D. E. Larsen, DVM
l pushed through the door of the Corvallis TV Cable Company office building. A pretty, petite blond gal stepped up to the counter to welcome me.
“What can we do for you today?” she asked.
“I was here to apply for a job,” I said.
“You must be the guy the employment office sent over,” she said.
“No, I just walked through the door,” I said. “Nobody sent me, but I’m here.”
“Just grab a seat for a minute,” the young blond said. “I’ll see if Ray can speak with you.”
Karen walked to the back of the office and spoke with someone. When she returned, she motioned me to follow her.
“They really need to hire someone right away,” Karen said in a hushed voice. “If you have any experience, Ray will hire you on the spot.”
Karen opened the door to Ray’s office and ushered me into his desk.
“Ray, this is…,” Karen started without realizing I hadn’t given her my name.
I stepped up and extended my hand.
“I’m Dave Larsen,” I said. “I got out of the Army a couple of weeks ago, and I’m here going to school at Oregon State. All my classes are in the morning. I finish up at eleven and have a lot of free time in the afternoon. I just thought I would find a job.”
“So, why did you come to this office?” Ray asked.
“I was in the Army Security Agency,” I said. “I was an electronic equipment repairman. We maintained highly sophisticated radio and radar intercept equipment. I was in Korea and then Germany. I just figured my experience could be useful to you.”
“That sounds impressive,” Ray said. “But what we are looking for right now is someone to help us reconstruct some of the older sections of our cable lines. We were hoping for a full-time person, but if you could start at eleven-thirty that could give us six hours. I would assume you have worked with coaxial cables.”
“Yes, we didn’t do the formal installations, but we worked with a lot of coaxes,” I said.
“We do a lot of climbing. Are you comfortable with that?” Ray asked.
“Sure, the last site I was at in Germany, we had a half dozen towers, all around two-hundred feet tall,” I said.
“I was talking about telephone poles,” Ray said. “Have you done any telephone pole climbing?”
Now I had to be careful to ensure I was honest and present myself in a manner that would get me this job.
“Well, pole climbing was not something we did regularly, but I did some climbing,” I said.
That was an honest statement. I had climbed a pole in Germany. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to relate the story to Ray just yet.
It was the middle of January in northern Germany. There were six inches of snow on the ground, and the temperatures had been plunging since the sun had disappeared on the western horizon.
I was relaxing in what we called the Swing Club. A small bar that the Army ran in the Bahnhof Hotel in the small village of Schöningen. It was close to closing time, and the group had all had one or more beers during the evening.
“We thought we would find here,” Sergeant Koning said from behind me.
I turned around to see a group of three GIs standing behind Koning. They were all decked out in parkas.
“We are in need of your services this evening,” Koning said. “The telegraph line to the comm center is down, and we need someone to climb the telephone pole where our line joins the German line. All this snow has probably shorted something out.”
“I have had a couple of beers tonight,” I said. “Why don’t you find someone who is sober.”
“You don’t get out of this that easy. Come on, we need your help,” Koning said. “You still have your combat boots, so you should be set. You guys have some climbing gear in that shop of yours, right?”
Once we got to the site, I realized how cold it was. I only had my field jacket, which didn’t offer much insulation.
“Where is this pole?” I asked Koning as I gathered a climbing belt and spikes.
“It’s about three hundred yards beyond the perimeter fence, out in The Elm,” Koning said.
The group of us squeezed through the small back gate in the perimeter fence and started out through the ancient forest, following a worn path through the snow. Once we were away from the perimeter lights, it was dark.
“Do you believe all the stories about the witches in this forest?” I asked Koning.
He didn’t respond, but a couple of the young guys turned the flashlights into the forest to check that we were alone. We finally came to the pole.
“You call this a telephone pole?” I asked Koning.
This pole was six inches in diameter and leaned to one side by almost fifteen degrees. I could see from the ground that the snow and ice had the incoming German line sagging a great deal.
“That sag in the line has probably pulled the splice apart,” I said. “The guys who installed this site didn’t do very good splices. We have had to redo a number of them.”
“All you have to do is climb up there and fix it,” Koning said.
“I’m not sure this pole is climbable,” I said. “It is a sad example of a telephone pole.”
“Just get your spikes on and fix the splice,” Koning said again.
I started up the pole, feeling it lean a bit more from my weight. Halfway up, my spikes kicked out, and I started to fall. I leaned back on the belt and aimed spikes at the pole. I caught myself halfway to the ground.
I took a deep breath and finished climbing the pole. At the top, I hooked my left arm over our line to provide a little more stability, not trusting this skinny pole. I whacked the sagging line with my large pillars, knocking snow and ice off the line. The line sprang back to a normal position, and the pole slightly righted itself.
I could see the two wires in the splice were separated.
“What color is the hot wire?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Koning said. “Do you have to know?”
“It would be nice to fix this right the first time so I don’t have to climb this puny pole again,” I said. “I didn’t bring a meter. I guess we will just have to find it the old-fashioned way.”
“How is that done?” Koning asked.
“The hot wire will shock you,” I said as I touched the yellow wire. I could almost feel the jolt in my teeth as it shocked me. “Damn, I hate that.”
I finished the splice and climbed down with no issue. Koning called the comm center to make sure the line was working, and we started back through the snow.
“Okay,” Ray said as he stood up and shook my hand. “Can you be here in the morning at eleven-thirty?”
“If there is somewhere here where I can change clothes, I will come right after class,” I said. “It shouldn’t be much past eleven.”
The following morning, I was working with Darrel. I did most of the groundwork for the first couple of hours, but then I started feeling guilty that Darrel was doing all the climbing.
“I’ll get the next pole,” I said as I strapped on climbing spikes.
I climbed the pole with no problem, did the work, and started down. I missed my second step, and my spikes both kicked out, and I started a free fall down the pole.
Just as in Germany, I leaned back on my belt and aimed my spikes at the pole. Halfway down the pole, I caught myself. I continued on down the pole as if nothing had happened. Darrel was right there to help me unhook.
“I have been in this business for almost twenty years,” Darrel said. “I have never seen someone catch himself after a kick out and they fall all the way to the ground. I have seen some terrible injuries. Where did you learn to do that?”
“It was nothing, just a little trick I learned in Germany,” I said.
I was a little more careful with my climbing. The cable company job proved good for most of the two years I was at Oregon State. And then, I worked for the cable company in Coos Bay for the summer before moving to Colorado to attend veterinary school.
Photo take by Sandy Larsen.