While more and more power and communications lines are being placed underground, there are still times when such placement is impractical, or downright impossible. In these situations, aerial placement is the only option available. This involves installing poles on which to hang the lines, and anchors to support their weight. This is the job of the pole setter.
Very possibly one of the least known jobs in the world, Pole setting is a mixture of the simple and the impossible: the job is either so easy it's a shame to get paid for it, or so hard it would seem undoable. There is no middle ground.
Most pole setting is done with the help of machinery. This involves a large truck with a boom and winch, which are used to place the poles. Attached to this boom is a hydraulic auger, which is used to dig the holes for the poles and also to screw in the anchors.
When using machinery to dig, the depth of the hole or the size of the pole are not important; all one needs to do is move levers to perform the work. On the other hand, while there is no real manual work or heavy lifting involved, one must be certain that there are no other utilities (ie gas, water, power) buried where you wish to dig. The auger is quick and merciless in its destruction, which can be expensive and dangerous. Digging into a gas or power line can have a deadly effect.
If the work area is inaccessible with the machinery, poles and anchors must be set by hand. Now hole depth and size of pole become all important. The shallowest pole hole is five feet deep, while the deepest can be over ten feet. The only way to dig them is by hand with an extremely long handled commercial grade post hole digger. Hand digging one of these holes can take anywhere from a few hours, to more than a day. If rock is encountered, jackhammers or even dynamite may be necessary.
Poles of various sizes are used, the standard telephone pole is 35 feet long, and can weigh in excess of three tons. If it must be carried in by hand, quite a few very strong people will be required. Once the pole is delivered to the work area, it must be lifted and placed in the hole. This is accomplished by using 'pike poles'. These are very long, lightweight poles with needle sharp points on them. Needless to say, using pike poles is a very dangerous activity. If anyone makes a mistake, the pole will fall, and the result is often deadly.
Why Do It?
Why on earth would a sane person want to do this for a living? If you look a little deeper, the reasons do make sense.
The first simple fact is, someone has to do it. If it were not for the pole setter, this computer you are staring into would be nothing more than an expensive paperweight. Commercial aviation, railroads and a myriad of modern technologies could not function without the communication and power lines which hang from the results of their work.
On the more personal side, it's a great job for those who love the outdoors. Sure, it can be cold, wet and miserable in winter. Hotter and dryer than Satan's backyard in summer... but, oh, those crisp, clear spring mornings and the clean and gentle breezes of a clear autumn afternoon. The freedom of roaming the countryside, being somewhere different, seeing something different everyday... that makes it all worthwhile.