Modeling Telephone Poles

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Model Telephone Poles - MRH Issue 3 - July 2009











Please post any comments or questions you have about this article here.



Two Points on Telephone Poles

Model telephone poles can take a real beating once they’re installed. I can’t count how many layouts I’ve seen with so many broken ones that, frankly, the layouts would have looked better without them. So when making telephone poles I strongly suggest that you make plenty of extras, that way those that have been damaged can be quickly replaced.

Also, when the poles are installed the cross arms should usually be on alternate sides. In other words, on one pole the arms would be on the east side, on the next pole on the west, and so on. A common mistake many modelers make is to have all of the cross arms on the same side or to have them arranged in an haphazard fashion.

Babbo_Enzo's picture

One coin per day make...

Yep! I learn a bit everyday! And so, when the time will come to plant my poles... I will know how.

Thanks for the tip.


(unfortunately ... still at the plywood-scape stage)

Also, when the poles are

Also, when the poles are installed the cross arms should usually be on alternate sides. In other words, on one pole the arms would be on the east side, on the next pole on the west, and so on. A common mistake many modelers make is to have all of the cross arms on the same side or to have them arranged in an haphazard fashion.

Scott Dunlap


Scott, in the name of Science I conducted a short survey on the way to my storage unit, a 2 mile drive in all.  On the way I noticed that there was absolutely no rythym or rhyme to which side the cross arms were installed on.  The numbers on the west side were more than the east, but otherwise, there weren't any noticeable patterns - and in many places, especially on new metal poles, there were arms on BOTH sides!

insulator color

What are the specific colors do you use for insulators? I've been having a heck of a time getting a color that looks right.

dfandrews's picture

Observations and insulators


I've been observing cross arm placement on my way to and from work (sort of like the distracted driving that occurs when using a cell phone, but not as "cite-able".), and Southern California Edison Co. conforms to the practice of alternating sides of the pole for cross-arm placement.  It's not universal, but on long runs in one direction with few or no branches, it is over 90%.


This may give you ideas:  Clover House sell insulators of various colors.  (MRH advertiser: )  Page 13 of their catalog lists oval and round glass beads that are white, black, dark red and dark green; and also brown and dark blue strain reliefs


Rincon Pacific Rwy, 1960.  HO scale std. gauge - interchange with SP.


Telephone Poles




I enjoyed your telephone pole article, had not thought of using the swabs.

My eye, however, was caught by your turntable. Is there a chance of you doing an article about it.

Shay Driver

Rio Grande Dan's picture

The turntable is an Atlas

The turntable is an Atlas plastic TT with wood glued to it. I have one just like it in the train room. I believe there was a write up in Model railroader 15 years ago or more about the Jerome and southwestern where they explained how to modify the TT by covering it with kapler scale lumber to give it a realistic look.


Rio Grande Dan

The turntable is an Atlas

Thank you, Dan, I thought that it must be an Atlas. 

Thanks, also, for the Jerome and Southwestern info.   


Telegraph poles - realistic insulators

I don't really like the look of beads for telephone/telegraph pole insluators. I have been away from the hobby for quite a few years and am recently restarting. I remember some years ago that someone made clear plastic crossarms with molded on clear insulators. You could then stain the insulators green or leave them clear, etc. Is this item still available somewhere?





Skip Luke
Retired Railroader
washington State

 Does anybody have an email

 Does anybody have an email for Bob Grech? What ever happened to his wonderful website full of amazing photo tutorials on building super realistic pine trees, etc? 


-Ben R. 

Check your e mail

Bob I sent you an email that might help....... not sure.  I didn't want to post anything in the open no matter how easy it is to get elsewhere.


Another great tutorial

Making telegraph poles - just what I was looking for.  Keep up the good work

telephone poles

Those of you who wish to learn more about aerial wire lines for railway communications should visit "Song of the Open Wire," which is a site with layman's explanations (and explorations) about the open wire communications culture.  There is a section called "Railway & Transportation Open Wire" which will fill in all the gaps you need in your education to build accurate renditions of the real thing.  Such items as how to face poles going up hills, proper guying techniques, double arming, termination structures and transpositioning are laid out.  There are lots of photos of actual line systems (many from now deceased leads) which can help all of you.  Just type in: Song of the Open Wire.



Bruce Petrarca's picture

When are OLD insulators CLEAR?

A bit of trivia I learned last year. It is solar radiation that colors them.

The poles next to the White Pass & Yukon Route were installed during WWII.

The insulators were still clear in the summer of 2012, after about 60 years in the elements.

A few notes on pole lines ......

Clear versus green insulators: the colors have no significance .... early insulators tended to be more green as even "clear" glass in the 1800's had a green tint. Some insulators were pretty dark green; others were clear. Note that brown ceramic insulators were normally not used on communications lines. They are suitable for power lines. 

Crossarms on alternate sides of the poles: On telegraph and telephone lines, that was the rule and was taught in the schools and manuals. If you are now talking about Power Lines, wee are discussing apples and oranges. I am not expert on power lines and don't know if there is any kind of rule about placement of crossarms on them. 

Not all pole lines are the same.   This is one that bugs me whenever a how-to article comes out, or I see layout pictures. Seems like most of the time (not always) there is confusion about the use of the lines. What is often supposed to be a communications pole line ends up with "pole pigs" (transformers) mounted on them. Power and railroad comm lines didn't live on the same poles as power lines. Note that the exception here is signal power lines for signals, crossing protection, etc. In general the only way you would know these wires were different is that they often had the brown ceramic insulators on the signal power wires. And, on interurban lines, of course, they often did share the same poles. 

Note that I know "there's a prototype for everything" .... and in some cases the above might not apply. That being said, the above is standard practice during the years before the pole lines were supplanted by newer technology. 



Skip Luke
Retired Railroader
washington State

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