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Discussion Starter #21
From that which you wrote there, at some combination of Switch 1 and Switch 2 (counting from the supply side, Switch 3 turns the lights on and off satisfactorily.
The following diagrams (extracted from ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiway_switching) illustrate one possible condittion where operation of Switch 3 is satisfactory.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiway_switching#/media/File:4-way_switches_position_1.svg for OFF
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiway_switching#/media/File:4-way_switches_position_2.svg for ON.

No matter what you think as to how you have connected these switches, if you "hear a surge of energy at the switch and about 5 secs. later the breaker pops" it indicates that that a Neutral or Ground is connected to the terminals/wiring such as those shown in Black in these two diagrams.

You should be able to find this using a volt meter but it may be that a ground wire has touched one of these terminals when you screwed a switch into its Box.

joed gave another possibility while I was writing this.
Going off of the other six possibilities and backtrack over my wiring, trying to find the proper orientation of the terminals and matching them, then I probably should be able to tell if either the connections are incorrect or possibly which wire I should examine more closely for defect.
 

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Going off of the other six possibilities and backtrack over my wiring, trying to find the proper orientation of the terminals and matching them, then I probably should be able to tell if either the connections are incorrect or possibly which wire I should examine more closely for defect.
If you apply a little reasoning you can determine where the fault is fairly quickly.

Start by considering how the fault is tripping. Misconfigured wiring that results in a short circuit is called a bolted short. It will trip the circuit breaker instantly. Yours is taking several seconds before tripping. That indicates either a fairly high impedance fault or severe arcing. Neither of those is the result of a bolted short so you can pretty much rule out a configuration error.

Next, note what you determined before:
I wired it like this and as I said before the first two switches surge and pop the breaker but the last works well.
There is only one thing both of these actions have in common. Flipping either of the first two switches changes which traveler is used between the 4-way switch and the second 3-way switch. This would indicate a fault in one of the travelers between the 4-way and second 3-way.

It's easy enough to test. Put the second 3-way switch in the position which turns the lights on. Turn the circuit breaker off or trip the GFCI with the test button. Flip the positions of both the first 3-way switch AND the 4-way switch. Restore the power. Are the lights now on?

If so, go to the second 3-way switch. Measure the voltage between each of the two travelers and ground. One will have 120V, the other will have 0V. The one with 0V contains the fault. Mark or note which one that is.

Turn the circuit breaker off and disconnect the faulty traveler at both ends. Measure the resistance between it and ground. You may see a couple of ohms resistance which would confirm the fault. You also may read an open circuit, but that does not necessarily mean the fault isn't present. Damaged insulation can still allow an arc at higher voltages but the ohmmeter will not detect such a condition. You need more specialized equipment for that.
 

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Discussion Starter #23
If you apply a little reasoning you can determine where the fault is fairly quickly.

Start by considering how the fault is tripping. Misconfigured wiring that results in a short circuit is called a bolted short. It will trip the circuit breaker instantly. Yours is taking several seconds before tripping. That indicates either a fairly high impedance fault or severe arcing. Neither of those is the result of a bolted short so you can pretty much rule out a configuration error.

Next, note what you determined before:


There is only one thing both of these actions have in common. Flipping either of the first two switches changes which traveler is used between the 4-way switch and the second 3-way switch. This would indicate a fault in one of the travelers between the 4-way and second 3-way.

It's easy enough to test. Put the second 3-way switch in the position which turns the lights on. Turn the circuit breaker off or trip the GFCI with the test button. Flip the positions of both the first 3-way switch AND the 4-way switch. Restore the power. Are the lights now on?

If so, go to the second 3-way switch. Measure the voltage between each of the two travelers and ground. One will have 120V, the other will have 0V. The one with 0V contains the fault. Mark or note which one that is.

Turn the circuit breaker off and disconnect the faulty traveler at both ends. Measure the resistance between it and ground. You may see a couple of ohms resistance which would confirm the fault. You also may read an open circuit, but that does not necessarily mean the fault isn't present. Damaged insulation can still allow an arc at higher voltages but the ohmmeter will not detect such a condition. You need more specialized equipment for that.
Okay so I did find out which traveler on which leg is bad and it is what, was in the deepest, darkest part of my mind I didn't want to accept. I was removing a staple from this 12/3 and then there was a spark. Upon further inspection the staple had cut through the yellow jacket and marred the insulation. I cut open the jacket to see that it had burned a bit. I could see some bare metal where the marred insulation was and figured that the traveler had arced with the ground. What I did next was wrap the traveler with some elec. tape and then wrapped the bundle and jacket with the tape. Is this not an acceptable fix? If not, then what is recommended? I didn't want to pull it because it is in the middle of about 100 feet of line. Thank you for your help.
 

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Since the insulation is damaged it needs a proper splice rather than electrical tape. The arcing likely damaged the conductor itself as well. That portion will need to be removed. The easiest way to do both is with one of the self-contained NM splice kits like this:

https://www.amazon.com/TE-Connectivity-CPGI-208169-2-Non-Metallic-Splice/dp/B0035LKG6Y

The 2014 and later NEC allows these kits to be hidden and inaccessible, so they can be buried behind drywall if needed. It isn't an ideal situation but it is acceptable.

If the area will remain accessible after construction, you may also simply use two junction boxes to splice in a new short length of cable.
 

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And perhaps a lesson learned to use the correct size staple and not bury it into the stud.
 

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Discussion Starter #26
Thank you for your knowledge and after I had switched out the wire, per Fishbulbs recommendation, it works perfectly well.
 
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