Postscript: LeConte phone line July 2, 2013Posted by Jenny in hiking, history, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: Herrick Brown, Mt. LeConte, phone communications
After posting my blog about climbing LeConte via the old phone line route, I had some discussions with folks about the history of the line that connected the base of the mountain near the Rainbow Falls trailhead with the Lodge at the top.
First of all, Doug Borton kindly posted a photo from 1975 by Clair Burket of the barn used by Herrick Brown, which housed the phone. It was located east of the trailhead along the Cherokee Orchard Road. I confirmed with my friend Dick Ketelle that Brown used one and only one barn—I’d been a bit doubtful about this one because it seemed too far away from LeConte Creek. Thank you, Doug.
Then I asked Dick to tell me more about the phone line. He worked at the Lodge for two years when the old phone system was still in operation, and one of his jobs was to “run down the phone line when there were problems—fix them—and then return to the top,” he emailed me. “Sometimes these adventures occurred when storms were about, and keeping things grounded to avoid static voltage discharges from that long wire was mandatory.”
Incidentally, Dick’s family is one of the famous families of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Famous to me, anyway. I was privileged to know his dad, Bruce Ketelle, who was one of the original Oak Ridge scientists and a lifelong adventurer. The first time I met Bruce, on an SMHC hike, he told me of doing some sketchy route on the Diamond Face of Longs Peak in Colorado back in his youth. The Ketelles were always great off-trail explorers.
Dick added more information about the phone line. “Did you know that the original phone line to the lodge was routed up Bearpen Hollow? It was, and there used to be ceramic insulators hung on the trees by short pieces of that same kind of galvanized wire that was used as the conductor wire on the single strand old crank phone system.
“Herrick put the two conductor insulated (black) wires in by the mid 1960s because this allowed him to get connected to the outside world. That phone connection was used to manage reservations (yes, the reservation book was kept on the mountain in a small space that is the pantry). People would call directly to the lodge to make or cancel reservations. The two-wire line was connected to South Central Bell lines at Twin Creeks. That is why keeping the phone line in service was critical.
“As you might expect, it was in the sections above Rainbow Falls where we typically had difficulty with the line because of tree falls and squirrels chewing the insulation. Later, after the lodge concession went over to the ‘new’ management by the 1980s, the lodge started using a radio phone communication system and reservations were managed by the folks in the office down below. At that point the phone line was abandoned.
“The park service asked that the wires be removed where they were near the trail and Herrick went up and stripped some of it out. I have a couple of coils of the one-wire line that I keep at my house and I use small chunks of it now and then when I have a need for some stout wire to hold things together. That habit I learned from Herrick, who was the ultimate in using bits of this and that to keep things held together.”
Thank you, Dick.