collectors buy or trade insulators at shows or online,” he said.

The Yankee Pole Cat Insulator Club’s spring show will be held March 30, 2014, at the American Legion in Enfield. For more information about the club or to be added to its newsletter list, contact John Rajpolt at 303-261-1190 or e-mail

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