The Telephone Pole

The Telephone Pole

Michael Hemphill

September  17, 2010

Do you have any idea how heavy a 75 foot telephone pole weighs?  I do.

The year was 1979.  Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were playing in town the night the telephone pole was struck down out in front of the my friend’s house.  Some guys from high school had started the musical celebration a little early and never made it out of the neighborhood that evening.  Their car spun out of control and sheered off a telephone pole at its base.  They never seen Tom Petty or The Heartbreakers that night.  A new pole was put up in its place and the old pole was left along side of the road in a ditch to be forgotten.  But it wasn’t.

Later, I mentioned the telephone pole to my father.  You see, we had been looking for just such a pole.  We already owned a high intensity fluorescent flood light suitable for mounting on a large pole as fore mentioned.  So it made perfect sense that we should bring the two together.  A pole with light next to the garage could provide much needed light for those late basketball games now that the autumn nights were crawling across our calendar. 

So, my father and I set out to retrieve the pole.  Parked next to pole was our 1979 green Dodge Dart looking exceptionally lackluster.  My father was scratching his head and walking the length of the pole and back.  It was a great find, but getting it home was another matter all together.  I was surprised how heavy the pole weighed as we both lifted one end.  My father held onto the pole while I backed up the old Dodge in reverse.  He set the pole down onto the opened trunk and the Dodge moaned!  The suspension complained while the whole chassis lowered as far as it possibly could.  We quickly went to the other end of the pole and lifted it into the air.  It took all the strength we had to raise the pole.  We then pushed it forward moving the pole further into the trunk.  Once we were all the way in, we let the far end down and the trunk’s rim began to bend out of shape.  We were NOT going to be able to let the pole ride un-handled home.  So, my father instructed me to start driving the car “very slowly” while he held on to the far end of the pole and walked behind the car, 75 feet behind the car.  He would holler up towards me when he could no longer hold the pole and we would change places.  Seemed like a good plan to me.  So away we went down the street.  A short fifteen feet and twenty seconds later my father hollered.

I’ll never forget the two of us making our way down the street that day, fifteen feet, twenty feet, fifteen feet, switching back and forth, driving a little, then carrying that long, heavy, heavy pole.  I remember our street seemed like a million football fields long as we slowly inched our way home.  I guess I had the unfortunate luck of being on the end of the pole as we made our way into our driveway.  What looked like a very innocent right hand turn, turned into a life threatening experience as pole and I swung out  wide into our neighbors yard across the street!  I was nearly crushed by their mailbox as I cleared it by mere inches.  My father threw the car into park and joined me at the end of the pole where we were able to pull it backwards enough to set it down.  The pole was home.

The next weekend my father intended to raise the pole and mount the light.  It was quite an engineering feat to witness.  The preparation alone, gave every indication that something big was about to happen.  Let me try to set the scene for you now.  Alongside of the garage was a huge mound of dirt which had been created during the digging of one deep hole, the pole hole.  The pole, all seventy five feet of it, lay stretched out forward across the yard with one end of it hovering over the pole hole.  Hoisting lines had been attached to the far end of the pole rising up and currently resting across the roof of the garage where they ran further out into the backyard and eventually connected to the rear of the green Dodge Dart.  My mother was the driver, my sister stood near the garage, my brother was on top of the garage, my father was positioned at the hole and I was standing half way down the length of the pole that was resting flat on the earth awaiting its momentous lifting.  The plan, as my father had laid it out was simple.  The Dodge Dart would do all the hard work.  I would use 2×4 beams to help support the pole as it lifted high into the autumn sky.  My brother would ensure that the lines held position and moved easily across the garage roof ensuring a successful conclusion.  It was at this time, that I believe my mother had made one simple request.  She said to, of course, be careful and by all means, whatever happens, please, please, PLEASE be careful around her cherry tree.  My mother loved her little cherry tree.  She doted over that little tree as often as she could afford.  And it was a beautiful little tree.  I remembered how she had promised the best cherry pies we ever had when her little tree was old enough to bear fruit.  That had not happened yet, but it would someday, right?  Well,…

So it was time to raise the telephone pole.  Everyone was in position and the Dodge Dart was revving up to the tall task before it.  On my father’s first command, my mother accelerated the Dodge and the lines immediately tightened.  He called for more power and she applied more pressure to the gas pedal.  At first nothing happened.  Then he called for even more power.  Finally, with just a subtle movement of the pole ever so slightly,  it lifted off the ground.  It slid forward and came to rest on a wooden guide board that had been pounded into the ground at the edge of the empty pole hole.  Inch by inch, the pole began to ascend,  first knee high, then waist high, and before I could believe it I was starring at this magnificent telephone pole now soaring over my own head.  I quickly braced it with the 2×4 board I was holding.  And then it happened…

It should have slid into the hole and righted itself into place.  We would be shaking hands, slapping shoulders, congratulating ourselves on a job well done.  That’s what should have happened, but that isn’t what happened.  At the precise moment the pole needed to move into the hole, it got stuck.  My father was nervously circling the hole trying to understand why the pole was not taking the bait.  He called for more power, but this time the Dodge Dart could not produce.  It had no more horses to deliver.  It’s rear tires were spinning and spitting grass into the air.  My brother was on the roof of the garage overseeing taunt lines suffering under enormous stress.  The pole held its position at about 45 degrees but would move no higher.  Again my father called for more power from the Dodge.  Suddenly without warning one of the lines snapped.  My brother on the garage let out a yelp!  The pole started back down for the earth but not directly, it took a long wide swing first where upon it hovered directly over the little cherry tree.  Then with a great noise, it dropped.  It busted the little cherry tree at the base of the tree and pinned it to the ground.  Lines were flying and everyone was running.  Then I saw my father do something that to the best of my knowledge, may be the most pathetic attempt at trying to make a bad situation a better one.  Before my mother could leave the car and return to the scene of the disaster, he extracted the decapitated cherry tree from underneath the mammoth pole and sprinted in a crazy fashion to the front of the yard where there were several inches of standing rain water in the roadside ditch. He proceeded to put the busted end of the cherry tree in the ditch water.  I looked at him puzzled but he said nothing.  He simply expected me to believe this one simple heroic act of love and tenderness would cause the tree to spontaneously grow roots and save the tree, and perhaps himself.

Oh yes, it was my father who needed saving.  He got into a lot of trouble that day.  He destroyed the Dodge Dart too. The transmission had failed during the great pole rising event.  And of course the cherry tree was no more.  My mother did not speak to him for a week.  The pole did not go up that day either.  I remember plan “B” worked a lot better.  He had my older brother bring as many friends as we could manage and a week or so later, the pole was finally placed into its position.  The light was eventually attached.  And many fun memories were made around a well lit driveway, playing basketball late into the crisp Autumn nights.