Town's Progress 'Built on Poles"
By Aubrey Lake
November 24, 1961
Like a long
line of solid, silent sentinels standing by the road with their arms outstretched, utility
poles carry our conversations to all parts of the country, or bring electrical power into
Have you ever wondered where they come from or how they are treated to preserve them?
Many of them, selected for their straightness among other qualities, come from Alabama pine forests and are preserved here in Tuscaloosa County.
After treatment at the Brown Wood Preserving Company in Brownville they are shipped to cities throughout Alabama, along eastern seaboard from Florida to New York, and some are exported.
The Brownville plant, one of the three owned by the company, treats not only utility poles of varying sizes, but also preserves smaller fence posts.
About 5,000 to 10,000 poles are treated each month at the plant, tucked away in the northwestern section of the county, according to G. Ray Bobo, plant superintendent.
This process provides on a year-round basis employment for about 100 of the 450 Brownville residents.
Once a thriving town, Brownville now is comprised mostly of employees of the wood preserving company and their families.
Most of the employees live in company-supplied houses. The company operates a commissary for the community and has donated a church, which is the social and religious center for all faiths. Brownville even has its own railroad, consisting of one 1926 model coal-burning locomotive.
However, Bobo emphasized the railroad, commissary and other related operations which are not directly a part of the processing plant are operated as separate companies.
Upon arriving at the plant via railroad or truck, the poles are stripped of their bark, the ends cut off even, then stacked on outdoor skids in piles to aid seasoning prior to treatment.
When ready for preserving, the poles are stacked a few at a time on railroad dollies and rolled into one of two 125-foot-long horizontal tanks in the treating plant.
Here they stay for several hours under a strong vacuum to pull out excess moisture. Then when the vacuum is pulled the preservative oil heated at 220 degrees is dropped on the poles under 190 pounds of pressure to thoroughly penetrate the wood.
The length of time is takes to preserve the poles depends on several factors, including thickness of the poles and type of preservative ordered by the customer, Bobo explained.
After treatment the poles are returned to outdoor stacks where they await shipment to customers.
How long do these pine poles last if properly treated?
"See those over there?" the plant superintendent asked, pointing to a ring of pole which carry power distribution lines around the plant yard.
"Well, we put those up in 1927 shortly after we opened the processing plant and they still are so solid we aren't even thinking of replacing them yet."