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Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 4,289
From Albert LaFrance

If you had a chance to be an electrician, lineman, or other electrical worker at any place and time in history, what would you choose?
I'm quite fascinated by "old" (pre-1970s) Las Vegas, and my current choice - it changes from time to time - is being either an electric-sign technician (probably called "mechanic" in those days) in Vegas in the 1950s-60s, or the house electrician at one of the popular Strip casinos like the Sands,
Desert Inn, Sahara, etc., during that period. I'd love to work on the banks of electromechanical sign flashers which ran the famous casino signs of that era, or maybe help get the showroom ready for a "Rat Pack Summit" performance!

Joined: Oct 2004
Posts: 276
I can't even imagine how hot it must get inside a Vegas crawlspace or above a
t-bar ceiling. Do they air condition those spaces? I don't think I would want
to be an electrician in any time but the present for these reasons-

1. Lack of safe/modern materials- Back then, no one seemed to
understand, anywhere outside the Nukes industry perhaps, the link between
substances used in buildings and cancer. In many cases better alternatives
had just not been invented yet. Lath and plaster anyone? Paint with lead?
Asbestos? Heck, even smoking was considered by the average Schmoe as a neutral
risk to health, if not somewhat beneficial, maybe. Carcinogens, black lung,
white lung, dust, lack of fiberglass ladders, scissor lifts, Pettibones...

2. Insanity of the work ethic. Construction work is hard enough. Old
construction guys seem to just about felt it was their duty to kill themselves
by working in a manner that left your body physically wracked every day after work.
Safe lifting techniques? Thats for sissies. Safety equipment? Only girls need
that stuff.. My father, grandfather and great grandfather were all in the trades
and their bodies were spent by the time they were 60, but thats just how you
worked in those days. Work was a sort of martyrdom. If you were the foreman it
was your job to be a raging(expletive) merely as matter of course and part of your job description as
official first-line "motivator" of your crew. Watching 3 generations before me
made me decide to go for the "easy work" (in my grandfather's words..hehe...*insert
irony here*) trade of electrical work.

Naw, I may possess some nostalgia for the *style* and the *flair* of past eras,
but I have no nostalgia for the state of the technology (or lack of technology) of
earlier times, or the prevailing social attitudes, and bigotries (large and small). Earlier
times may have indeed been "simpler" times, but it also bred and was populated by
"simpler" people (read: unworldy) with narrower horizons, aspirations and social attitudes.
Don't forget to consider how Sammy Davis would have fared in those days of
segregation and Jim Crow were he an entertainer outside the Vegas circuit, not a member of
the rat pack, and a comedian whose comedy schtick didn't consist of humor that was
considered depricating to blacks & jews- while considered quite socially acceptable by the
standards in it's day, but which today is considered quite
racist. Don't get me wrong, I'm no social activist or reformer, although in
this post I may sound like one. My real point is that I am not sure I
would want to be inserted into any other epoch but the present- I would find it a bit boring,
constricted and confining after a while- even a place like 50's Vegas.

Last edited by trollog; 07/19/07 12:21 AM.
Joined: Sep 2001
Posts: 806
Points well taken, Trollog. The past was never as good as we might remember (or imagine) it was.

As an electronics/instrumentation tech (as well as a space buff), my personal choice of a time/place to travel back to would be NASA during the "golden years" of 1962-1972. The chance to work with the bleeding edge of technology at the time, as well as being a part of the greatest engineering feat in human history.

Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 5,349
Likes: 1
Cat Servant
The closest I have come to 'nostalgia' is to imagine taking a current copy of the NEC back to, say, 1910 .... and seeing what the electricians of that era would have to say about such ridiculous things as;

- three prong receptacles;


-power factor capacitors; and,

-CAT 5 cable.

Joined: Apr 2004
Posts: 812
I'd go back to about 1950 and tell 'em to stop using asbestos! (In everything mind you.)

Ian A.

Is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?
Joined: Nov 2002
Posts: 456
Safety issues aside, I'd like to go back to the Rural electrification era of the 1930s and 1940s, and be a house electrician then, then go on to wire new homes in SoCal or wherever. Later on getting in the computer or cable TV business.

Joined: Aug 2006
Posts: 81
Interesting that the "golden years" of NASA and the rural electrification era have been mentioned - both are on my time-machine "itinerary" as well!

BTW, tomorrrow is the 38th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Check out the on-board computers that got 'em there and back - with 72KB (yup, KILObytes!) of memory:

Joined: Dec 2001
Posts: 2,497
I thought about the early days too - far less planning involved, smaller conductors, less weird stuff. When the house I live in was built in 1913-14 every room had one single pole switch and ceiling light as well as probably one receptacle. The whole house (8 apartments) was fed with 220/440V Edison DC, both legs fused @25A!

Nothing like door control, smoke detector, forced smoke extraction and whatever else systems I have to struggle with on a daily basis as a planning engineer today.

On the other hand... being a site electrician back then in Europe had one SERIOUS disadvantage - the rotary drill hammer hadn't been invented yet! Every single piece of conduit had to hacked into the wall using a sledge hammer and cold chisel!

All wires had the same color... had to ring out where each wire went before connecting.

Main cables were nice too... bare conductors embedded in black tar, then wrapped in strands of string. The whole cable was an inch in diameter for just something like 12-3. Terminations were made by removing the tar, pulling the wires through some kind of gland, sleeving the exposed conductors and then filling the gland with tar.

Joined: Aug 2001
Posts: 7,520
I'd set the dial to go back about 50 years or so: Great-looking cars, rock 'n' roll, decent TV shows & movies, no nanny-state laws about seat belts, crash helmets, and such like.....

On the technical side, equipment was still being built to decent standards, television was really just about getting going in a lot of places and gearing up for the development which would follow over the next decade or two. Must have been a great time to be involved with TV.

Everybody had decent telephones (no throwaway "Made in China" garbage) and there were still thousands of the good old electromechanical exchanges in service to work on and appreciate the engineering from the past few decades.


Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 399
I was helping my brother in the 50's. He put a 200 amp. service in his house and everyone thought he was crazy. 200 was for factories. the biggest for a house was 100 amp.
Chicago area all wiring was in conduit. For rewires we used armored cable. Steel jacketed. Still have scars on my leg from cutting it with a hack saw. Had to remember the "red Devil" bushing at each connector. If I couldn't remember I had to take it apart and do it again. Soldered and taped all joints. Brush, flux, solder, rubber tape, friction/cloth tape. New job, no electricity: get out the sterno cans and solid irons. Light them up and go to breakfast. Come back and they would be hot.
How about being a helper in Tesla's lab in New York or when he moved West ? That would be worth a time trip.

If it was easy, anyone could do it.
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