The Perils of North Country Linemen


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1936 ADLinemenNYHHard history is great, but while conducting research, I’m constantly collecting odd and unlikely stories on a variety of subjects. I like to think of them as the offbeat side of history (stretching the definition of history to include all news items from the past) … of little value to historians, but certainly entertaining. Collecting them helps relieve the (sometimes) tedious job of searching hundreds of pages for a few nuggets of information.

Take, for instance, the subject of North Country linemen, those workers who climb utility poles to make connections or repairs. Their daily routine might be as boring as any other job most of the time, but linemen have a measure of danger built into their profession, beginning with working high above the ground. When something goes wrong, the results can be spectacular.

The stories that follow do not address tragedies, which were once frequent. These instead are amazing stories of survival, coming from my category, “No bones were broken.”

In 1916, two Ogdensburg linemen, Jerome O’Driscoll and Edward Livingston, were erecting a new pole close to the river in Plattsburgh. Both were safely strapped near the pole’s top while connecting guy wires. Suddenly, the pole snapped at its base and plunged towards the river, knocking both men unconscious on impact.

Had the pole entered the water, they likely would have drowned, but it became embedded in soft ground at the river’s edge. Both were taken to the hospital with bruises and internal injuries, but somehow, no bones were broken. The accident was caused by internal dry rot at the pole’s base.

In 1918, William Fitzgerald of Chateaugay was descending a pole at Chasm Falls when it suddenly snapped, causing him to fall with terrific impact from 25 feet. While many similar accidents resulted in death or disablement, Fitzgerald remained intact except for bruises.

Ernest Montroy of Ogdensburg lived to tell the tale of a bizarre mishap from 1920. Climbing high to address wiring problems, he accessed the crossbar. When the pole began to wobble, he frantically began descending, but the pole toppled, colliding with a residence.

Montroy’s position at the point of impact may have saved his life―as the pole crashed heavily against the house, he was hurled through a second-story window. The startled residents, completely perplexed by the loud noise, rushed upstairs. Imagine their shock to find a stranger, bleeding from the hands and face, and window glass shattered about the bedroom.

After realizing what had happened, they rendered first aid before sending him off to the hospital, where Montroy was treated for cuts and bruises. No bones were broken.

In 1922, James Moran of Gouverneur fell 20 feet from a power pole after coming into contact with a 2300-volt wire. His only injury was temporary paralysis to one arm.

Raymond Faucier of Ticonderoga had a similar incident in 1932.While working on a telephone line, he grabbed an entangled wire that turned out to be hot. Unable to release his grip, Faucier desperately kicked against the pole, causing him to fall, but freeing him from the high voltage.

The footspikes in the pole hooked his clothing and slowed him a bit, but Faucier turned two mid-air somersaults while dropping 18 feet. The soft earth below eased the impact, leaving him with bruises, serious burns to his hand, and “nervous shock” (which sounds appropriate). Quick thinking and soft ground helped save his life. And all bones remained intact.

Finally, a truly improbable accident occurred in Ticonderoga in 1947. In front of a store, Mrs. Gordon Streeter was standing near a carriage occupied by her baby. From above, a man suddenly crashed heavily into the carriage, providing Mrs. Streeter with the true meaning of startled.

Charles Donovan, 43, had fallen about 40 feet from a power pole. During his descent, impact with a wire deflected him into the carriage, a much softer place to land than the sidewalk. The baby was taken to the hospital and pronounced unhurt. Donovan was cut and bruised, but … you guessed it … no bones were broken.

Photo: 1936 Advertisement for NYSEG linemen

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