A cherry red 1960s half-back Delphi hot stick trailer takes center stage in barn for his antique line tools.

Montana Lineman Honors History of the Line Trade

June 21, 2018
Mike Glueckert, a Lineman Hall of Famer, collects antique tools and equipment to showcase the evolution of the trade.

Linemen have powered America for more than a century, leaving behind a legacy of hard work and a trail of historical tools. In the early years, linemen worked without power tools, bucket trucks or modern-day climbing equipment.

Then in the early 1900s, the first bucket trucks came out on the market. Known as cherry pickers, the trucks made it easier for linemen to access power lines. Over time, tool manufacturers also began producing battery-operated tools to reduce injuries and improve productivity. Many of these tools were originally designed for consumers, but over time, manufacturers have designed them with linemen’s unique needs in mind.

To trace the evolution of linemen’s tools and to preserve the history of the line trade, Michael Glueckert, a journeyman lineman of 43 years, has collected old photographs of linemen, tools, accessories and other artifacts. Glueckert, who has been inducted into the Lineman Hall of Fame, built a special barn on his property to house these special treasures. 

"I have a lot of cool stuff, but it belongs to the industry and the linemen, not to me," he says. "One day, I will donate everything to the International Lineman’s Museum."

Evolving Materials

Over his years in the trade, Glueckert has seen a shift from elite hot sticking linemen to rubber gloving and barehand work. As a result, linemen can work at higher voltages without taking outages. To showcase the evolution of live line work, Glueckert has amassed a large collection of hot sticks and showcases a vintage hot stick trailer on his property. Also, he displays many historical tools for linemen, which were once exclusively made from wood and are now made from other materials such as steel or fiberglass.

"There’s no wood out there anymore," Glueckert says. "I will ask 40 apprentices if they have any wood tools at home and not one of them does. The wood tools and the tools of old are gone, and the glass and porcelain insulators are also starting to disappear. The industry is really changing, and wood tools are getting more and more rare."

Investing in Artifacts

While many collectors invest in a rainbow of glass insulators, Glueckert prefers to invest in historical hand tools. For example, a vintage lineman tool set from the 1930s hangs on the wall in his home, and old safety-line and Kearney diving boards are displayed in his barn. In addition, he owns an A.B. Chance clipping ladder from the 1950s and an insulated wire link stick for tagging out conductors. His collection includes a copper splice tool, circa 1915, from Old Thompson Falls Power Co. and a series of turn-of-the-century harness belts and tools.

His collection, however, doesn’t end there. He has an old disconnect fuse set, which was carried by troublemen in the 1940s and 1950s as well as old harness belt that features Indian head pennies as rivets. The first prototype voltage phasing set by Safety Line Tools in his collection dates back to 1959, and a half-back Delphi hot stick trailer takes center stage in his antique barn. Over the years, he has also invested in a 1915-era Westinghouse ammeter and a Thomas Edison DC voltmeter, a turn-of-the-century relic.

His favorite tool, however, is the Tips hot stick, which was manufactured by the nation’s first hot stick maker, the Tips Tool Co. This business operated for 18 years before being acquired by Hubbell Power Systems in 1937.

In addition to his own collection, he has also worked with George Gaudet of Mountain States Training to restore other line tools, which are on display at the local training center. For example, the Mountain States Line Constructors own a cherry red and white distribution hot stick trailer dating back to 1954.

Preserving a Piece of History

In addition to focusing on growing his own personal collection, Glueckert is also helping to preserve the history of a local historical site related to line work.

A line shack — thought to be the only one in the U.S. — resides in Glueckert’s own home state of Montana. This historical building is located on private property underneath the oldest transmission line built west of the Mississippi. NorthWestern Energy owns this transmission line, which was built in 1909.

According to a historical report, the Great Falls Water Power & Townsite Co. constructed the double steel tower transmission line from Great Falls to Butte, Montana. Linemen were paid $5 a day within a 20-mile radius of Butte and $4 a day outside of this radius, to construct the 126-mile line.

During Storm Soldiers 2, Glueckert is shown standing under this power line in the line shack, which was rebuilt after World War II.

"In Montana and other places in the nation, cabins were spread 17 miles apart under the transmission line," he says. "A lineman would go on horseback and go from one cabin to the next to inspect the line. When he got to the cabin, he would dial over dispatch to a telephone system to make sure everything was OK. This happened between 1910 and 1960."

Glueckert hopes to one day get the line shack registered with the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, he is working to increase awareness of the line trade through the lineman’s rodeos and collecting antiques related to the line trade. Glueckert says he appreciates his close linemen friends and the Randy Williams family, who have helped him to have a great career in the line trade. "I came from the bottom, and without Jesus and my friends, I would be nothing," he says. "I wish only to give back to all of them." ♦

Editor’s note: View a photo gallery of Mike Glueckert’s collection of vintage line tools online. 

Sidebar: Mike’s Cardinal Rules for Line Work

Like other veteran linemen, Mike Glueckert wants all linemen to go home safely at the end of each work day. While many linemen lost their lives or were injured in the early years of the trade, utilities are now implementing safety practices and investing in tools and technology to protect linemen.

From his more than four decades in the line trade, Glueckert has learned several techniques and work methods to stay safe in the field. Seventeen years ago, he drew up this list of rules for his apprentices, many of which still stand true today.

1. Cover within reaching or falling distance

2. Never get in between neutrals and grounds

3. Work one phase at a time

4. One lineman working, others watching and assisting in primary

5. Never get caught between two phases

6. Never work opposite phases

7. Isolate and clear neutral and ground from your feet

8. Always check your rubber gloves

9. Cover up closest to furthest on pole or in bucket

10. If it’s not grounded, it’s not dead

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