"I bought the first one on the side of the road on the way to Gatlinburg. It was a Mickey Mouse," Terry Whitworth said of his collection of antique insulators.
What a hobbyist calls a “Mickey Mouse” insulator is one of the first pin-top power distribution insulators used. Originally developed to insulate telegraph and phone wires, glass insulators were also used on electrical lines to prevent the flow of energy from the line to the ground.
Whitworth’s first insulator was a splurge at $30; most cost a dollar or less.
“I collect these because this is my business, and understanding the history is interesting to me,” he said. Whitworth began his career at Jackson EMC in 1979 as a lineman. He now serves as District Operations Superintendent in Gainesville.
His collection includes rare items, like the “Mickey Mouse” insulators he favors, as well as several colored communication insulators, tiny radio antenna insulators and a porcelain insulator dated the year he was married, 1978. He began collecting insulators about 15 years ago. He admits he’d like to have some he and his friends used to throw rocks at when they were just boys.
“They used to be everywhere, just cast aside. We never thought to pick them up,” he said. “Now, you see them mostly in people’s old chicken houses, just the ones they picked up and saved.”
As the population grew, so did the demand for electricity, and insulators had to be larger to control the voltage running through the power lines. Insulators are still used today, but they look and feel different. The industry transitioned from colored glass to clear glass, to ceramic and now to polymer or plastic. As new lines are built, or older equipment is replaced, the new plastic insulators are used.
“These are better for reliability because they are lighter, won’t break and they last longer,” Whitworth said.
Whitworth may add one of the new plastic insulators to his collection. Who knows, one day we may be collecting those too.