My father got me started in the industry. He worked as a lineman for awhile, but he had to leave the industry to take a higher-paying job. He always said it was one of the better jobs he had. He liked working out of hooks and enjoyed the excitement of storm jobs. I remember when a big thunderstorm or tornado would come through, off he would go to help.
My first job was working for Southwestern Public Service Co. in Amarillo, Texas. I started out with other new linemen and apprentices to ground poles and perform ground work. We also practiced climbing during our breaks for about a month. Within a year, we began stringing wire.
Day in the Life
Today I’m a journey line technician on the transmission line crew in North Platte, Nebraska. I work with a seasoned crew who shares the workload, and we all get along well. My day starts at 6:30 a.m. and usually ends at 5 p.m. Most of the time, our crew works four 10-hour days.
As a transmission lineman, I never have a typical work day. One day I’m cutting trees, and the next day, I’m bonding on to 345 kV doing live-line barehand work. That’s what makes this job challenging and fun.
Challenges and Rewards
Some of the bigger challenges of line work is that you have to know how to do so many different kinds of jobs, from storm work to installing mobile transformers. But knowing that the bosses and the crew have your back makes life a lot better.
Some of the best jobs involve live-line work, in which we use fiberglass sticks or bond on to the energized conductor. We get on-the-job training to do this type of work because there are so many different scenarios we have to deal with in the field.
I’ll never forget the massive ice storm of 2007. We worked for three months with very few days off. It seemed like the whole system was on the ground; even the fences were flattened. Everything had 2 inches of ice on it for the first half of the job, then the thaw came, and the fields had 2 ft of mud. I learned and saw more things on that job than I’ll see in a hundred storm jobs.
Another memorable safety moment happened when our crew drove into a huge dust storm on the way home from work. We slowed down, but the visibility was zero, and our driver almost rammed into a semi that was lying across the interstate and was on fire. We tried to pull over to the ditch, but because of a culvert, we had to pull back on the interstate. We stopped and tried to warn others, but several cars slammed into the wreck before the police and emergency crews arrived to control the scene.
Making the System More Robust
We’ve done a lot of tree removal the last couple of years. Doing a yearly precision patrol and having a well-planned maintenance schedule does a lot to keep wire in the air. NPPD patrols the system every spring, and the utility identifies and schedules work for the entire year from this patrol. The company also performs a fly-by operation again in the fall to check for major problems before winter hits.
Tools and Technology
A belt and hooks are the most important tools I have, but having a bobcat on the job sure saves a lot of back work. NPPD is also doing a lot of helicopter patrols, which gives us more time to do maintenance on the system.
Life as a Lineman
I like being outside, and it seems like every day is different. My crew covers 1,323 miles of transmission line, so we stay out of town quite a bit. It is hard to be away from family, but I work with eight guys every day who like to work hard and have fun on the job. That makes the hard days a lot easier to handle.
There are a hundred different jobs that have to do with the industry, but being a transmission lineman is what fits me the best.