Don Warsavage - Person to Person

Telephone lineman ‘tree’d by a camel’

The following was originally published in the 2015, Issue-3, of the CO-WY Retiree Guardian, newsletter of the CenturyLink Retirees. It is published here with the permission of the author, Don Warsavage.


Don Warsavage’s ‘Person-to-Person’

“Storm soldiers” — that’s what they were called when this story takes place. We honor our telephone linemen who were so ‘up-in-the-air’ that the old joke was they could tell you which airline carried the most passengers. Ads for linemen promised gear to test against electric shock, and to detect gas, and promising falling equipment. What incentives to slug across in the northern plains or the Rocky Mountains, summer and winter, to give us phone lines…

By Elmer Holso. Started in Deadwood, SD, summer 1953 as a ‘grunt’ lineman; retired December 31, 1984 in Sioux Falls as a Central Office supervisor


I am coming on 80 now, so I can confess this story which took place back in the ‘60s. I’ve entitled it, “Tree’d by a camel.” The ‘tree’ would be a 35-foot joint-use pole in a live camel pasture in Spearfish, South Dakota. To be more specific, in the home of the ‘Black Hills Passion Play.’

Assigned a trouble report of a wire down on the Passion Play grounds, I drove to the site, climbed over the fence to repair the downed-wire by putting on my (climbing) hooks and belt…never once noticing the nervous, young single-humped camel pacing back-and-forth up the hill, about 30 yards from me.

As I started up the pole with the drop wire across my arms, I must have done something that ‘lit his fuse,’ because he came barreling down the hill, snorting and frothing at the mouth, appearing very aggravated. Stunned, but determined to finish my job, I continued up the pole while the camel retreated back up the hill, apparently content that his show of force must have scared me up the pole –and I admit he did a convincing job of intimidation.

I proceeded to attach the wire to a J-hook, and started back down the pole – when, lookout, here he comes again. This time, his mouth is producing an unbelievable froth, looking like foam, and now he made a frightening noise through his nose and mouth too. Needless to say, I retreated back up the pole as he retreated back up the hill. As I tried to come down again, he gave the same reaction. You get the picture, as I try to come down, the fool camel shows his same over reaction coming back down the hill, each time coming a bit closer to the pole. Keep in mind this is BEFORE CELL PHONES.

When I finally came to my senses, I climbed back up the pole and used my ‘butt-in” to call the office for help. What seemed like a lifetime later on the pole, my fellow combination man, Fred, showed-up.

Fred apprised the situation, went up the hill on the outside of the fence, and found the caretaker who told him that this young camel was just flexing his muscles, but not without giving some problems. The caretaker pointed Fred to a two-hump camel in another pasture that had been attacked by ‘my junior bully.’ The two-hump had a slice across his back that looked like a saber slice. Camels fight with mouths open, baring teeth, swinging heads, with the results like walking into a swinging saber.

“Not to worry,” the caretaker said, “because the young camel is afraid of clubs. Fred drove back down the hill, knowing what to do now, grinning big. He had it all figured out.

Fred got out of his truck, untying a 6-foot section of his laying-up fork (looks like a club), and climbed over the fence towards me. He held it behind his back. The camel came charging down the hill, bellowing, frothing at the mouth, with what looked like murder in his eyes.

Fred reached behind his back where he had the club, brought it out and raised it above his head. Junior camel screeched to a stop on all fours, turned, and ran back up the hill.

End of the story of Fred and me and the camel?

No, you see Fred had a mean streak. He was having fun. He hid the club again, camel charged, Fred raised the club. Repeat…repeat…repeat.. until I finally got off the pole, and made my way to safety over the fence. Fred and I laughed and laughed about what had happened. Then, each of us went about the rest of the day’s assignments.

3 replies »

  1. I really loved the story. My honey worked for the phone company for 30 years before retiring, and started out as a lineman. He really enjoyed the story too. Thank you so much.

  2. I have a story similar to the one about the guy trapped on a pole by the camel. A PT&T old-timer told us this as recounted by someone in a previous company class that he had taught.

    A repairman in a rural area of L.A. county found that a pole he needed to climb was behind a barbed wire fence, in a pasture. This was not unusual there, but he was nervous about a large herd of cows in the distance. There was not a house in sight to ask for advice, and he didn’t really want to go back to the garage without completing his job. And the cows were far away, and probably slow. And who ever heard of anybody attacked by Elsie the cow?
    He got over the fence and climbed up the pole, and busily made the repair. As he was finishing, he heard a snort. Looking down, he saw that the “cows” were full-grown bison, all arranged in a close circle around the pole, looking up at him.
    He calmed down enough to call his supervisor on his butt-in, who then called the property owner who came and shooed the curious bison away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.