Today I helped Spouse pull Category 5 phone cable from each of five phone jacks in the house (three in use) to the box on the outside of the house. This is part of our ongoing attempt to deal with the problems we’ve had with phone reception since we moved into this house twenty years ago. Yes, twenty years ago.
I didn’t do anything important. It was Spouse who got to clamber up into our so-well-insulated attic, where at 9:00 am it was already 80+ degrees. I just guided the wire up once he found it. That’s not accurate. I helped guide it up once he found it.
He started at the back of the house, in our bedroom where, interestingly, we don’t have a phone. The wire from that jack was broken off, which meant no easy way to pull the wire up, across the attic to the garage and back down. This called for a special tool called a fish-snake. This is a perfect name for it. It’s a large roll of very thin flat wire, with a rectangular head that has a loop at the base. Think of a plumber’s snake; now think of something meant to fish wire up from between walls. The fish snake unspools from a roll like a tape measure only it is much, much skinnier.
Category Five describes the number of twists per inch in the pairs of wire, or something. It’s confusing that it also is a designation for storm ferocity.
The jack in this room was filled, not by an outlet box but a metal ring about an inch wide, poking into the space between the drywall and the outer wall. I kept calling in a ring; Spouse kept calling it a box and it took us a while to get that straightened out. It is, he said later, a plaster collar and the wrong choice for a phone jack. I can attest to that.
I could hear the fish-snake scraping the side of the wall as it came down. “Can you see it? Can you see it?” Spouse kept calling from the attic. No, I couldn’t see it. The insulation shivered and flexed and I reached in, figuring the snake was moving the pink cottony stuff. It was, but I couldn’t reach it. Spouse pulled it back up and tried again. This time it sounded like he was about two inches to the right of the hole. He corrected. I pulled out a bunch of the insulation and the silvery foil that goes with it, but then gave up trying to look. I slipped my fingers into the hole. I could fit two fingers in, but needed to squeeze in three in order to curve my fingers around the metal collar. By the way, this hurt. Then, I found it! I touched the line! Life was good, except, because it was flush against the curved side of the collar, and I was bending my finger around it, I couldn’t grip it.
I was yelling, “I’m almost. . . I can almost, I’m almost, I can’t get it, this is so frustrating!” And Spouse was yelling back, “Can you grab it? Grab it!” I do wonder what the neighbors thought.
Finally Spouse cut a narrow crescent hole alongside the collar, climbed back up into the attic, and lowered the snake again. This time I could see it. In the course of our several experiments (Can I reach it with a carving fork? No. A bent paperclip? No) we had pulled out that time-honored all-purpose household tool, the wire coat hanger, and bent the handle into a narrower loop. I slipped the loop around the length of the line, guiding it to the middle of the opening. Spouse went back upstairs, and pulled up slowly until I could grip the head of the snake with the pliers. I was chanting, “Please don’t let me lose it, please don’t let me lose it. . .” and from the attic, Spouse shouted down, “Hon, it’s all right. We can see it.”
Finally I grabbed the flat rectangular head with the pliers and pulled in slowly out of the wall. When Spouse came down to tie on the Cat Five cable I was kneeling, still holding the pliers and the end of the snake.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere, you can let go of it now.”
This process took an hour and fifteen minutes. Assuming four more to go, this was slated to take up the whole day, basically. Fortunately, all of the other had the wires wrapped around a nail within easy view and reach, and used outlet boxes instead of metal hand-torture devices. I’m not joking—I only just got the feeling back in my fingers, and my index and ring fingers are scraped and blood-spotted. This part was not fun.
The other four took about twenty minutes each.
Spouse ran the lines across the attic to a small hole drilled into the drywall in the garage. We ran the wires over the beams next to all the other electric lines, to the outer wall. Spouse hooked them up to the phone box. Voila, phone service again.
This exercise did not fix our phone problem, by the way. It was a form of “due diligence” since our phone provider, SonicFusion and we are arguing with AT&T, who owns our lines. AT&T insists that the problem is in the walls. By running new lines, we have eliminated or at least reduced the possibility of any shorts in the line. And the jacks were not straight runs to the box (“home runs”) but “daisy-chained,” which the techs all insisted made it impossible to isolate a problem. Now each jack is a home run to the box. We are prepared for the next round in the AT&T war.