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WW2 cables field telephones asbestos?


Markmilitaria
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Markmilitaria

Hello fellow collector's,

 

I have a number of WW2 field telephones in my collection with corresponding WW2 cables etc. (US, British, German). I read online that in the past asbestos was used as an insulating layer around the (copper) wire of the cable. I am wondering if cables of wartime field telephones/radios contain asbestos + how does that compare to the different countries, like the United States, England and Germany, during and before WW2?

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SGM (ret.)

Although I wouldn't be surprised to find out that there was asbestos used in some insulation purposes in some radio or other electronic components and devices, my experience with my own EE-8 phones and other US Signal Corps radio sets, coax and poser cables, and headset / microphone cables has not shown me anything that I thought was asbestos.  For instance, when repairing the wiring on my EE-8 phones, the three-conductor handset cord has white cotton threads wound around the conductors presumably to reduce friction and wear as the cord flexes.  The same could be said for the internal components of any of the other cables that I've and cause to strip and re-wire.

As a "safety and health" concern, I'd be more worried about the MFP lacquers and other coatings applied to the internals since I believe that these included some amounts of fungicide, and as these have dried out and become flaky over the years, they do seem to create a fair amount of dust and fine chips.  I do try to avoid breathing in any of those and am sure to wash my hands after handling those parts.  (But the same would be said for soldering and fluxes that I sometimes use, so I suppose it really just common sense.)

However, I'm no OSHA expert, and I suspect that Californian lab rats would all die horrible, painful, cancer-ridden deaths in my shop and home.  (They do seem to be delicate little beasties....)  There also may be other, more learned voices of experience that might differ with my experiences.  Finally, my experiences are pretty much limited to just US Signal Corps items.  Other items from other nationalities could well be quite different in the possible inclusion of asbestos materials in their construction.

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Markmilitaria

Hello SGM,

 

Thanks for your quick reply. I looked at my EE-8 fieldtelephones and saw this setup of the cable (CC-333) (see the picture below). It indeed looks like white cotton threads that are woven around the three conductors and together are finished with brown/black rubber. The colored finish of the three conductors also looks like cotton, do you agree?

 

Also these phone cables are not that thick and long, probably asbestos insulation was only used for thicker and longer cables where heat loss was more an issue.

 

Also what I was wondering: Do you know if the companies which produced the EE-8 field telephones during WW2 used asbestos in their products? The companies that produced these phones (according to my findings) are: Automatic Electric, Stromberg-Carlson, Kellogg, Leich, North Electric, Holtzer-Cabot, Connecticut Telephone and Electric and Western Electric. 

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Markmilitaria

I also found this scheme online from the 'war department technical bulletin: electric wiring' from 1945 (tb 5-283-2). Here it looks like only one type of WW2 cable used asbestos and that was the heater cord for 'heavy duty high amperage lines' (see right page).

 

I don't know which one of these types of cable matches the one for the EE-8, because all don't seem to have the 3 conductor set up. Probably the scheme of 'bell wire' is applicable for the CC-333 cable of the EE-8 since it says used for low-voltage lines on bell and signal equipment. What do you think?

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Markmilitaria

I also looked through the 'war department technical manual: telephones EE-8, EE-8-A and EE-8-B' from 1945 (tm 11-333). Here, on the one hand, it is said that each of the three conductors are covered in rubber (p. 6). But, on the other hand, it is said that the cable is also insulated (p. 31). Is the insulation then the rubber and cotton threads?

 

 

cord cc333 1.PNG

cord cc333 2.PNG

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SGM (ret.)

Hi again,

I think the closest example in your TB illustrations is the one for the Heavy Duty Flexible Cord but without the jute reinforcement.  (I may be wrong, but I think all of the examples there are also for AC-DC power cords, cables and wires and not for electronic equipment.  That doesn't make much difference, though.)

As I mentioned, I don't believe that the EE-8 handset cord contained any asbestos.  There was simply no need to insulate it against high heat.  The spiral wound cotton thread is intended, I believe, to act as a guard against internal friction (as the cord was flexed back and forth in use) between the insulated wires and the outer insulated covering.  It was also, again based on my belief, an early feature of that type of cord.  I have examined later manufactured examples of other headset and handset cords used for US Signal Corps radios that no longer had the cotton winding but were in all other respects identical to the EE-8 handset cord (three insulated wires encased in an outer insulated covering.  I think that later production utilized improved wire and cord insulation materials (neoprene-type materials rather than rubber-based materials or even earlier fabric wound wires) that were more wear resistant.

None of these incorporate any sort of additional material that I would characterize as "heat" insulation, so no need for asbestos.

I do know that many modern collectors who are restoring field phones into working order will often substitute three-conductor electrical appliance cord for the CC-333 (CD-333).  If you do some shopping around, you can even find this modern wire with the internal conductors color-coded in the same black-red-white as the original CC-333 (CD-333).

With care you can remove the spade and ring connectors from the original wire and reattach them to the new replacement cord's wires.  I have actually cut the CD-333 cord on one of my own EE-8 phones a few inches shorter to remove the ends of the conductors that had hard, broken insulation (causing shorts and bad connections), removing and then replacing the original connectors back onto the exposed fresh ends.

The transmitter and receiver elements in the handset can also be replaced.  Finding good ones can be a hunt, but there are a number of vendors who specialize in in vintage telephones, and they can be a source for these handset elements.  The ones used in the EE-8 were standard also in many civilian telephones of the day and remained in common use into the end of the 1950's and in many places into the 1960's or '70s.  The good news is that they are not too expensive if you can find them.  The elements are usually ink stamped with the manufacturer's model name, date and other information that can help the vendor to identify compatible replacements.

These are both carbon-type elements, so with age, they become less and less effective.  Some light "tapping" and "shaking" may help restore some functionality as will cleaning the contact surfaces.

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  • 4 months later...
Markmilitaria

Hello SGM,

 

Thank you for your informative and helpful reply. Do you also have any experience with cables from Britisch and German WW2 field telephones and hand sets? Like the British set F and set D and the German FF33 field telephone.

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SGM (ret.)

I'm sorry, but I can't really assist with either the British or the German equipment wire manufacturing materials or specifications.  There are a number of military radio collector pages on FaceBook along with a few stand-alone forums, and British collectors are very active with actual operating sets.  The best I can offer is to reach out to other specialized collectors on forums that are dedicated to HAM and surplus military radio operations.

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