THE WINTER OF 1963

Bob Wilkins a PO Engineer in the iceflows on Dunster beach!

Snow clearance in Dunster village.

Photo by kind permission of Mrs Jean Mote. 

The Winter of 1963 from a Post Office Telephones perspective

The following pictures were kindly donated by Mrs Kate Hyde

A typical scene on the roads of Exmoor during the winter. Cars had to be abandoned and in some cases were not recovered for some weeks. I was a common site to see just the side of a vehicle exposed deep in a drift where it had been exposed during road clearance.

Relief helecopter in Minehead recreation ground

Many Exmoor communities were cut off by deep snow drifts. Food for people and animals was dropped by these helecopters. This helecopter has landed in the recreation ground in Minehead with the houses of Queens Road in the background. It is possible that this was the occassion when two Post Office engineers namely Gordon Edwards and Andy Hyde were flown to the PO Micro Wave relat station at Goosemoor to check on the quantity of fuel running the dielsel generator supplying essential power to the station after failure of the public supply. Unfortunately due to icing conditions on the rotors they were dropped off short of Goosemoor and had to continue on foot.

In 1963 most telephone lines on Exmoor were overhead consisting of open copper wires. Even some exchange to exchange junction circuits were routed overhead. These copper wires, as well as all the pole fittings, became encased in ice. Many poles were broken by the weight of the ice and the wires bought down. Above is an example of icing with the ice forming downwind from the biting easterly wind which seemed to blow for weeks. On the stay wire can be seen a knife like structure of ice several inches long, a danger in itself as this was before the days of hard hats. 

This is an Exmoor scene showing a typical O/H route running along side the public road, the location is thought to be on the road from Luckwell Bridge to the village of Exford.

 

A PO Engineer, thought to be Gordon Edwards? carrying a set of pruning rods that were used to smash the ice off the wires to try and get clearance on road crossings. 

 

Difficult progress along an Exmoor Road, Gordon Edwards? A shovel was an essential tool and can be seen in a strategic position on the van in the picture below:

Prior to road clearance these Morris Minor vans were fitted (by the driver) with chains that were very effective on snow packed roads. At the time I was driving an early mini van without chains which was exciting for a 21 year old because if the road was rutted it was possible to skid along on the floor pan with all four wheels off the ground for many yards - PS Don,t tell the MOT workshop supervisor !!! 

I worked as a  dual maintenance (Exchange and subs) T2A lineman on Exmoor during this winter and personally experienced these conditions:

On some routes there were sheet steel poles and one soon learnt not to touch the pole with an exposed hand as it would immediately stick, which was a strange feeling needing quck reactions to get it unstuck. At Simonsbath there was a line connector (small electro mechanical exchange in a roadside cabinet) this was dependant on trickle charged secondary batteries for power. During this winter the electrolyte in the cells turned to a jelly like sustance causing yet more problems. Porlock Hill was on my load and all the poles along the top were bought down by the ice. I well remember stepping off the roof of the AA box at the top of Porlock Hill up onto a snowdrift. With Andy Hyde we dragging a ladder like a sledge several miles to  restore service to isolated subscribers. In time as the roads were cleared the downed O/H routes were replaced with temporary interruption cable laid along the hedges along with temporay joints. With the continued snow fall and road clearance these joints and cables were sometimes damaged meaning a long walk through the snow trying to locate the break.

Some field boundaries had wire mesh fencing and with the continual easterly wind the ice built up on the wire to form giant honey comb shaped structures.

A Barnstaple based engineer experiencing similar conditions on the other side of the moor.


Post 1963 Winters

From the D registration on the vehicle below these photos are post 1963 but show similar Exmoor winter conditions confronting PO Telephone staff.

 

A typical scene once the bulldozer had got through!

Rons PO/BT years.

To be continued.