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Re: [TowerTalk] Pole steps

To: <>
Subject: Re: [TowerTalk] Pole steps
From: Pat Barthelow <>
Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2008 15:15:28 -0700
List-post: <">>

Its been some years now since I have climbed poles there, but at N6IJ  ( ) and
we have a "pole forest", perhaps 20-25  poles.   Most of which were planted in 
the Mid 60s, based on the date tags still existing on the poles.  They are now 
approaching 45-50 years, set about 10-12 ft deep in the (sandy) ground, and 
when last visited by me, were in very sound condition.  The steps are 
galvanized steel, and have the rolled threads described below. 

I started servicing and installing antennas there in 1995.  At that time I had 
the senior Field Supervisor at 
PG&E walk the forest with me, and give me wisdom on what to look for in 
determining health and safety of use of the poles for antenna supports.  Most 
all of the poles are free standing.   Steve, K7LXC has walked the forest....

Most of the poles were treated with a creosote type of treatment, and it was 
evident that the applied chemical either gravity migrated towards the bottom of 
the poles, or was more heavily applied to the bottom 15 ft or so.  The VERY old 
poles, which were a Rhombic  ( longer complete) pointed right at the 
pacific ocean, towards Pearl Harbor, and were definitely coated with a jet 
black crusty, tarry stuff.  Almost like obsidian, when it chipped.   A few had 
the more modern, green, Copper based solution, and had the distinctive check 
marks used to help imbed the preservative.

The PGE foreman trained me how to recognize and inspect the critical areas of 
the pole, near the base, and the first 18" below the ground line.  Also 
critical, and often neglected is the top 18" or so, of the pole, which often is 
not treated,  soaks up water like a sponge, and with age, becomes weakened, 
almost sawdust at times.  Also the pole steps.  The steps,  about 45-50 years 
old,  were in sound condition, generally, and often had accrued "crud" largely 
concentrated at the point of entry into the pole.  The "crud" was usually a 
crusty accumulation of splinters, sap, dirt,  and the preservative, which oozed 
out and down the pole.  The Galvanizing at that point was often discolored, and 
in some cases, eroded away, so that you could see steel, not zinc, on the 
surface that had, generally a smooth patina, and had not eroded or weakened 
significantly.  My bet is the combo of chemicals at the surface are mildly 
(Hmmmm.... Rosin Core Solder.....similar to pole "sap" ..great cleaning flux at 
elevated temperatures) 
either acidic, or basic.  The biggest danger/caution needed was, sometimes the 
natural, normal drying of the poles, causes vertical splits in random locations 
on the pole. Sometimes the splits came through a pole step, weakening the step 
installation, sometimes making it useless.  

If you watched for that, and adopted a test for each step by putting a couple 
of G's on the step with a jumping motion, with each foot fall (securely 
strapped off, and supporting a lot of your weight with your arms, on higher 
steps,  when you jumped or jounced on the step..)  you  will immediately find 
any steps that are weak through corrosion, or from cracks in the wood, at their 

Our pole farm of, say, 20 poles each had, say, 35 steps, each pole, that are 
all 45-50 years old.
I found maybe 2 or 3 steps total, that were unsound, and those were due to wood 
cracks, in the whole farm.

I found them very easy to climb, and nice to work on.  
The lack of guys, make things really nice for hauling things from ground to top.

Hmmm... one thing also necessary and previously mentioned, months back,  is a 
need to be fairly fit, both for safety and comfort reasons.   Today, if I had 
to climb, I would not last very long, in a comfortable zone, without a couple 
of months of regular bike riding.

A critical feature of comfort, though, is the need for two equal height steps 
at your working strap off point, at the pole top.  Sometimes we had staggered 
steps at the top which made work, and leg fatigue a problem.
There is available, somewhere on the web, a  Lineman's manual covering 
inspection and treatment of poles for power company use.  A good resource also 
is McFarland, a huge pole manufacturing company, also with detailed web 
presence.  A pole hardware supplier that has steps, is AB-Chance company, 
probably among many others. 

All the best,
Pat Barthelow    (916) 315-9271

> Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2008 16:43:22 -0400
> From:
> To:
> CC:;
> Subject: Re: [TowerTalk] Pole steps
> Dubovsky, George wrote:
>> Doug,
>> I'd stop by a local utility truck and ask those guys for help; they
>> might know of a utility boneyard.
>> On the other hand, your basic premise does raise a few issues. One, are
>> screw-in steps harmful to the tree? Maybe, maybe not. But two, the idea
>> of partially unscrewing anchors periodically, and then trusting them to
>> hold your weight is a new idea to me. I know what you're saying - the
>> tree is growing radially out - but it might be growing around a larger
> *Generally* commercially threaded parts have rolled threads. They are
> stronger, cheaper, and of a LARGER diameter than the shaft. I have to
> emphasize that "generally" though as YMMV between companies and parts.
> Roger (K8RI)
>> diameter, unthreaded part of the step, so eventually perhaps the step
>> threads would be in an oversized "unthreaded" hole. Maybe, perhaps,
>> eventually ;-)... I don't think I would do it.
>> 73,
>> geo - n4ua
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: [mailto:towertalk-
>>>] On Behalf Of Doug Faunt N6TQS +1-510-655-8604
>>> Sent: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 12:56 PM
>>> To:
>>> Subject: [TowerTalk] Pole steps
>>> Does anyone know where I can get half-a-dozen screw-in pole steps at a
>>> reasonable price? I use a tree for some of my antenna supports, and
>>> climbing to the appropriate place is I had a few of those screw-in
>>> pole steps installed.
>>> Most attachments to trees are a problem because of growth, but these
>>> can be backed out a small amount every now and then to compensate.
>>> 73, doug
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> TowerTalk mailing list
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