Back in the 1960s, while pulling cable, a contractor had an inspiration that permanently changed the art of the practice. He jacked up the rear wheel of his truck and wrapped rope around the tireless wheel rim. Then, one of his electricians started and accelerated the truck while it was still on the jack. With the rim acting as cable puller capstan, he pulled the cable run.

Glover Ensley, founder of The Ensley Tool Company (now Rothenberger USA Inc.), designed the first cable puller based on that innovation. Today’s powered capstan cable pullers are refinements of the original design.

Cable pulling is still labor- and time-intensive, often requiring repetitive pulls through the same conduit before the cable is actually pulled. The tools discussed below are representative of the latest equipment that can minimize the labor and time needed for any pulling job.

Since weeks or months can pass between conduit installation and cable pulling before conductors are fed through, checking conduits for water, debris, kinks, or other distortions is often prudent and sometimes even specified. Increasingly, contractors have to sign off on the cable pull, certifying that there are no burrs in the conduit, that the conduit has not been crushed or filled with debris or water since installation, and that the wires have not been pulled beyond manufacturer specifications. Contractors can use tension meters when pulling conductors to confirm that the wires are not being subjected to greater-than-recommended pulling forces.

Conduit cleaning is a matter of blowing air or CO2 through conduit or vacuuming (pulling air out) to remove all foreign matter. Often, the initial blow or pull is followed by a conduit brushing or scraping that removes the balance of foreign materials. Pulling a “Go-No-Go” mandrel, sized to fit the specific conduit, follows. Its passage through the whole distance confirms an intact, clean conduit, free of dents. Contractors can next pack the conduit with lubricant and pull through a lube spreader that coats the conduit interior. Manufacturers recommend doing each step with a separate pull.

Cleaning the conduit and blowing in the first line

Vacuum fishtapes work in two directions—they can suck air toward the tank or blow air away.

Rothenberger E-220P Vacuum/ Fishtape System, with an 11-gallon tank for holding drained water and debris, is used both for cleaning conduit and for sending in nylon test lines. For sending in the line, a foam mouse, properly sized to the specific conduit and attached to a nylon test line, can be either blown through or sucked through. The test line is used to pull through the heaver pull line, which is used for light pulls or used to pull through, in turn, heavier rope for heavy pulls. The system accommodates .75- to 6-inches conduit.

The Greenlee 690 Vacuum/Blower Power Fishing System, with an 11-gallon tank, and the Li’l Fisher 390 Power Fishing System, with a five-gallon tote-size pail, can accept a range of accessories, including a blowgun kit that provides an automatic feeder for pull lines. Both systems are usable on .5- to 6-inches conduit.

Gardner Bender JetLine CO2 Blower System, with a top range of about 1,000 feet, uses compressed CO2 from various-sized tanks to propel the preliminary line attached to various line carriers or Power Saver line packages. The air, which comes in large- and small-sized (refillable) tanks, can also be used beforehand to clean the pipe. The system, designed for .5- to 6-inches conduit, could be handy where electrical sources of power are limited or not available. The unit produces 875 psi that can blow out debris from various diameter conduits. Gardner Bender also makes a blower-vacuum system for .5- to 6-inches conduit.

Wire Pullers

Rothenberger E-440-84 Heavy Duty Two Speed Power Cable Puller can deliver 8,000 pounds of pulling capacity. The motor is attached to a welded steel frame for rigidity. The built-in, read-out meter tells pull force and amps at all times, keeping the operator informed if the puller is reaching overload conditions. The two-speed motor can pull 14 feet per minute for pulls of up to 8,000 pounds and 55 feet per minute for pulls of up to 2,000 pounds. Designed for heavy-duty pulls through 4- to 6-inches conduit, the unit sports an anti-backlash clutch that allows the capstan to rotate in only one direction and a ratchet safety dog provides positive holding of the capstan during temporary shut down. The tapered capstan allows quick release of rope tension.

The company’s E-448 Lightweight Wire Puller functions like a winch on a boat trailer. The unit, featuring a reel that holds .125-inch x 200 feet of steel cable, can pull 1,500 pounds, while the two-speed ratchet allows maximum pull with only 30 pounds of handle force. The reel holds 200 feet of .125-inch steel cable.

Mounted on four wheels and with an appearance similar to a mini-boom, the Greenlee 6805 Ultra Tugger Cable Puller can provide 8,000 pounds pulling capacity. Electricians can roll the Tugger to the pulling location and insert a boom-connecting, slip-in coupling, or attach a screw-on coupling to the conduit and get started without any additional anchoring. The coupling keeps the boom from moving, and directs all forces into the conduit. Because the wire can be pulled up over the boom right down to the motor, an electrician can pull up to 20 feet of cable beyond the end of the conduit for termination and splicing. Accessories include a booster that doubles the pulling speed until the forces reach about 2,500 pounds and then automatically drops down to the slower speed, a forge gauge and strip chart that provides continuous digital readout of the forces, and a strip chart record of those pulling forces. Safety features include a planetary gear system on the motor that prevents reverse rotation and a right angle sheave that allows the operator to stand off to the side.

Greenlee also offers the 1201 Li’l Tugger Cable Puller, which works with a standard Milwaukee Hole Hawg electric drill, for light pulls of up to 200 feet of No. 12 or No. 14 gauge wire through .75-inch conduit. An electrician can pull 60 feet per minute with this setup.

Gardner Bender Brutus Powered Cable Puller features a one-direction, planetary gear-design motor capable of delivering 8,000 pounds of pulling power, a non-reversing capstan with a backstop brake, and numerous attachments. A versatile frame mount allows a virtually unlimited number of configurations to match field conditions, notes the manufacturer. Attachments include a boom extension kit, conduit, frame, and sheave adapter assembly, and puller base extension kit. The unit comes equipped with a load read-out meter that warns the operator of excessive pulling loads.

HIS Business Manufacturing Co. offers two extended cable boom pullers, the H-6000 Cable Puller and the H-10000 Cable Puller, with pulling capacities that match the catalog numbers. The H-10000 can handle heavy pulls in a wide range of positions and features a self-tailing capstan, a rope gripping device that eliminates rope overlap and takes the operator out of the direct line of the pull. The unit features heavy-duty wheels, a safety foot switch, and a vertical reach exceeding 9 feet. Conduit adapters are available for 2-inch, 3-inch, 4-inch, and 5-inch sizes. The HIS Running Line Tensiometer attaches to the cable puller frame or winch line and provides continuous digital pulling tension readout as well as a numeric printout. HIS can custom-calibrate the unit for various types of rope and wire rope.

HIS also offers custom-manufactured, specialized pulling equipment designed for unique job situations. A company representative visits the job site to determine the nature of equipment needed, and then HIS manufactures it.

Jacks and reels, stands and carts.

When pulling cable, a good payout (jack-and-spindle) system can save labor, especially when a crew is working with larger wire on reels. Jerry-rigging two jack stands and a length of conduit or pipe does not make a safe payout system, because the pipe can easily jump off the jacks. It is more prudent and safer, overall, to use a dedicated spindle that turns smoothly while the spindle ends sit on jacks that don’t move.

On larger pulls, Greenlee 6810 Ultra Cable Feeder can minimize the number of workers needed to pay out the line on multiple reels of cable by accepting cable from three, four, or five reels simultaneously. Once each reel is set on a jack and the cable is fed through the Ultra Cable Feeder, no one is needed to pay out the cable from each reel or gather the cables together. Using the Ultra Cable Feeder, two people—one operating the cable feeder, the other soaping the cables as they enter the conduit—do the whole job. The unit has variable speeds to match the speed of the cable puller, and can feed cable at the rates between four and 36 feet per minute. The unit is capable of handling from eight, 250 thousand circular mils (MCM) cables, up to five, 750 MCM cables.

Greenlee, Gardner Bender, Rothenberger, and others manufacture screw type reel stands, jacks, and spindles in various capacities and weight limits, featuring various fine adjustments.

Spoolmaster Lever Action Real Jack (model SMP-LJ-54) holds one reel up to 54-inches in diameter. The base acts as the lever for lifting the reel into pulling position after the reel is attached to the jack. Sitting solidly on the ground, the unit will not tip under severe pulling conditions, notes the manufacturer.

The Feldmans are writers and authors who provide Web content and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at feldman@worldnet.att.net or (914) 238-6272.