Every year, linemen and their families have had a tradition that they look forward to year-round — Trade Night. With duffel bags and backpacks slung over their shoulders, they line up outside the convention center. Then when they get the green light, they flood the escalators and start swapping shirts. While some linemen display their shirts at tables outside the exhibit halls, others trade the shirts off their own backs.
Gunner Hubbard, a line working foreman for Salt River Project, says Tom Jeffers, a section supervisor, designed his company’s shirt for 2016. The long-sleeved black shirt featured the phrase, “Ride the Lightning” with a storm scene, the Colorado River and silhouettes of linemen hard at work on a pole and in a bucket truck.
Hubbard says he enjoys seeing all the different T-shirts from the companies that participate in Trade Night.
“It’s always nice to meet good people and good families, and hear how things are going in different parts of the industry,” he says. “The line trade is a small world, and everyone knows someone you know.”
At the Trade Night, linemen exchanged hundreds of shirts featuring different colors and designs. Many of the shirts included artwork specific to the cities or regions where the linemen work. For example, the Duquesne Light IBEW Local 29 shirts showed a lineman climbing a pole in the forefront with the city skyline of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the background.
Others took a humorous approach by honoring local legends. For example, Clark Public Utilities in Vancouver, Washington, designed a shirt with the phrase, “The Man, the Myth, the Legend” with a drawing of Sasquatch. The shirt also paid tribute to the 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens.
Other shirts had a special story behind them. For example, the symbols on the shirts from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority in Arizona represented their religious beliefs. The arrowheads, corn, tribal seal, sacred eagle and ceremonial basket all have special significance, and as such, they became part of the overall design.
Life as a Lineman
Throughout the convention center, linemen were trading shirts that showed pride for the line trade. For example, Greg Stuckert wore a shirt with an American flag and the phrase, “American by Birth, Lineman by Choice.”
Meanwhile, the linemen from Local 160 traded shirts featuring a flaming skull with a hard hat. “This design shows that it takes a special breed of person to become a lineman,” says David Borner of Local 160 in Minnesota.
Along the same lines, Ivan Gamboa wore a shirt with a caricature of a baby and the words, “No Crybaby Linemen.” Others paid tribute to the old days, when they didn’t have to wear full fall protection and could instead free climb. For example, Grant County PUD in Washington State had a shirt with the phrase, “All Good Things Come to an End” with the brown skid being taken away because they just started using full fall protection.
Hubbard says over the years, he has collected many long-sleeved shirts from the Trade Night. Every weekend, he looks forward to wearing them to keep out of the sun.
“The linemen put so much effort into coming up with neat shirts to catch our eye, and it’s fun to trade,” Hubbard says.