Peter Catchpole’s book, “A Story of the Engineering of the Kemano-Kitimat Transmission Line”, was published earlier this year. It tells the story of the transmission line that powers the Kitimat aluminum smelter, from the 1950s to late 2000s. (Clare Rayment)

REVIEW: Catchpole’s writing style makes engineering more understandable for non-engineers

“A Story of the Engineering of the Kemano-Kitimat Transmission Line” is a fun and intelligent read.

For a book that I thought was going to read like a textbook, Peter Catchpole’s “A Story of the Engineering of the Kemano-Kitimat Transmission Line” surprised me by drawing me right in.

Mixing together engineering terminology, personal anecdotes, and a bit of humour, Catchpole manages to make the reader feel like they’re right there with the engineers, designing the transmission line and coming back for repairs…over and over again!

The book starts in the early 1950s with the building of the transmission line between Kemano, a new town-site and generating station at the time, and Kitimat, where the power was necessary to fuel the newly-made aluminum smelter. The transmission line had to travel through very mountainous terrain, through the Kildala Pass, which made for some incredibly difficult engineering.

The book encompasses the time from the beginning of the transmission line in the 1950s to the development of the ‘Cat II’ Catenary, which was built after an avalanche destroyed a key part of the line in March 2007.

The ‘Catenary’ was a name engineers gave to the the original 1955 Cross-rope, a pair of steel ‘ropes’ that form an ‘X’ shape between two mountainsides to the west and east of the transmission line’s path. These ropes were put in to support the line’s power conductors (cables) after an avalanche destroyed several transmission towers in January 1955.

It was nicknamed the ‘Catenary’ because a cable-suspended cable takes the shape called a ‘catenary’, a U-like curve used in several maths and sciences. When the second Cross-rope was built after the March 2007 avalanche, it was then named the ‘Cat II’ and the first was dubbed the ‘Cat I’.

Catchpole worked as a civil engineer for 44 years after graduating from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He only started working on the line in 1993, a couple of years after he had started working with POWER Engineers, a global consulting engineering firm. Up until then, he recounts the transmission line’s creation and development as told to him by people such as Brian White, the line’s original design engineer, and Adam Charneski, who played a prominent role in its original construction and, for 40 years, its maintenance.

There’s a lot of years and a lot of information — much of it incredibly detailed — that has to fit into that time frame, but Catchpole finds a way to fit almost six decades of history into 238 pages and keep you invested throughout.

The included pictures are, in my opinion, what stood out the most. Pictures of wildlife, people involved, and most importantly, the views of the landscapes and the transmission line from the mountains where the engineers were working.

The pictures also all include detailed captions underneath, especially those of transmission towers and parts of the line, so you can better understand what you’re seeing and it’s significance to the story.

The photos on pages 32 to 34, for example, show pictures of parts of the line and the terrain in which they’re located. Catchpole takes the time to describe exactly what is being shown, and he points out different areas of the pictures for the reader to draw their attention to and why. On page 33, it shows the roughness and vastness of the mountain terrain where the line was built, and you’re able to spot two of the towers right in the centre, seemingly minuscule compared to the landscape that surrounds them.

Catchpole also works to provide a balance between technical explanations and story development, which makes it an easier read for those who are interested but have no civil engineering experience or knowledge.

On page 30 he writes, “The low altitude conductor on the double circuit towers is called ‘Falcon’ and has 1590 kcmils of aluminum. Never mind was kcmils means. Too technical!” In describing the need to put up the ‘Hanging Valley Cross-rope’ for the protection of one of the towers, he adds on page 119 that “I won’t bore you with the details of the envisioned process.”

Catchpole’s style makes the read feel almost like an adventure story, as well — which, in all honestly, it kind of is. He uses foreshadowing and mini cliff-hangers to draw you into tales that are to come. He’ll introduce a character, a phrase, an event, briefly, such as a piece of writing by Brian White that begins on pages seven to 11, and then let it stop at a key point and not continue until later point in the book.

In the case of White’s writing, it ends on page 11 by saying,

“I have often remarked that if this line had not been my first, it would not have been my second for, by that time; I would have known it could not be built. But that deals a bit with hindsight which I am trying to exclude from this tale as I am attempting to present a case study in terms of what was known or thought to be known at the time of the events.”

From there, the writing does not continue until page 39, where White continues to recount the tale of one of the key challenges they faced while building the line.

There’s a familiarity with Catchpole’s writing and a warmth in his tone that makes the read feel like he’s right there telling you the story in person. He makes jokes and tells personal anecdotes — such as the story of how he returned to work on the transmission line after the 2007 avalanche, despite not having been on the project for 10 years — which allows the book to feel almost like a conversation.

Overall, the book helped me understand Kitimat better and how it became so well known for such a small, northern town. Catchpole’s book is a smart, funny, insightful read, and it helps explains the incredible amount of work that had to occur for this town to grow into what it is today.

“A Story of the Engineering of the Kemano-Kitimat Transmission Line” can be purchased through Peter, himself, by emailing pgcatchpole48@gmail.com, or soon at The Kitimat Museum & Archives and at Misty River Books in Terrace.



clare.rayment@northernsentinel.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

Courtney Preyser is a music teacher and librarian for several schools in Kitimat, and her passion for music and literacy shows in her work. (Clare Rayment)
In Our Valley: Courtney Preyser

Preyser grew up with a passion for music and literacy, which shows in her work and life everyday

<em>Black Press file photo</em>
Clare’s Corner: Giving thanks despite the negatives

Thanksgiving may have passed, but it’s never too late to count your blessings

<em>Black Press file photo</em>
Police look for vehicle after dangerous driving incident

The driver was speeding and failed to pull over for police

(Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)
QUIZ: A celebration of colour

Fall in British Columbia is a time to enjoy a spectrum of vivid colours

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Most Read