This is a photo project on knob and tube wiring; a form of electricity delivery of days old. For some reason, I have seen more knob and tube wiring this year than in any other of the past 14 years… combined. (If you read my “About” page you would know I am a full-time residential real estate agent in Oak Park/River Forest, Illinois.) To stress to you the danger of knob and tube I have purposely given this project… shall we say… a seasonal theme. Hope you like it.
Here is a photo of some of the ceramics that I found in my Victorian (c.1891) in Oak Park before I removed them for the below photo. This wiring is located in my basement. They were attached to one of the main support beams. Notice how the traditional knobs (round) were not used in this location. These square shaped wire holders were called “cleats” and to the left is a ceramic fuse box. From what I have read, this fuse box could possibly have been a neutral fuse; a fuse that when it blew due to overload still left a live hot wire somewhere in the system!
So what is Knob & Tube Wiring, anyway? Simply, knob and tube wiring is one of North America’s very first electrical systems for building structures. Most commonly used in these parts from about 1880 to the 1930’s, knob and tube (aka K&T) remained an inexpensive form of electrical wiring even as newer safer technologies developed. In the early 1900’s as electrical wiring techniques improved, K&T was half the cost of covered or protected (in pipe) wiring systems.
So the above photo is really scary. Yes, that is what we discovered in the original plaster ceiling when we removed the false ceiling this year. The home’s original lighting was provided by gas fixtures. Brass gas pipes were throughout the home feeding various fixtures that burned for light. When electricity for homes came along (knob and tube) it was easiest to fish the wires along the same path as the gas piping. You need to be careful with these gas pipes if you find them in your walls for they could still be connected to the homes gas main.
The name, “Knob & Tube”, refers to the fact that the system utilized ceramic “knobs” (mostly round) to wrap coated wiring around and then run to another knob where the wire may have made a turn and then run to another… until it reached its destination of a light fixture or switch. The knobs have holes in the center. The knobs would be hammered with long nails into floor joists, building studs within walls before the plaster was installed, or on roof joists in attics. When you needed to get a wire through a piece of wood in the building’s structure then the electrician or home builder used ceramic “Tubes”. The craftsman would drill a hole in say a wall stud, place the ceramic tube in the hole and then run the coated wire through the tube on to its next destination. Basically, the ceramic tube is protecting the wood from being touched by an unprotected electrical wire.
I found these traditional knobs in my home’s attic. The attic kinda creeps me out. you know?… like you are not really alone? Anyway, what is even more interesting are the protruding wires. See them? This is most likely the central electrical feed. The main would have entered the house from outside up into the attic. Then the main was split off into several branch circuits and snaked throughout the home.
OK, Steve, what’s with the little scary characters. Those are actually finger puppets I got at Pumpkin Moon in Oak Park. These photos I use the puppets in are a “hat tip” to a very awesome photographer out of Italy, Luca Rossini.
So why is it (knob & tube) SCARY!?!?!?! Well, it is very scary to have this type of wiring still existing in a home as a source of electricity. Chuck Allen, a licensed home inspector for National Property Inspections, serving the Chicago area, ,tells me K&T wiring is dangerous for a number of reasons. “(Wire) insulation becomes brittle and falls off exposing energized wire. Energized circuits may prove hazardous to human health (electrocution) and in some cases poses a real fire hazard since the connections of wires is generally loose and can arc.” says Allen.
This type of ceramic K&T fixture is called a cleat. It is just another form of wire anchoring and feeding within a home. I found cleats used in my open unfinished basement area only. Look at how long that nail is. And look closely at the nail head. That is a type of clothe padding used under the nail head so that it didn’t damage the ceramic.
Now, my own home had K&T wiring when we moved in the house in 2000. We immediately had a professional electrician (Ron LaRosa of R&L) come in and clean it all up. But here is something Chuck told me I was never aware. This old form of transmission of electricity around the house relied on the air gaps in the walls where the wires ran to provide additional cooling for often overloaded circuits. As a real estate professional that is around old homes everyday this means you better make sure you have no live knob & tube when you go to blow in insulation in your old home’s walls.
This is a classic shot of the wires running through the ceramic tubes. The tubes protect the wire from rubbing up against the wood and possibly causing a fire.
Ok… so if you have read the “About” page of this photo blog you will know that only about 60-70% of the material is dedicated to homes or older homes in the Oak Park/River Forest Area. All topics will touch upon photography but there will be times when the subject matter of the photography is random… or another interest of mine. And today’s “other interest of mine” is… car racing!! Yes, I am a huge fan but not just of any racing. I am a huge fan of the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans in France and the cars that race there… the world’s oldest active sports car race of endurance racing. The race has so many different classes of cars and so many drivers and involves so much effort. It is really an amazing event. Well, I currently have no plans to be able to go to France to see this beautiful event but we can all head to our own little racing oasis, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. This historic racing venue is a four mile road course sitting on 525 acres of beautiful Wisconsin rolling hills.
Every year my good friend, Rich Drab, and I travel north to see the American (ALMS) version of the race at Le Mans. Many of the cars that we actually see in Wisconsin did race earlier in the year in France. This year the ALMS race was on Sunday and there was a Grand-Am race Saturday… PERFECT! It is this year that I decided I would photograph the race for my photo blog and the concentration is on… things in motion or photographing things in motion.
I can tell you now this is one of the hardest “explores” or “projects” I have yet to tackle. For me… getting a perfect shot of something in motion does not mean I want to shoot at the highest shutter speed and stop the subject matter. For me the perfect shot is capturing the subject in motion so vividly and clearly but at the same time… letting my viewer see that the subject is indeed… IN MOTION!!
The Alpina in the P2 category.
The shot of this 551 Siemens Alpina is one of my favorite. The car and driver a so clear and detailed but the scenery and road are blurred with pure speed. And getting this exact combination is what was absolutely the hardest part of this project and the two days of photography.
Katherine Legge brings the DeltaWing out of Canada Corner and up Thunder Valley.
And what am I trying to capture here? The Miata that just lost it’s nose? I don’t think so.
The BMW Z4 replaced the M3.
I used the NEX 7 and the Sony SEL 18200 lens. This lens has a 35mm equivalent of about 27-300mm. The challenge in shooting these subjects in motion is to while keeping the shutter speed low enough to have all but the car blurred and on a sunny day this is not easy. So you are constantly holding the camera up to your eye and capturing the car and moving your whole body with the zooming speed of the car as it goes by. The shutter setting is so that when you depress the shutter release button it will continuously shoot photos while you have depressed. The NEX can shoot 10 frames per second. 10!! That is fast. After watching a lot of the pro’s out on the track I learned that next time I will need a monopod to help steady the camera as I turn thus reducing the chance that at that slow shutter speed of 1/50 or 1/60 the subject (car) will be blurred as well as the stationary setting. OH!!! And for this project the best part about using the NEX 7 was!!!… The cameras built-in electronic viewfinder. Absolutely amazing! After I would take a series of shots I could go to “play” mode and out in the sunlight just look in the viewfinder to see how the shots turned out. It is like a tiny HD TV you can look at to see how you’re doing immediately after taking the photo. The camera is… the best.
Duct Tape is awesome!
One of the GT3 Porches
DeltaWing driver, Katherine Legge, after her stint in the car.
A side-note about Katherine Legge, professional race car driver and one of the Delta Wing Co-Drivers. So Rich and I look forward to this event every year. We actually have lost count of how many years we have been taking in a race together at RA. We go for the cars, the sounds, the fans, the spectacle… Rich is a race driver himself and has spent so much time on this track for various club events so between the two of us we know the track well. We are open to all kinds of racing. We are NOT race groupies and rarely do we really pay attention to the drivers and say… “Oh, I hope this guy is here this year.” We don’t stand in line for autographs nor make a point to try and see if any specific driver will be at the meet and greet on the paddock before the race. But there is one driver Rich and I have an attachment to and that is Katherine Legge of Great Britain. See, the last time Rich and I saw Katherine at Road America she was doing about 180mph down the track… in her safety roll cage. For it was on that warm September 24th day in 2006 that Katherine, at age 26, would literally walk away from what will most likely go down in history as one of motorsport’s most visually violent single car accidents. Yes, it is her job and it is entertainment and exhilarating and… But accidents are not what we are there for. And when you sit for more than 20 minutes wondering if this driver is going to be OK it is an event you always remember. It is one thing to be on your couch and see the race accident on TV. It is another to actually be at the race and have to sit through the silence in between the announcers updates over the PA. I’m sure if Katherine is reading this she is going, “Really, Steve!… Try being the one in the cage!” Obviously… she is the one who remembers every time she exits the “Kink” and heads down “Kettle Bottoms” toward “Canada Corner”. So Rich and I always reminisce that day and this weekend we were thrilled to learn Katherine would be co-driving the beautiful Delta Wing #0 car!!! Oh… and we got an autograph.