The story of Winsted Lake’s submarine cable

Nov. 23, 2018
by Mark Ollig

One day, while looking through a box of old photos and newspapers, I came across an event which happened on (and under) Winsted Lake during the late 1960s.

A little more than one-half mile of submarine (marine copper-paired) cable was placed along the bottom of the lake by the local telephone company to provide telephone service for new homes being built on the east side of the lake.

This event took place years before cellular telephones arrived on the scene; it was a time when a telephone line needed to be physically hard-wired/spliced to a pair of copper wires.

Why install a submarine cable?

It was decided this would be the fastest way to get phone service to the east end of the lake. It was also thought the marine cable would operate reliably under water until a future telephone cable could be trenched into the ground going around the lake.

The beginning of the submarine cable installation took place near the east end of McLeod Avenue and the corner of Kingsley Street.

Three telephone company employees, and a cable reel stand holding a large wooden reel of submarine cable, were positioned in a pontoon boat and ready to go.

“When we first loaded the cable reel onto the pontoon, we thought it was going to sink! The reel had to be perfectly centered on the pontoon, so it didn’t tip over,” recalled Tom Ollig, who was one of the three people on the pontoon that day.

The telephone crew guided the pontoon as they slowly made their way across Winsted’s most famous body of water, traveling west to east.

First, carefully pulled off the reel by hand, the submarine cable was prepared to be lowered into the water.

“Another concern was making sure the submarine cable was weighted down correctly, so it didn’t float to the top of the water,” Tom added.

Heavy steel bolts were securely strapped onto the submarine cable every 5 to 10 feet, before being gently released into the murky depths (about 12 feet) of the lake.

The telephone crew successfully lowered the submarine cable across the lake.

The west end of the submarine cable was trenched underground to a telephone enclosure fastened to a pole located about 40 feet from the lake. Its copper pairs were spliced to dedicated copper pairs of an aerial telephone cable, which went to the telephone office.

The east side of the submarine cable was located near the new homes being built. This side of the cable terminated in an above-ground pedestal enclosure about 50 feet from the shoreline.

New phone lines from the submarine cable were spliced to the copper pairs of the smaller “drop cables” trenched underground to the new homes.

“I remember cutting in the new phone lines using the submarine copper cable pairs for Jerry Sterner and Jack Littfin,” said Mike Ollig, who recently reminisced about it with me.

For many years, this submarine cable provided reliable telecommunications service from the telephone company’s downtown central office to the subscribers located on the east side of the lake.

I would venture to say, the successful installation and use of a submarine cable across the lake for providing telephone service was a historic first for Winsted.

However, as we know, nothing lasts forever.

At the start of the 1980s, some of the submarine cable’s copper wire pairs had begun to fail, and there was concern about the remaining good spares.

And so, during the mid-1980s, the local telephone company installed a new underground telephone cable around the lake to replace the aging submarine cable.

I suspect a few of you are wondering about the fate of the abandoned submarine cable on the bottom of Winsted Lake.

After disconnecting both ends of the submarine cable, we (I was working at the telephone company) attached the east end to our trusty Ditch Witch tractor/trencher and slowly removed (pulled) it from the lake.

The trencher drove in an easterly direction until the entire length of previously submerged submarine cable was out of the water and lying on the ground.

We rolled up the old submarine cable (with assistance from a John Deere tractor) onto a large cable reel and transferred it to a cable trailer, where it was driven to and stored inside the telephone company’s warehouse.

The submarine cable was later recycled for its copper.

Today, the improved construction of submarine cables (using fiber-optic pairs) has given them an average lifespan of 25 years.

Currently, more than 450 fiber-optic submarine cables, with a combined length of 746,000 miles, are on the world’s ocean floors, providing internet, voice, video, and data communication services to nearly every continent.

Advertise in over
250+ MN newspapers