It’s hard to be a field meter: long days in every sort of weather, no vacation, hair-raising near misses, occasionally a useful life cut tragically short, and perhaps even a miraculous resurrection. We asked for readers’ stories of sad fates for field equipment in CT’s Pipeline and received overwhelming responses, some of which follow here. Based on those responses, it seems that trucks and falls from heights are the chief dangers. Expensive wheel chocks Two senior headend technicians arrived at the master headend site in separate vehicles at about the same time. One fellow stopped first, opened the door and released his seatbelt; the seat belt buckle clipped the Nextel radio on his waist belt on the way by. The radio hit the ground as the other technician was bringing his vehicle to a stop. The radio came to rest under the front left tire, acting as a wheel chock. The radio caused the wheel to stop rotating while allowing the vehicle to slide forward one extra foot. The formerly rectangular radio had been forced into an interesting trapezoidal shape, the keypad and display were heavily abraded, and the battery pack—which was now permanently crimped to the trapezoid—overheated and emitted foul acrid smoke for a few minutes. The moral of the story is that portable two-way radios make rather expensive and underperforming wheel chocks. Brian K. Holmes
IBI Group
Divine intervention Back in the late ‘70s, our corporate office provided me a new, very expensive signal level meter to evaluate. One evening, I received a call that there was an outage, so I arranged for a colleague to go directly to the area having trouble while I swung by the office to pick up a bucket truck. I transferred some tools and set the new meter on top of the utility bin. In a rush, I hopped in the truck and drove about 2.5 miles. As I looked in the side rear view mirror to merge onto the highway from the entrance ramp, I saw that new meter still perched on top of the utility bin. Horrified, I gingerly braked and pulled over, grabbed the meter, looked to the heavens appreciatively, kissed the meter and proceeded on my way. Joe Baniak
NYS Office of Telecommunications
Resurrection With TCI Cablevision in the Florida Keys, the company’s regional engineer at the time, Jim Ritchie, issued me a new Trilithic SLM. It was an honor to be issued the first one received by the company. The same afternoon, after working on a hotel distribution problem in 90 plus degree weather, Rodney Weech and myself wrapped up the job and set down our gear, including the brand spanking new SLM, on the pavement behind our bucket truck. We took a smoke break and wrapped up a good day’s work. We got in the bucket truck and backed up about a yard before feeling a bump with a crunching noise and immediately thereafter feeling my cable career was over. The Trilithic was about as flat as a pancake. With my shoulders down about the height of my knees, I walked into Jim’s office with what we all thought was a deceased SLM. After explaining the accident, I received permission to repair the unit rather than buying a new one. After a few hours and a lot of hammering, we had restored the shape of the unit and were quite surprised the PCB had not turned into shrapnel. Although aged prematurely, the same SLM continued to work for many years after that. Max Morales
Service tags In the repair lab for Theta Cable, a Hughes Aircraft company, we saw some of the worst things that could happen to test equipment. One was a Jerrold 727 FSM that was flung from the bucket of a bucket truck. The meter found the ground 10 feet below at about 40 mph. It came in with a service tag that read “Do not use until Calibrated.” Repair cost was about $150 in parts and four hours’ labor. Along those same lines was an Avantec CR-1000. The service tag read “No Display.” Very true—the CRT was shattered into little glass bits. When I replaced the CRT with a spare from stock, it worked and was still within specs. Dane Walker Do as I say … One day I gaffed out of a pole and fell backward, landing on top of my Sam 1. I could barely crawl to the bucket truck (which would not reach the pole without tipping over). I went back to the office shaken and worried what my supervisor would say. When I told him what happened, he got “that look” in his eyes, and I quickly responded that the meter was OK, but I wasn’t. He graciously let me have the rest of the day off. I could barely drive to the hospital where the X-rays showed a dislocated vertebra. I was sure glad the meter was OK! Three weeks later, after lecturing us all on the expenses of meter repairs, my supervisor’s brand new, state-of-the-art SAM III fell off his bucket and smashed into the sidewalk! Ha! Randy Haugestuen
Cisco Systems
Saved by the bell I was a maintenance tech in the Memphis, TN, Athena system in the late 1970s and was given an old General Instrument 727 meter to balance plant with. I left the meter hung with a home-made “sky-hook” on the top of the ladder where I was working. The few steps I took going down the ladder to retrieve a dropped tool were enough to shake the meter loose. It slid down the ladder, onto the ground and then tumbled into the street where a city transit bus drove over a good portion of one end of the meter. Next day, expecting to be fired over the carelessness, we were issued new SAM I meters and told to discard the older meters. Lived to play another day. Steve Dyche
NPG Cable
The vendor perspective One of our spectrum analyzers actually fell off a bucket truck (from the bucket adapter about 10 feet off the ground), while the truck was rolling at about 30 mph. When the unit arrived at our facility for repair, it actually turned on and worked, measurements still calibrated. Of course, not 2 square inches could be found on the unit that wasn’t broken or cracked, including the VGA screen front glass. We actually used this unit in two Cable-Tec SCTE shows in the past. Bernie Cadieux
Sunrise Telecom
We have seen a wide variety of damage to field test meters: units that were in fires, dropped from poles, in vehicles that were involved in car accidents, dropped in lakes, ponds—you name it. Units have come in saturated with water, with broken displays, broken front and rear panels. One day, we received a call from a field technician, and it’s one we’ll never forget. His field meter got caught in the boom of his truck and was crushed. Apparently, the meter, dangling from his shoulder strap, got too close to the boom … and the rest is history. Kevin Oliver
Recommendations When asked how big a problem damaged field meters are, Kevin Oliver, VP of marketing for the Cable Networks business unit of JDSU’s Communications Test and Measurement Product Group, said: “Most of the meters returned for repair are due to physical damage. Customers who perform annual maintenance and calibration rarely return them for reasons other than that.” Oliver also offered the following tips to minimize problems:

  • Replace input F-connectors when they’re worn to prevent intermittent level problems.
  • Avoid over-tightening F-connectors.
  • Don’t carry meters by their cables; use the carrying strap.
  • Don’t leave the meter in the bucket of the truck.
  • Don’t short-cycle batteries.

Ron Hendrickson is the managing editor of Communications Technology. Reach him at

The Daily


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