For our Labor Day notional Quirky Berkeley Holiday Field Trip we will motor down to San Juan Bautista to see the collection of equipment used by IBEW linemen as collected by Vicente A. “Bobo” Banuela Jr.
This post represents a rare three-way overlay of my life. It is based on a quirky collection by someone who lived in Berkeley for eight years and then has lived out his days in a farm worker town where I myself lived from 1976 until 1978. The quirky collection is, as mentioned above, of equipment used by workers in the trade represented by the union for which I have worked since 1981.
I learned of Bobo’s collection from Ryan Skelton (yes, as a matter of fact, that Skelton). Ryan worked as an apprentice lineman near Bobo’s town and had become a friend and acolyte.
We visited Bobo with two American Sign Language interpreters in tow. They were really something. They got the quirky saint vibe of the scene and opened up the world for Bobo.
Bobo is 71 years old and has been deaf his entire life.
He attended the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley from 1959 until 1967. There he learned the basics of pole climbing although his lack of hearing precluded a career in a profession for which he had a strong affinity.
When he was 22 years old he left the School for the Deaf and came home to work as an apprentice gardener with his father. Working as a gardener, he saw a horseshoe pit made with utility poles. He was thrilled. He had known since he was a boy that the study and recording of electric line work was what he was meant to do with his life.
Bobo’s collection is part made, part collected.
Early in his life, he painstakingly made six wooden-model line trucks.
Sitting throughout the enormous table covered with insulators, model trains, and other line equipment are a number of detailed model line structures that Bobo made, some with moving parts.
In a room filled with spectacular work, for me the substation above rocks the hardest.
The presence of the Pennsylvania Railroad warms my heart – the commuter railroad of my youth.
Bobo makes parts as he builds.
I am not sure whether there are more meters or insulators.
Now THIS is what I’m talking’ about. A tad quirky, a tad creepy. Go Bobo!
After we visited Bobo’s house we took him to an IBEW dinner in Monterey where we honored his lifetime of work with the material culture of linemen.
He is as filled with joy as anyone I have ever met. His knowledge of line work and tools and equipment is encyclopedic. He works hard on his collection, and the is deeply proud to be part of the IBEW, the fraternity of linemen.
Bobo bought the belt buckle in solidarity with the family of in injured worker.
Our afternoon with Bobo and Ryan and Sharon and Kendra transcended even the best end of normal. On all fronts we operated at a level that you just don’t get to very often.
I showed the post to my friend.
“I remember San Juan. I visited you in ’79 right when you were negotiating with the lettuce growers. I remember you – you were alive. You were young, in love, in full throttle passion for the UFW. You had dreams. San Juan was a magic little town and the magic was all around you. Your mom came down to visit from Yuba City with the little black and white dog who I think was named Kippie.
“We walked the mission at sundown. We stood on the fault line and looked at the garlic fields. lt was a good visit.”
I thanked him for that trip down memory lane. What does he think of Bobo and his collection?