Profile: Flash Wilson Bristow
Why I like pylons, and how my website grew!
I'm not an insulator collector, but rather I have a passing interest in
them - my real enthusiasm is for pylons.
As a child I saw the TV advert for the sale of National Power and PowerGen, in which lattice towers stride about the landscape, and from then on I took a passing interest in them, something to make car journeys more interesting and to look at as the scenery rolled by.
In 1999 I had a job working shifts in the IT industry, and to keep myself awake on the nightshifts I decided to create a website. One of the sections I decided to include was "mad things" and this included "things which are black and orange" right through to "pylons"! At first, I had one page of pylons, with old black and white photos which I had scanned from a book belonging to my partner's dad. In fact it turns out that my partner has a father who, although retired, still sometimes works on overhead line construction projects, most recently in Kenya. He challenged my interest in pylons as being something trivial and fun and made me wonder why I liked them, what exactly interested me, and why on earth there were different shapes.
Flash under a pylon at Glastonbury Festival in 2002.
I began by noticing that pylons come in two different types - suspension (where the insulators hang down) and tension (where they go out straight to each side), and then realised that in order to turn a corner or to terminate a line different designs are used. This fuelled my enthusiasm and made me wonder more.
I started taking photos of pylons (and a few poles) which interested me, and it gradually took off from there - people started sending me photos of pylons they'd seen on holiday, and I approached other people with interesting images in their online holiday snaps, to see if they'd let me use their images. Now given the increased use of digital cameras, people can easily take hundreds of photos and send them immediately by email. This means that my friends, colleagues, and even people I've never heard of, take photos of pylons they see on their travels and send them to me! At the time of writing, my website has 385 photos from 34 countries - mostly of "interesting" pylons (or those in unusual locations such as spanning a canal) rather than the standard designs.
Of course it's not just about numbers and having the most pictures I possibly can, although I'd love to have photos of pylons in every country. (This may be impossible; I imagine there might not be pylons or poles in Antarctic territory for example.) As I've looked more at pylons I've come to wonder more about them - although it's still from an amateur point of view, I do seek to be better informed, so all comments and assistance are welcomed!
I enjoy speaking with my partner's father about pylons, and reading his old books (some from the sixties which are now out of print, such as "Overhead Line Practise" by McCombe and Haigh), and he patiently answers my questions. I often get emails through my website such as "who owns this pylon?" or "can I get cancer from a pylon" and I've developed the site to include an FAQ to deal with this; it also meant that I've had to expand my knowledge in order to be able to respond to people.
I've learnt things that now seem obvious but which I didn't know, for example that the reason pylons hold wires in multiples of three is so there is one wire for each phase on a line - which means that the electromagnetic field experienced on the ground under wires at any time should be nil. I've also read about transposition towers, where the electricity on one wire is swapped onto another and so forth, so that on average the capacitance of each wire travelled by the three phases is the same, and so there are no problems when the line is presented to equipment at the end of it. (At least that's how I understand it!)
I've also been interviewed for Jack Magazine, which posed yet more questions and made me think again, for example about my favourite pylons and those which are the "top dog" of the UK. For the curious, my favourite pylons are some just outside the village of Cressing in Essex. They are an unusual design and stand in a field routing wires from one circuit under those of another into a substation. They are shown below.
Pylons in Cressing village, Essex
I think the title of "top dog" should go to the pair which span the Thames at Thurrock - at 630ft they are higher than the Post Office tower! I recently received an email from a contractor who has climbed them and I'm looking forward to hearing his war stories.
I've also made model pylons - you can buy a kit for Hornby's 00 Gauge trainset comprising three pylons based on those near their factory. They are readily available for just over £10 per set, and proudly strut along the top of the radiator in my study! However, the most fun you can have with a pylon (in my opinion) is to take a fluorescent tube and stand under the wires, somewhere where there are lots of different circuits converging such as near a substation. The tube glows - it's a spooky feeling - and along with the corona discharge crackling and static electricity, it's quite unnerving. I'd have to check my physics, but I'm told the reason it works is as a result of the electric field produced between the different circuits; if I stood under a single line it would have no effect.
One of the difficulties I've had is that many transmission companies are unwilling to answer my questions; it's like getting blood out of a stone. Usually the requests go ignored. It's a shame; I'd love to learn more. I know that much of what I've picked up is also from enthusiastic amateurs and I'd love to be better informed. At present I rely on other enthusiasts to educate (or correct) me.
My future plans include learning more about pylons, their design and purpose; visiting the Museum of Electricity in Christchurch, Dorset; and of course to collect images of pylons in more countries!
Finally, I couldn't write my story without mourning the loss of possibly the most famous pylon in the UK; the "pink pylon" which was featured in the film Among Giants as the pylon which was painted by a gang of workers. The line was decommissioned and the pink pylon dismantled in November 2003. What a shame! Still, the fact that this pylon had its own website (run by John Scott) and the number of emails I receive tells me that I'm not alone... pylon fans are on the increase!
My website can be seen at http://www.gorge.org/pylons
All images are copyright of their respective owners and may not be reproduced elsewhere in any way
This page last updated: 20 February 2008
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© Flash Wilson 1999-2010. I charge a fee for use of my photos.