Jason Townsend
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Collector of Vintage Tools Reinvents the Mickey Mouse Insulator

Feb. 7, 2020
Jason Townsend, a Chicago-area lineman, partnered with a manufacturing facility to produce a new type of insulator.

More than a century after the cable-style “Mickey Mouse” insulator was introduced, a Chicago-area lineman has introduced a new take on the vintage porcelain insulators.

“Linemen love the Mickey Mouse insulators, and you can’t find them anywhere,” said Townsend, a collector of vintage line tools, insulators and electrical equipment. “They are often given as a retirement gift, but they can be very expensive.”

Starting the Process
Fifteen years ago, Townsend began his journey to create a commemorative insulator. He purchased a kiln and made a trial run of four different colors — yellow, pink, firecracker red and cobalt blue, according to Drip Points, the official magazine of the National Insulator Association (NIA).

Since each insulator took more than 12 hours to make, he looked for a production partner to speed up the manufacturing process. He first approached insulator manufacturers in the United States, but he discovered that the minimum order started at 100,000 units for a custom insulator.

Partnering with a Manufacturer
After conducting research, Townsend connected with a partner in China to produce 1,500 of the Mickey Mouse insulators.

“They bent over backward for me and talked to me every day,” Townsend said. Before producing the Mickey Mouse insulator, Townsend first had to select a new color for an insulator. He worked with the National Insulator Association (NIA) to find a hue — other than brown or white, which both exist in the industry — for the new insulator, which is called U395 in the United States and 2508 overseas.

“You can’t replicate an insulator that already exists,” he said. “Brown is very common, and 55 of my 2500 insulators in my collection are this color.”

As a result, he produced the insulators in a medium-blue color through the glazing and firing process at the China production facility. Jason Townsend displayed the new insulators at a show.

Testing the Insulator
To gain approval from the NIA, he had to submit blueprints of the insulator being made. He also had to perform testing at the manufacturing facility in China to ensure it was a real working insulator rather than just a collectible item.

The manufacturer created a brown glazed Mickey, which was stress tested up to 2,900 lb before it was damaged. The insulators also endured a dry flashover rating test of 30 kV. Townsend and his partner made three different molds before arriving at the fully operational 11 kV porcelain Mickey Mouse insulator. At this point, Townsend is working on redesigning the insulator to get it up to 40,000 V so it can operate as a 14 kV insulator.

“I am trying to get the voltage up higher on the insulator itself.”

Townsend is also working on producing a new color — yellow and black — for his signature “Bumblebee” insulator, which he hopes to showcase at the 2020 International Lineman’s Rodeo & Expo. So far, he has sold 900 of the 1,500 Mickey Mouse insulators.

Doug Rusher, who wrote a story about Townsend for the Drip Points magazine, said they are well built, beautiful and not fake insulators by any means. “They are designed to be used, and it is truly great to see a modern version of an old workhorse in use,” Rusher said. 

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