Early Power Distribution

Overhead Construction Methods and Equipment

 
(Early 1900s)* - View showing Bureau of Power and Light workers setting new pole.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1915)* - Pole being set in a residential neighborhood by a Bureau of Power and Light crew.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1912)^# - Sam Darnell, Westside Lighting Company's first lineman, demonstrating how he climbed poles for the Westside Lighting Company before it evolved into the Southern California Edison Company.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1915)^# – Photo caption reads:  "Safety First" - making a tie without protectors.  View shows a SCE Lineman working on a congested power pole with early model cars parked below.  Note the car parked across the street.  It’s an electric vehicle.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920)* - Bureau of Power and Light electrical repair truck. The tool compartments are neatly stacked on the side of the truck.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1925)^^ - This photograph depicts a view of Aliso Street looking East where Pacific Electric Railway Company tracks turn onto the thoroughfare from San Pedro Street. The one thing that stands out is the overhead distribution line congestion that is prevalent throughout.  

 

 

 

 
(1926)* - Bureau of Power and Light 'Heavy Gang' truck. The truck appears to be filled to the brim with tools and equipment.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1927)* - Model "T" Ford used as a service truck. Note how the ladder and cable are supported by brackets on the side of the car.  

 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Installing new overhead service. A lineman can be seen on top of the pole in the background.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Early pole setting equipment. Model "T" Ford appears to have towed the equipment to the site.  

 

 

 

 
(1920s)* - Early truck for transporting power poles. A railroad car full of poles can be seen in the background.  

 

 

 

 
(1929)*^ - A temporary power pole rack can be seen providing electricity for the construction of buildings at the new UCLA campus in Westwood. Click HERE to see more Early Views of UCLA.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Early Bureau of Power and Light lineman sitting on a temporary platform while splicing overhead to underground cable. Note the method used to secure the ladder.  

 

 

 

 
(1932)* - A 3-man crew in the process of washing insulators.  

 

 

 

 
(1936)* - New automotive unit recently turned over to the Transportation section. It was designed by the Engineering section of the General Plant division and fabricated in the machine shop at 1630 N. Main. One of two new units for the Overhead section. It is equipped with a 15,000 lb winch for pulling in lines and erecting poles. Designed to carry a very complete stock of equipment and tools, it is virtually a “warehouse on wheels”. At left is one of the old type trucks replaced by new unit.  

 

 

 

 
(1930s)* - View of the first steel pole installed on Bureau of Power and Light system. It appears to be standing in front of a distribution station.  

 

 

 

 
(1939)* - The Power Bureau was putting through its paces a new insulator washing truck designed by engineers of the General Plant division.  

 

From the LADWP Historic Archive

Outstanding feature of the new unit is a 72-ft ladder which operates through an arc of 180 degrees. At one end of the ladder is a bucket which seats the man who washes the insulators. A hydraulic hoist, controlled by an operator at the base of the ladder, raises it to any desired height within the 72-ft range.

A unique safety feature is a second set of controls in the bucket which enables the employee operating the hose to cut off all operations, including movement of the ladder, at any time.Normal operating pressure of the water is 350-lb per square inch but when used on the Boulder transmission line, pressures up to a maximum of 1,000-lbs are utilized. The pumps can force 37-gallons of water per minute through the specially constructed hose from a 900 gallon capacity tank mounted on the truck chassis, making the unit a full fledged piece of fire fighting equipment also.

The Moreland truck is equipped with special compound gears and special tires use in both desert and mountainous country. The entire unit was designed for silent operation since insulator washing is done at night when power lines may be taken out of service without inconveniencing Power Bureau customers.

Although no performance record for the truck is available as yet, a normal month’s operation of the former unit amounted to approximately 12,000 washed insulators.**

 

 

 
(Early 1940s)* - Linemen at working on an energized overhead line. On the left is Oscar Williams. Note how the protective gear differs from what is used today (no hard hats).  

 

From the LADWP Historic Archive

July 1940 – The scene is in the home of the Smiths, an average Los Angeles family. The time is after the dinner hour and Mr. Smith is reading the evening paper; his wife is doing some mending and the two children are studying their next day’s school assignments.

Suddenly the lights go out. Mr. Smith gropes his way to the phone, strikes a match and dials Michigan 4211, the Department’s telephone exchange, which immediately connects him with the Trouble Dispatcher’s Office, located on the eleventh floor, Second Street Building.

Trained and experienced in their work the dispatchers are the intermediary between the electric consumers and the field men who restore service. They are responsible for maintenance of operating functions, as far as electric distributions is concerned, from the time the power leaves distributing stations over 4600 volt primary wires until it reaches the consumer.

On the Power Bureau’s high voltage transmission and 34,500 volt systems, the same responsibilities are assumed by the Load Dispatcher’s office and the transmission line patrol.

The first concern of the dispatcher is to obtain information which will indicate the probable nature and extent of the outage. His first question is whether or not all lights in the home are out, if parts of them are still in service, the trouble obviously has been caused by a blown fuse in one of the house circuits.

In such a case, the dispatcher will, as a service to Power Bureau customers, send a petty troubleman to replace the burned out fuse but a practical precaution is for the customer to have on hand spare fuses of the correct rating so that he may replace the defective fuse in a jiffy.

If all lights are out, the trouble may be in a main fuse but if Mr. Smith reports that neighboring homes also are dark, there remain the possibilities that either a transformer fuse has blown or electric wires are down.

From past experience, the dispatcher many decide that the outage is the result of transformer trouble, in which case a primary troubleman is sent to the exact spot since the location of every transformer in the Power Bureau System is recorded.

If wires are down, locating the scene of the trouble is more complicated. For instance, the Load Dispatcher’s Office may send in the information that a primary circuit has relayed out at a certain distributing station. There is no way of instantly telling where the line trouble occurred.

A primary troubleman immediately is sent to the feeder center with instructions to call back as soon as he arrives. In the meantime, the dispatcher is collecting information that may determine where the trouble lies.

Sometimes the police or a pedestrian notice that wires are down and phone in the report. Addresses of consumers complaining that lights are out are checked with feeder maps, thus helping to establish the general location of the trouble. As a last resort, the troubleman patrols the district until the break is discovered.

Once on the scene of the trouble, the troubleman reports that he can make repairs without assistance or asks for help. One or two more men may be sufficient or it may be necessary to call out a crew from one of the district headquarters.

It should he noted that except on rare occasions, power failures in the City are caused by carelessness on the part of the consumer or circumstances over which the Operating Division has no control.

A prolific source of trouble is the practice of inserting a penny or piece of foil behind a defective fuse instead of inserting a new one. If consumers fully realized the damage that can result from a short circuit or a fire the practice would be discontinued.

Wind and rain storms sometimes play havoc with the municipal distributing system. Gales blow down one or more poles occasionally but the greatest damage comes from trees being blown down and falling into electric wires. Rains often soften the ground to such an extent that the trees topple over wi6th the same resultant damage. Storm waters may flood vaults of the underground system, throwing circuits out of service.

Kites are a headache during the kite flying season. They become entangled in the wires and, if constructed with a metallic frame or if wire or tinsel string is used, a short circuit is often the result. In the past fiscal year, 28 outages were attributed to kites.

Pigeons, owls and sea gulls constitute another problem. Pigeons like to roost on electric wires and cross arms and around the switch racks on top of some of the distributing stations and are the cause of many outages. Owls and sea gulls, with their wide wingspread, sometimes in flying around electric wires touch two conductors with the tips of their wings and a short circuit is the result.**

 

 

 
(Early 1940s)* - Overhead Lineman, Larry Holgate (Nicknamed - 'Captain Hungry').  

 

 

 

 

 

(1940s)## – Overhead power line congestion on an unidentifiable street in Los Angeles.

 

 

     

 

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Underground Construction Methods and Procedures

The use of underground electric distribution in Los Angeles began in 1897 when LA Edison Electric Co., in its first year of operations, installed a system in downtown Los Angeles. The high load density and rapidly growing demand for power in this area made an underground system a practical and economic necessity. In later years LA Gas and Electric Corp. and the Bureau of Power and Light would continue with this practice by installing their own underground system.

During the 1920’s, several residential subdivisions in the western part of the City also obtained underground electric services. The developers paid the difference between cost of overhead lines and higher cost of underground installation. Because of the relatively high costs associated with underground installations as compared to overhead installations, the widespread development of underground power lines in Los Angeles did not begin until the mid-50’s. At that time, utilities began to review the former dual objective of low cost and high reliability by including a third objective – appearance. Since that time appearance has become increasingly important.

 

 
(ca. 1897)^# – View looking northwest on Winston Street toward where it intersects with Main Street in downtown Los Angeles. An Edison Electric crew is laying conduit for one of LA’s earliest underground electric distribution systems. The building on the right with the two arched windows and a restaurant is the Main Street Savings Bank Building on the N/E corner of Main and Winston streets.  

 

Historical Notes

In 1896, West Side Lighting Company was organized by private investors to provide another source of electricity for the city of Los Angeles and fringe areas.

In 1897, West Side Lighting merged with the newly established private company, Los Angeles Edison Electric, which owned the rights to the Edison name and patents, especially the underground DC-power rights. The merged company took on the Edison name. An underground system and technology was crucial at this time, since the city voted in a resolution limiting the installation of new overhead utility poles due to excessive overhead wire congestion. Los Angeles Edison Electric installed the first major DC-power underground conduits system in the Southwest.

Until the 1930's, three separate electric utilities served Los Angeles. Click HERE to see more in First Electricity in Los Angeles.

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Early Bureau of Power and Light underground construction crew. The driver and splicer is Elmer J. Gutsch, the helper is Carl Knobs.  

 

Historical Notes

The name 'Department of Water and Power (DWP)' did not come about until 1937 when the City's Bureau of Water Works and Supply consolidated with the Bureau of Power and Light.

Click HERE to see Name Change Chronology of DWP.

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)* - The above view shows an underground crew working in front of a printing company. It appears that the helper is standing by while the splicer is doing work inside the vault.  

 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Early Bureau of Power and Light crew posing for the camera. The man with the suit in the middle appears to be a manager and/or superintendent.  

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1920s)* - Bureau of Power and Light equipment used to pump water from an underground vault.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)* - Early Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light underground construction crew working in a vault.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)* - An underground construction crew is in the process of installing a transformer in a vault.  

 

 

 

 
(1932)* - View showing electrical workers wearing rubber gloves and protection while splicing 33,000 volt line wire.  

 

From the LADWP Historic Archive

Electricity, a mystic of modern science, is like omnipotent elements, both powerful and dangerous. The electrician, whose duty it is to tame and subjugate this invisible monster, must protect himself with a weapon very unlike a sword. The value of rubber gloves as a protection against electrical shock is inestimable.

Linemen and electrical workers who construct and repair high voltage lines and apparatus while they remain in operation, very often have only one-sixteenth inch thickness of rubber glove between them and the spirit side.

To emphasize the necessity of un-faulty protection to the lineman from electrical shock one should witness him at work. A man perched ninety feet up on a pole with his spikes dug into keep from slipping down and a leather belt hugging him to the pole so that his arms may be free. Upon each hand he wears a rubber glove and over that a leather glove protector. After thus protecting and adjusting himself he is free to begin his task of splicing cable.

From below one does not get a fair idea of how cumbersome and difficult it is to work with tools while both hands are doubly gloved and near at hand a hot wire carrying up to 4600 volts is to be constantly evaded even though one must touch it. Truly work for a brave man as well as skilled!

The possibility of this danger rests solely with the lineman themselves and can only be eradicated by careful use of the gloves.

Linemen are instructed carefully to inspect their gloves each time before using. Rubber gloves in some respects are like spring fruits in mid-winter. They are both perishable and expensive. Heat, sunlight, ozone and oil aid in the rapid deterioration of rubber gloves. New gloves are transported in individual cartons and are stored in a cool basement where the air is quite moist.**

 

 

 
(December 1936)* - 11-ton truck assigned to the Underground section of the Operating Division. It is equipped with a 10-ton winch for pulling cable through conduits. The crane is used to hoist transformers from manholes. This truck was designed by the Engineering section of the General Plant division and fabricated in the machine shop at 1630 N. Main. Click HERE to see Early Views of the Machine Shop.  

 

 

 

 
(1941)* - View showing front and side of new underground service truck.  

 

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Early Metering Equipment

 
(1934)* - The old indoor type of meter installation, with open service wiring and a typical back porch shelf collection is shown.  

 

From the LADWP Historic Archive

May 15, 1934 - In the past the electric meter has usually been relegated to the dim and inaccessible recesses of the consumer’s premises. Its social standing was honest but prosaic. When reading, tests or changes had to be made and the customer’s premises were found locked, meter men frequently called back repeatedly before gaining entrance. Inadequate protection for wiring and meters made theft of current a serious problem. All of these items represented lost hours, labor and money.

But now, like a modern Cinderella dressed in new raiment, the electric meter has said farewell to its former companions of the back porch and closet and has taken its place outside in a new environment, according to information from L. H. Ellerman, assistant superintendent of Testing Laboratories.

The drafting of a new electrical wiring ordinance for the City of Los Angeles furnished the opportunity to adopt the so-called “new sequence’ (meter—switch—fuse) of service connections. This innovation in distribution practice permits the meters to be set either indoors or outdoors ahead of the customary fuse protection.

Appreciating the importance of standardization insofar as it affects consumers, electrical contractors, utilities, and others, the Bureau invited the active co-operation of other utilities in sponsoring a unified code of service requirements. A “Utilities Code Committee” was formed with representatives from other local utilities to present recommendations to the Department of Building and Safety for inclusion in the new Los Angeles Electrical Ordinance. Mr. Ellerman was chosen as the Bureau’s representative to serve on this committee.

Among a number of other changes called for in this code, which became effective May 1, 1934, meters in new dwellings are to be set in a recessed compartment built into the outside wall. Also, for all classes of power and light installations, service wires up to and including the meter will be metal-clad, thus serving as a great deterrent to the tampering evil. Meter manufacturers have aided the local program by producing recently a new type of armored and weatherproof meter. The net result is that the new methods of installation and new type meters will solve many metering problems.

Here are some of the advantages to be derived from the new unified metering arrangement: (1) Better public relations; meter men need not disturb consumers, as facilities are provided for testing without interruption and for cutting off and turning on service. (2) Unified methods of electrical connections for local utilities mean less confusion for the electrical contractor and others, saving time and money. (3) Protection against theft of current. (4) Meters can be easily read, tested, installed or removed, saving time of meter men and eliminating return calls. (5) Existing meters can be easily adapted to the scheme.**

 

 

 
(1937)* - Temporary transmission line being erected around slide area in Elysian Park. In the distance, two men can be seen near pole top.  

 

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Early Distribution Construction Yards

 
(1916)* - First warehouse and pole yard.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1926)* - Exterior view of Van Nuys Overhead District No. 5 located at 6800 Van Nuys Boulevard, on the northeast corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Oxnard Street. Sign on building reads: WATER - POWER - LIGHT. Click HERE to see the chronology of name changes for DWP since 1902.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Interior view of the Van Nuys Overhead Distribution Headquarters office at 6800 Van Nuys Boulevard.  

 

 

 

 
(1927)* - Early Overhead Distribution Yard (District No. 2). Today, it is the Streetlight Maintenance Yard.

 

 

 

 
(1930)* - Power trucks at the Ducommun Street yard. Click HERE to see more Early Views of the Ducommun Yard.  

 

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Bureau of Power and Light Streetlights

 
(Early 1920s)* - Bureau of Power and Light crew working on an ornamental street light.  

 

LADWP Historical Archive

(1973) Despite the variety of designs, street lights are known as either electrolier or utilitarian types, according to Harvard Johnson, engineer in charge of Street Light Design. Customers own the electroliers --- lamps affixed to concrete or metal posts. The customer-owners of these are most likely the Department of Public Works or residents who form a private street lighting district.

The DWP owns the utilitarian lights. These are temporary lamps attached to wooden poles. Other agencies and lighting districts will eventually replace this type with the more modern electrolier systems. With both types, the DWP supplies the electrical energy, cleans the glassware, replaces lamps and glassware, and paints the electrolier posts. There are 191,000 electrolier standards and utilitarian lamps presently (1973) in the city.**

 

 

 
(Early 1920s)* - An electric powered street light truck used by the Bureau of Power and Light in the 1920s.  

 

 

 

 

 

(Early 1920s)* - Electric-powered street light truck with platform fully extended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1920s)* - Bureau of Power and Light worker changing out a hanging lamp in the middle of an intersection.  

 

 

 

 

 

(Early 1930s)* - New street light being pulled up for installation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

(1933)* - L. G. Gould with a new and an old incandescent lamp at 30th and Trinity Streets.

 

 

 

 

     

Historical Notes

This marked the close of another era in the development of Los Angeles. The last arc light in the City was removed November, 1933 by L. G. Gould's street lighting section and replaced with a modern incandescent lamp.*

 

 

 
(1935)* – Greatly facilitating the maintenance work on street light standards, a new five-ton tower truck was placed in service June 6th by the Power Bureau’s Street Lighting section. The first painting job assigned to the truck’s crew was two-light standards on Broadway between California and Pico Streets.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1940)* - Early DWP Streetlight Maintenance worker repairs an electrolier.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1940s)* - Early streetlight adjacent to the Municipal Water and Power office building in downtown Los Angeles.*  

 

 

 

 
(1952)* - Street lighting maintenance unit on the Hollywood Freeway. Caption reads: Modern-day lamplighter seen against Los Angeles' downtown skyline is James Salazar of the Street Light Maintenance section. These lights on the Hollywood Freeway don't have to be lit by hand, of course, but they do require washing and globe replacement. On ground is Joe J. Restivo. Truck with electrically operated ladder is one of four used by the Street Light section.
 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1960s)* - DWP Streetlight Maintenance Crew changing out a lamp.  

 

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Meter Reading

 
(1963)*# - View showing a DWP Meter Reader before hand-held computers.  

 

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History of Water and Electricity in Los Angeles

 

 

 

More Historical Early Views

 

 

Newest Additions

 

 

Early LA Buildings and City Views

 

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References and Credits

* DWP - LA Public Library Image Archive

**LADWP Historic Archive

*^LA Public Library Image Archive

^*USC Digital Archive

^^Metro Transportation Library and Archive

*#DWP - Water and Power Associates Historical Archives

^#Huntington Digital Library Archive

##Pinterest.com: OH Line Congestion

^ DWP Name Change Chronology

 

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