2014 Expo Highlights New Tools for Linemen
Exhibitors showcase products that help linemen to improve their safety and productivity in the field.
For the first time in the history of the International Lineman’s Expo, the exhibits extended beyond the exhibit hall at the Overland Park Convention Center. Vendors had the opportunity to not only showcase their new tools and technology in booths at the expo, but also near the entrance of the rodeo grounds.
About a dozen manufacturers set up tents to display their products, hand out literature and talk with linemen and their families at the annual rodeo. Every year, the International Lineman’s Rodeo strives to do something different with the trade show, says Dale Warman, co-chairman of the board of directors for the International Lineman’s Rodeo Association.
“We try to not get complacent or comfortable with it,” he says. “We listen to different suggestions, take the ideas and run with them.”
For 2014, the expo floor was completely sold out, with companies unveiling new products aimed at helping linemen to improve their productivity and safety. For example, Jeremy Prawl, a journeyman lineman for Westar Energy, came to the expo to search for ergonomic tools.
“I am looking for new technology that makes it easier on our bodies,” he says. “Anything we can do to prevent us from having bad shoulders or knees is big in our industry.”
He was also on the show floor to familiarize himself with the Ox Block device in Buckingham Manufacturing’s booth. His company purchased one of the devices prior to the rodeo so the competitors could practice with it before the rodeo.
Bruce Thompson of Local 47 in Riverside, California, came to the expo and rodeo with his son, who was competing on his same team. They were looking for the ClampStar booth, which featured another one of the devices that was used in the journeyman mystery event.
“We are trying to figure out how it works and the do’s and don’ts of working with it,” explains Thompson.
In addition to trying out the devices used at the rodeo, the attendees could also discover products that would help them to comply with the new OSHA regulation, which goes into effect next April. For example, linemen will soon need to wear flame-retardant shirts and pants. For that reason, Carhartt displayed its collection of flame-retardant pants and new plaid flame-retardant shirts in its booth at the expo. Also, the vendors of fall-protection devices like Buckingham and Capital Safety were on hand to answer linemen’s questions and offer suggestions for fall-restraint devices that would help them to comply with the new regulations.
By browsing the new products on the show floor, linemen were able to discover ways to enhance their efficiency, meet new standards and drive down injuries in the field.
Traveling Back in Time
International Lineman’s Museum trailer displays vintage tools and equipment outside the expo.
A century ago, electric utility linemen performed nearly all their work by hand. Through old-fashioned hard work, they constructed some of the nation’s first power lines without the help of modern-day technology such as bucket trucks or battery-powered tools.
While many of the early linemen are no longer with us, their legacy lives on in the tools that they left behind, says Robert Padgett, a senior lineman trainer for Lakeland Electric.
“What I like about the old tools is that some man risked his life to make a living with them,” he says. “He dragged them out of his wagon and used them every day.”
To preserve the history of these tools, many collectors have donated items to the International Lineman’s Museum in Shelby, North Carolina. Because it’s difficult for some linemen and their families to travel to the East Coast, however, the museum is now bringing the vintage collection to the linemen. George Hayden, an avid collector in Indiana, shared his 40-year collection of artifacts by setting up a mobile museum. For a few years, the trailer is on loan and is on a nationwide tour.
In mid-October, Padgett and Murray Walker, two members of the board of directors for the museum, set up the trailer outside the Overland Park Convention Center during the International Lineman’s Expo. Over the course of two days, hundreds of linemen walked through the mobile museum. Padgett and Murray gave attendees an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at the priceless relics inside of the trailer. Here are some of the highlights of the collection.
Linemen Learn How to Stay Safe in the Field
Annual safety conference drives the point home that safety should always come first.
When linemen work out in the field, safety is at the top of their minds day in and day out. To help utilities to protect their field workforce, the International Lineman’s Rodeo Association (ILRA) and IBEW Local 47 presented a free safety conference before the Lineman’s Expo.
Mike Hayward, vice chairman of the advisory committee and board member of the ILRA, says the conference was extended from a three-hour session to a full one-and-a-half-day conference. In past years, the conference attracted about 150 attendees over the course of the two days, but this year, more than 210 linemen and field managers registered for the event, which was sponsored by IBEW Local 47.
“They really enjoy it, and it’s a good addition to the expo and the rodeo,” says Hayward, who works for Empire Electric. “It’s been very well received over the last eight years, and we let the linemen know it is all about them.”
Following each conference, the organizers hand out surveys to the attendees, and then they build the next year’s event based on the feedback from the linemen. This year, the safety conference featured a variety of sessions covering accident investigations, safety leadership and grounding practices. One session, however, brought tears to the linemen’s eyes. Linemen gave Highline Heroes Founder Tracy Moore a standing ovation when she shared her personal story about her lineman husband, who lost his life when he was only 31 years old, as well as her brother, who recovered in a burn center following a serious injury.
“The personal injury story hits home with the guys,” Hayward says. “They know their jobs can be dangerous, but it helps them get a grasp on what is out there.”
Families Are at the of Heart of Linemen’s Annual Rodeo
Families travel from coast to coast to Kansas City to stand behind their beloved linemen.
When severe storms hit, linemen’s families are often at home, waiting and worrying for their loved one’s safe return. Once a year, however, their children have the rare opportunity to ride in a bucket truck and watch their parents work in the field.
For example, the Williamson family has traveled to Kansas City for the expo and rodeo for the past four years.
“We’ve been to every rodeo since our youngest son has been born, and he’s like a veteran out here,” says Dustin Williamson, a lineman for Interen, a contractor for Ameren UE. “I like coming to these events because it’s a good thing to see and watch, and there is so much pride. It’s amazing to see the linemen work.”
His wife, Erica, who is expecting her third child, says she enjoys coming to the event because her three-year-old son, Nash, can see what his dad does for a living every day. Her husband has been working in the trade since they first got married, and sometimes, he can be out on storm duty for months at a time.
“With my youngest son getting older, he misses his dad when he is gone, and it is hard to explain to him why he is not at home,” she says. “I admire what he does, and I am very proud of him. Just knowing what he is doing when he is gone gets me through the day.”
When asked what his daddy does for a living, Nash said, “He fixes power” before giving his dad a big hug. In his family, line work runs in his blood. Dustin’s father and brothers are all linemen, and he says he is not sure whether or not he wants his own kids to follow in his footsteps.
“One day, one of my boys or my daughter might become a lineman,” he says. “While there is a lot of danger out there, it is becoming a safer trade. It is not for everyone, however. My dad always told me that a lineman’s pencil has no eraser, and it is a no-mistakes trade. It’s scary to think that your kid might do that someday.”
Other linemen’s children were also looking to continue their family’s tradition by pursuing future careers in the line trade. Wyatt Prawl, the nine-year old son of Lineman Jeremy Prawl of Westar Energy, says he likes to watch his dad work and climb poles. With his affinity for being outside and riding in bucket trucks, he could enter an apprenticeship one day.
Another nine-year-old, Tyler Torres, came to the event with his mom, Monique Rodriguez, and his father, Danny Torres, who is a lineman with Southern California Edison. Rodriguez says she is very proud of her husband.
“We are very fortunate for him to have the job that he does,” she says. “I know it is a dangerous job, and I worry every day that he is out there. He keeps us in mind, and that’s what keeps him safe.”
Linemen Swap Shirts to Show Pride for Trade
Annual Trade Night gives linemen the opportunity to network and trade for shirts designed by utilities across North America.
When restoring power following a storm, linemen often work alongside dozens of linemen from other utilities. As such, they often have friends from utilities throughout North America.
While they may not be able to see their peers day in and day out, the T-shirt Trade Night gives them the opportunity to see their friends and show their pride for their companies and the line trade.
Prior to the barbecue, tables were stretched from the top of the escalators to the registration area. When the doors opened for the event, hundreds of linemen and their families traveled up the escalators to lay out their shirts and participate in the trade.
The lineman’s T-shirts were splashed with company logos, hand-drawn illustrations and bright colors. No two were the same and each one told a story. While some utilities opted for a humorous approach with a lineman-related cartoon, others took a more serious tone by honoring fallen linemen.
In many cases, linemen wore their company T-shirts and then carried along a duffel bag of extra shirts to trade. Some shirts were so popular that linemen took them off their own backs to trade them with fellow linemen at the event.
Brian Rice, a journeyman for Local 769 in Arizona, says during the T-shirt swap, he obtained shirts from Colorado, Illinois and Montana. “It’s neat to have shirts from all over the country,” he said.
During the Friday night event, the Transmission & Distribution World team snapped photos of their favorite T-shirts and created a hyperlapse video of the event. Here are a select few of the shirts from the Trade Night. To see the full photo gallery, visit www.tdworld.com/electric-utility-operations.
Storm Soldiers Team Films Weather Warriors
Producers and directors announce a casting call for linemen’s families at the 2014 expo.
When disaster strikes, linemen are often the first responders on the scene, even before the firefighters, police officers or EMT crews. Up until last year’s movie “Storm Soldiers,” however, many Americans were not aware of the sacrifice that the linemen make every day to keep the power on.
While filming the award-winning documentary, the creative team, including Roxy Stone, Jim Stone and Scott Jacobs, noticed the role that linemen’s families play while their loved ones are out on storm duty. As such, the team decided to create another film called “Storm Soldiers II: Weather Warriors,” which will be presented by Hubbell Power Systems, Altec Inc. and Burndy Inc.
“We are excited to bring ‘Storm Soldiers II’ to the line community,” says Jim Stone, director for Tytan Creates. “We know linemen face a lot of difficult situations, and we captured some of their stories in ‘Storm Soldiers.’ This winter, we are going to go out into the ice storms with the linemen, and we’re also going to go out on the tornadoes with the crews. After the storms, we are going to focus not only on their crew family in the field, but also their families at home.”
Tytan Creates has already lined up several linemen’s families to participate in the production of the film, but the production company also took the opportunity to recruit more participants through an open casting call at the 2014 Lineman’s Expo.
“We are looking for families that want to join in this and be part of this important story that needs to be told,” Stone says.
Scott Jacobs, producer, says the goal of the new documentary is to get much more up close and personal. While the first movie highlighted the history of the line trade and the role linemen play in America, the sequel will focus in on the emotions that happen when a mother or father has to leave home and go into challenging conditions during a storm.
“We want to tell that story and we want it to be as real as possible,” Jacobs says. “This isn’t a Hollywood film, but it is a true documentary, and we want to bring the viewer closer into the lineman’s family.”
Stone says Hollywood producers couldn’t cast any actor that is more true than the linemen.
“The linemen are living in tractor trailers and away from their families for months at a time,” he says. “They don’t know when they are coming home, and they stay until the power comes back on. They are the most unselfish guys I have ever met, and they are the real deal. They are true American heroes.”
Editor’s note: To see a trailer for the new movie, visit the website at www.stormsoldiersmovie.com. If you are a lineman with children still living at home and are interested in becoming part of the movie, email Jim Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org.