Western Union Lineman of Days Gone By


When the western United States was known as the Wild West the telegraph helped to tame it. Several thousand miles of wire was strung across this nation. Bad weather and bad men would break or cut these wires and it became the job of a lineman to go out and repair the downed line.

The Western Union splice, also known as the lineman’s splice, was the accepted way of repair. A Western Union splice is made by bringing the two ends of the broken single strand wire so that when they are crossed there is a few inches of wire between the cross point and the ends. Usually it meant adding a piece of new wire and making two splices so the repair could be made and the line would maintain proper tension. Telegraph wire was not insulated so the dirt and oxidation had to be cleaned. At the cross a few tight twists of the wire are made. The splice is completed by wrapping ends of the wires in a tight coil wrap over the other wire with four or five turns. Clip off the ends of the two wires sticking out as close as possible to the splice and bend them down into the turns so as to not leave a sharp barb. This can all be done with nothing more then a lineman’s pliers and a piece of small grit sandpaper or emery cloth.

Western Union or Lineman’s splice


The Western Union splice was designed to be a solderless connection and if done right it is a good connection without solder but most Western Union splices today are soldered. A proper non soldered Western Union splice will improve with age because of cold metal flow.

If solderless connectors, also known as crimp connectors, are to be used they can be a trouble free connection if they are done properly. That “if they are done

Standard crimp solderless connectors

properly” is where the rub comes in. The right tool and the right connector must be used to accomplish this trouble free connection.

In the 1980’s while working on the night shift for a two way radio company it was one of my duties to repair the radios and installations used in customers’ vehicles in the field. By doing this at night the job could be done without down time for that vehicle. There was one trucking company that had a lot of complaints about the quality of their radio communications but I could rarely find anything wrong with the radios. The owner was a real grouch and because all previous technicians found the same as I had he was just considered to be a complainer without a cause. It was only because he had such a large account we catered to

Solderless crimp splice with shrink tube. First crimp then shrink the tube over the wire to make a moister proof seal.

him. Digging deeper into the problem I found almost every truck, over 100, had improperly installed solderless connectors used on the power system. Sometimes a piece of wire was spliced and then in a few inches another splice and maybe one to three more before it reached the radio. I found as many as four splices in six feet of wire and none of them made correctly.

When first installed these connectors seemed fine but after time oxidation and dirt made them intermittent. The solution to the problem was to replace all the wiring in the trucks when it was found to have such a problem. My employer did not believe the problem was real and accused me of wasting time; he didn’t seem to notice that the trucks I repaired were being removed from the list of complaints. That is when I started saving all the bad wires and each night before going home I tied them to the knob on his office door.

After this went on for a while he not only agreed with me but he also asked me to please stop tying wires to his door knob. I was also given the no extra pay position of training all the other technicians how to properly make crimp connections and the ordering of proper tools and supplied.

Ratcheted crimp tool is the preferred crimper.

Just as soldering is an art so is crimping. Quality crimp connectors are more expensive but in the long run they can save a lot of money, a lesson I had to teach my former employer. The best crimp connectors are the seamless crimp which means the point where the wire goes into the connector and is crimped is a complete tube with no seam. There are also some which are made by bending a flat piece of metal into a tube shape. Sometimes the seam is welded. The welded seam is almost as good as the seamless but when crimping them look for the seam and crimp squarely on that seam. The non welded seam contacts make good fodder for the recycle bin.

Use a ratcheted crimp tool that is designed for that connector. This will force

The most commonly used crimp tool. Not recommended.

you to crimp to proper pressure. If you use the cheep stripper, cutter, and crimper be sure the two points designed to touch when the tool is fully closed is actually touching before you release the crimp tool. Do not use a dimple crimp tool on connectors that have insulation in fact it is probably best not to use un-insulated connectors or dimple crimpers at all. Make sure the wire gauge is the right gauge for that connecter.

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