Furthermore, Stubblefield’s telephones could be left on for days without weakening the power system at all. Now hundreds of ordinary people in widely separated places could afford the installation of telephone service. But, how were ground plugged relays acting as amplifiers in the Stubblefield system? As telephony gradually replaced the telegraph service, lines were also accommodated to telephony. Before becoming entirely reclusive, Mr. Stubblefield befriended a few employees of the telephone service. These friends obtained cast-off telephone equipment and parts for his experiments. Older linesmen told Stubblefield much about their own empirical observations on the systems … phenomena which had no textbook explanations.
He became very familiar with the behavior of telephone exchange equipment in the natural environment. The telephonic systems of existing service companies were grounded systems. Each end of both telegraphic and telephonic lines were sunk into the ground, while the single expensive copper line formed the communications link.
Ground sites terminated specific lengths of these service lines in special, thick metal plates. Plates were well-buried in selected ground. These plates were composed either of zinc or copper, and required specific ground placement for their continued operation. Linesmen were taught to find “good ground” for these sites. Some later insensitivity among the growing numbers of hired crew members required the development of electric “ground location meters”, none of which were to give the special and anomalous characteristics observed in early line work.
Certain telephonic patents reveal extremely “articulated” termination plates for these service lines. These were folded, stacked, coiled, and interleaved. Acting as accumulators of earth energies, these often became dangerously charged. It was found that signals would both self-clarify and self-amplify to unexpected degrees when these special terminations were employed.
Properly grounded telegraph lines were known to produce unexpected signal strengths … as well as unexpected signals. Night station operators were often “haunted” by spurious messages. These contained fragmentary words and sentences, and could not be traced to other station operators. It is not coincidental that the older lines demonstrated their remarkable, consistent operation throughout the years … requiring few or no batteries. This absolutely astounding fact is well documented in the telegraph and telephone literature of the day.
In these trade journals we find reports of lines in which current was ever flowing! Company owners found this fascinating natural fact quite lucrative as well as surprising. The question was … where is the current coming from? The echo of the linesman resounded in the forest, the answer singing beneath his feet.
Another equally remarkable fact involved the engineer’s methodically driven lines. Surveyed straight across land and through mountains, these lines did not manifest electrical self-excitations. Clearly, the difference of methods had produced completely opposed energetic results; the one active and the other inert.
As companies expanded across greater regions of ground, engineers replaced the old time lineman’s sense of “proper placement” with surveyor’s charts. It is not unusual for corporate expansions to bring about such a dramatic loss of quality … in exchange for a growth of quantity. What they derived from this obsession with thrift simply added to a continuing fund of ignorance, which has swallowed up the more naturalistic empirical sciences. In their movement toward economy and thrift, numerous companies wished to save on battery costs. The trouble with single-line telegraph systems was that the battery power was always “on”. Usually lost to the ground in continual volumes, battery current simply drained off into the ground. This meant high battery costs. Owners insisted that a means for alleviating these high costs had to be found.
George Little found that this leakage could be reduced by employing carbon rheostats between the signal key, battery, and ground. One could control the actual leakage to the ground by carefully raising the rheostat. By preventing unnecessary signal leakages into the ground, battery power could be conserved.
But, when these rheostats were installed, strange phenomena began taking place with great strength and repetition. The first phenomenon related rheostatic settings to actual line-developed power. Power kept appearing despite the battery status. Rheostats made by Little were sensitive enough to “valve” line signals and use the ground developed current.
Several of these terminal rheostat patents have been retrieved. One familiar model uses a thick cylinder of carbon with a slide spring contact. Another uses fixed resistive steps, which are switched into or out of the circuit. Here were the very first control components of the telegraphic system, the first in a great series.
Thomas Edison dominated the method invented by George Little, including the use of terminal rheostats in order to control the amount of current flowing to and from the ground during signal time. Another amazing phenomenon was the great variation of rheostatic settings which each ground required before strong signaling could occur. There was no automatic means for determining these settings. No textbook formula could predict the settings. They seemed to obey unknown laws of behavior.
Some terminal rheostats needed to be closed completely. Others could be opened full until signals were of sufficient strength to operate the system. Seasonal rheostatic variations were always noted. It was thus seen that each ground site had its own “character”. Each ground was possessed of activities, which defied conventional quantitative description. In addition, the fact that these settings changed completely with the season, having little to do with ground water tables, was troublesome to most theoretical engineers.
Inventors, however, adopted whatever empirical experiment would offer. If a component worked, then it was employed. Empirical technology produced the most amazing devices ever seen, working with little-understood forces. The anomalous appearance of powerful currents in the end-grounded lines was one such marvel.
Telegraph line was not made of pure copper. Telegraph line was bare iron wire. Lines were not well insulated throughout their lengths. The line itself was supported on porcelain insulators and fixed to tarred wooden poles. Rain and corrosion caused the conductivity of the line to vary considerably with distance. Signal strength along such resistive wire would have theoretically been extremely poor.
The remarkable observation defied theoretical estimate. Signals were excessively strong at certain times, appearing in seasonal waves of strength. So great was the developed signal strength that operators could “remove battery cups” and work with almost no current at all. This was especially true of chemical telegraphs, which employed only earth battery energy for most of their operating time.
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