What Are These Odd, Rusty Fixtures We Found in Downtown Billings?
If you'd ask my parents, they would probably tell you that I've always been a curious person. Even as a child, I found odd things interesting. My curiosity struck again this week when I noticed this unusual old fixture thing in a downtown Billings parking lot.
It's in the downtown post office parking lot.
Our studios and offices are right next door, so I've probably walked right by the weathered utility box with the odd-looking piece sticking out of its top a hundred times without noticing it. Today, I stopped for a closer look. As I slowly unscrewed one of the metal caps, I wasn't sure what to expect... Was natural gas going to come gushing out? Or (more likely) a nest of angry wasps?
It's just an outlet. For what?
Okay, so that was a letdown. Toxic gas did not come out, nor did any buzzing yellow jackets. Under the cover, I found an electrical outlet that features a somewhat unusual receptacle style. I searched the internet with the only clues I have. The weathered outlets are stamped with the words "Pyle National" and "Pylet." eBay offers tons of old Pyle National stuff (some of it quite valuable), but I couldn't find anything that looks like the picture above.
About the Pyle National Company.
Founded in Chicago in 1916, the company manufactured lighting and associated components for the railroad industry. They eventually branched into a wide range of electrical products and lighting for all types of industries. In fact, they helped design the original lighting at Wrigley Field. In the 1960s their Star-Line Miniature Connectors were used by the US government in the design of the Minuteman missile defense program. You can find everything you'd like to know about the Pyle National Company on this lengthy PDF application for the National Register of Historic Places.
Was this some sort of charging station from 50 years ago?
As I looked around a little bit I noticed a total of 11 of these in the parking lot. It almost looks like an old-timey EV charging station. I suspect their real purpose goes something like this... at one time the post office used these receptacles to plug in block heaters on postal delivery vehicles in the wintertime. I reached out to the Steiner Electric Company (a subsidiary of the company that eventually purchased Pyle National) to see if they could tell me about the old outlets. I received this reply,
These were manufactured by PYLE-NATIONAL back in 60’s and 70’s they were for power distribution, obsoleted in early 80’s. I think we still have a sample in our office show room , and it use to have a jumper cable that was used with it to generate power from one end to the other end.
I did not try plugging anything into the outlets. I doubt they're still functional. Have you seen something odd, unusual, or weird around Billings? Let me know! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org