Laclede Electric lineman makes art from cast-off poles
With a wide sweep of his hand, Larry Taylor gestures toward the pile of raw materials in his shop near Hartville. “All of this was headed to the trash,” Larry says. He’s talking about the stack of wood cut from old poles and crossarms replaced in his job as a lineman for Laclede Electric Cooperative.
Only a fellow lineworker would appreciate these power line relics that were changed out after being damaged by storms or otherwise reaching the end of their useful life on the co-op’s lines. That is, until Larry works his artistic touch on them.
Using hand techniques and computer-controlled equipment he’s just beginning to appreciate, Larry combines the detritus that comes from repairing power lines into works of art that are “Taylor made” for retiring linemen and other electric co-op employees. He calls his creations “line art” and his side gig L.T. Line Art.
“It all started with those old REA poles,” Larry says, referring to poles set in the 1940s that were tagged with “REA Co-op” in metal letters. REA is the Rural Electrification Administration, the New Deal program that loaned money to get electric co-ops started.
“I always wanted one,” Larry says. “We were changing one out one day and I thought, ‘I want that chunk of pole.’ It’s just the history. You know, the co-op is 85 years old this year. It’s hard to believe we’ve still got stuff out there that old. It’s the history, and the craftsmanship and the pride they put into it so that it is still up there and still being used.”
Larry’s growing interest in the history of his co-op dovetailed with the retirement of many of the co-op employees he’s worked beside in his 29 years as a lineman. Inspired by the look of the old REA poles, he started creating retirement gifts that would keep alive the memories those retiring linemen had of repairing storm damage, building new circuits and basically keeping the lights on for members.
His collection of old power line hardware included several pieces with the kind of craftsmanship no longer made. Larry mounted the old brass hardware on a piece of barn wood and hung it in his garage. He liked the way it looked, and the creative juices started to flow.
“I had this Dremel (a rotary grinder) out here one day and I just looked at it and thought, ‘You know, I bet I could put somebody’s name on one of those insulators.’ So, I got to messing around with it, and it kind of grew from there,” Larry says.
He started by adding names and dates to insulators. Before long he had designed a unique piece of art crafted from barn wood, a short piece of pole sliced in half, a piece of a crossarm with an arc sawed out to match the pole, insulators and various pieces of hardware used in linework. Working by hand with his Dremel and a woodburning pen, he carefully carved names into surplus red porcelain insulators and burned into the cross-arms and barn wood names, years of service, light bulbs, lightning bolts, union logos and other tributes to the recipients.
As Larry’s artwork began appearing at Laclede Electric’s four offices, someone asked Larry what kind of laser he used for the engraving. Larry replied that he was working by hand.
“He said he figured that was a laser,” Larry says. “He told me about his machine and I kind of got to looking into it. To do one of these by hand, it takes me an hour, hour and a half. My hand gets numb. I eventually decided what the heck and I got one. It’s made it a little easier but I can still do them by hand if someone wants one that way.”
Through trial and error, Larry taught himself how to set up the computer-controlled laser and rotating table to engrave names on insulators. He uses red and brown insulators that are obsolete for today’s lines. Depending on how deep he sets the laser and how fast it moves, the color of the engraving can change from white to gold or tan. No two turn out the same.
Larry shies away from anything collectible or with sentimental value. “I’ve had guys say, ‘I got one from some outage.’ If it means that much to you, I don’t want to touch it. Because I don’t want the responsibility of screwing it up.”
The list of those he’s made line art for is growing longer daily. Once he took care of Laclede’s current retirees he went back and made art for lineman he worked with who have long been retired. In one case he used wood from the last pole he and one of his friends worked on.
One beautiful blue insulator he engraved is special to Larry. It’s a memory of his father, a 40-year telephone lineman who taught Larry how to climb poles.
He made another piece as a wedding gift for a lineman and his new bride. “I put their names on insulators and I put their last names on the crossarm. I put established and the year, all in aluminum letters.” Then he crafted a hidden bracket that hangs the crossarm from the wall as a floating shelf.
One proud recipient of a Larry Taylor piece is former Laclede Electric Manager Marc Roecker, who retired May 31. “Larry’s work is really cool because it reflects the electric cooperatives,” Marc says. “When you get it in your hands you see it is made out of an old pole. There’s an insulator, a crossarm and it’s engraved. There’s an actual pole number. It’s very nostalgic.”
As word spread of Larry’s creations, linemen at other electric co-ops around Missouri began ordering their own pieces. So far, his work has made it as far away as Louisiana and Massachusetts. And while no two pieces are alike, they have one thing in common: Larry’s signature and L.T. Line Art engraved on the bottom.
Line art isn’t the only thing Larry turned his creativity toward. On the job, he saw the need for a lineman tool that would hold the loose tail of a line that is being spliced. He dreamed up a solution to the problem, had a machinist make a prototype and sold the idea to Utility Solutions Inc. The tool is called the Rex Clamp, and Larry will get royalties from a portion of the tool’s sales.
“My brain is always a going I guess,” Larry says. “Trying to come up with something new.”
You can contact Larry at 417-259-1094 and see more of his work on Facebook.