2012 NIA Hall of Fame Inductee

Nathan R. Woodward  


Nathan R. Woodward was born in National City, California in 1927.  He lived in western Oregon during the Depression and early war years.  It was there that he first noticed insulators and began collecting them at the age of 8.  As he grew a little older, he mastered the art of pole climbing.  The man responsible for line maintenance in the area had decided that Woody was a potential insulator thief.  And, if he ever saw Woody even looking at a pole, he would stop his Model A Ford in the middle of the road and deliver a scolding!  

At age 15 he left home to work in Salem, Oregon.  At age 16 he was living behind a restaurant operated by two older sisters who started calling him “Woody,” and it has stuck ever since. 

Woody moved to Dayton, Washington, Hillsboro, Oregon, and Corvallis, Oregon, working for Southern Pacific Railroad.  Then came two years in the Army, from 1950 to 1952.  Once out of the Army, Woody went to Portland, Oregon, working for the Union Pacific Railroad.  In Salt Lake City, Utah he worked for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.  Moving to Los Angeles, California he worked for the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific Railroads.  He headed on to Chicago, Illinois, and worked for the Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (The Milwaukee Road).  These were followed by other jobs in Chicago, Houston, back to Chicago and then back to Houston where he retired in 1993.  

His work years can be summed up this way: he held numerous odd jobs, and worked for five different railroads over a period of ten years in six different cities.  During this time there were weeks or many months wandering, drifting between odd jobs, visiting nearly every city and state.  Often he would be employed only two or three months out of a year, and be “on the road” the rest of the time.  Many of the insulators he observed were seen from the top of a boxcar!  He once shared with Clarice Gordon: “This is not the choice location.  A flatcar, gondola, or empty boxcar, if the door is open on the same side as the pole line, is less hazardous and gives a good view.  On the other hand, riding the running board of a tank car is no doubt the most hazardous, but I’ve done plenty of that as well.” 

It was during those years that Woody collected most of the historical data on insulators, having begun collecting in earnest in 1951.  Serious research began in 1955, and really got off the ground in 1956, with numerous hours spent in the patent files in the Los Angeles Library.  After meeting William McLaughlin, Woody subsequently visited every location he could identify with the manufacture of insulators.  It was from this research that the 1965 Report was compiled. 

Woody has stated “My first visit with William McLaughlin was on July 24, 1956.  We visited several more times, and continued to correspond through the years.  I have two fat files of letters from him, and never threw away a word he wrote.  Woody met many other old-timers who were able to provide valuable insight into various manufacturing operations.  There was Goody Godwin, the last member of the Gayner family to remember insulator production; Charles J. McHale, who, in his 90’s, described vividly the Harloe insulator plant; William H. Loyd, retired secretary-treasurer of Lynchburg Glass Corp., who supplied Woody with complete remaining company records; and William Brookfield.  These are only a few of those who helped to make the picture as complete as it is. 

In the 1980s Woody made two trips to England.  He spent about ten days each time, courtesy of a fellow Mensa member with whom he had been corresponding. 

As most insulator collectors know, Woody developed the Consolidated Design (CD) Number System now universally accepted as the standard for glass insulator identification.  The idea was born probably in 1951. Woody has stated: “At the outset I developed a CD system that I used for a year or so, but it didn’t suit, so I scrapped it and started the system we use today.  The system we use today was finalized in 1953 or 1954.”  Every different threaded glass pin-type insulator style found so far has been assigned its own CD number by Woody, and he is the only person with the authority to issue new numbers.  

Public use of the CD numbers was first initiated by someone other than Woody in 1965, when early collector Helmer Turner asked for and received a list of the numbers for use in his personal collection.  It was later through his efforts that the CD numbers began to come into general use.  They first appeared in Woody’s 1967 Report. 

Woody’s literary contributions to the hobby are many.  He has authored five books and co-authored two others.  His first one was “The Glass Insulator in America, 1865-1965 Progress Report,” which was soon followed by “The Glass Insulator in America, 1967 Report,” 1969 Report, 1973 Report, and 1988 Report. With the exception of the 1965 Report, which was only text, the books contain scale drawings of the CD numbers. “Glass Insulators from Outside North America was co-authored by Woody and Marilyn Albers in 1986, with the “Second Revision” published in 1993. 

For many years, Woody volunteered to answer questions related to insulators through the pages of Crown Jewels of the Wire.  His first column, “Questions Answered,” appeared in November, 1969.  At times he also answered questions in a column called “Research Division.”  In December, 1986 his column was renamed “Ask Woody.”  Through these columns Woody has answered hundreds of collector’s questions, sharing his vast storehouse of knowledge with others.  He is a walking encyclopedia of insulator data, and willingly dispenses it to anyone who writes for help. 

In addition to the question-and-answer columns, Woody has written at least eight articles for Crown Jewels of the Wire, which includes several obituaries, articles on insulator colors, and the use and explanation of CD numbers, among other subjects. 

The Lone Star Insulator Club presents an award in Woody’s name.  In 1992, the club initiated the annual N. R. Woodward Literary Award.  This award honors one writer each year for the published article that best demonstrates research or promotion of the insulator hobby.

ReturnReturn to the National Insulator Association page