Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rural Electrification

Oak tree down: Saturday Jan 21, 2012, 8 AM.

Living among the redwoods is not without its perils--one of which is falling trees. During the summer the trees grow bushy and top-heavy; then winter rains loosen the soil around the roots and some trees succumb to the force of gravity. Every year during the first big rain we can count on losing electricity  for a day or so when a tree falls across a power line. Trees have been known to fall on cars and even houses during the redwood rainy season.

Saturday morning, after a night of heavy rain, I was awoken at 8 AM by the sound of a big tree falling somewhere close by and the "beep-beep" of my computer's UPS switching to battery power. I put on my robe and walked up to the road to check on my car and the neighbor's houses. I found that a big oak had fallen across the main access road to our little community as well as taking down power, telephone and cable lines. The stress on the lines had also snapped a power pole which fed the rest of the neighborhood. Until the tree was removed, which was accomplished by Davey Tree around 2 PM, the PG&E crews could not get in to repair the damage.

Electric power pole snapped by fallen tree.
Fortunately the rain had stopped and it was still daylight. The PG&E crew arrived with their big trucks and checked the extent of the damage. Their main complaint was the narrowness of our roads covered with mud and lined by deep ditches. I have seen PG&E trucks get stuck in the mud here on other occasions. But not this time.

These guys went straight to work, pulled out the stump of the old power pole, drilled a new hole, then rigged and erected a new pole on the spot. But the wires were still down and it was getting dark.

Drilling the hole for new power pole (on right).
The pole was up, the lines were down but it was getting dark. The crew donned headlamps and placed small generator-powered spotlights along the road to illuminate the scene. A two-man crew went up the pole and began cutting, splicing and attaching wires beginning with the topmost high-voltage lines and then the lower household-voltage lines plus installing the frames to hold these wires and the cable TV and telephone lines.

PG&E workers rigging the new pole in the dark.
Meanwhile other workers were hoisting wires and fixing broken connections on the ground and on the other poles. In the spotlights, in the headlights, with the sound of big engines and small generators and the sight of helmeted men carrying strange tools and intent on accomplishing mysterious tasks, our cozy neighborhood took on the look of a science-fiction movie set.

Night creatures refilling our homes with charged Fermions.
By 8 PM we all had electric power again--it only took 5 hours once the trucks could get past the fallen tree.  These men really knew what they were doing and seemed to be having a good time doing it. I have seen them doing the same job under much more stressful situations--on the much trafficked main highway, at night, full rainstorm with landslides partly closing the roadway. Thanks PG&E for so quickly restoring our electricity. You guys are real heroes.

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