Linemen's Wives Have Tales to Tell

Their husbands are often gone for long stretches of time, working at physically demanding, and sometimes dangerous, jobs. Yet these women agree that being a lineman's wife is the life for them.

Linemen are a Special Breed of Men. With potential danger at every turn, constant travel, physically demanding work and long hours, line work is not for everyone.

The women who choose to marry linemen are in a class by themselves, too. They tend to be strong and independent, because they often must run their homes and families alone when their husbands are on the road. They rely on family and the special bond of sisterhood that only other linemen's wives can offer.

Here's a look at some of the women who call linemen their husbands.

THE LINEMAN'S WIFE IS THE JOB FOR HER

When Robin Martin's husband, Mark, leaves for work each morning, Robin has a little ritual. Every morning, she tells him she loves him, to be careful and that she'll see him that night. These are not just idle words like those spoken by countless wives each morning. Mark is a line foreman for Pike Electric (Fredericksburg, Texas), and though he has been honored for his strong safety record, the dangers are inherent with the job.

“Being a lineman's wife, I do worry myself sick,” Robin said. “If I don't hear from him for awhile, I'll think something is up. I've learned that life is too short to argue about the little things because you just never know.

“We did have a good scare in Austin,” Robin said. “He was up in a bucket over Guadalupe, which is a busy road. Suddenly, his bucket began moving on its own, taking him up into the line and he couldn't stop it. A guy on the ground stopped the bucket using the hand controls on the truck. Mark flipped out of the bucket and hung by his safety harness. He ended up pretty sore. Thankfully, the guys on the ground thought quickly and moved fast.

“Mark admits it's dangerous work but says that staying safe on the job is all about performing well,” Robin said. “Also, the crews watch out for each other and they learn in each situation.”

Robin knew what she was getting into when she married Mark in October 2007. They dated for nearly 13 years, and so she had a taste of what it meant to be a lineman's wife long before they made it official.

“He's worked on some big storms, like Ike and Gustav, and has been gone for two and a half months straight,” Robin said. “I do get lonely when he is gone, but it is something you learn to live with. I've learned to stay busy. I own a restaurant and am in the process of opening a flower shop. I think I'd go crazy if I didn't have the restaurant.”

Robin says that after a particularly long work assignment, he will take a few days off to recover and then he is back at it again. “I think this work is in his blood,” Robin said. “The guys ask him why he is out in the field working on the lines since he is a foreman, but he calls himself a working foreman. He really likes being out there with the guys, working with his hands. He takes a lot of pride in what he does.”

The Weather Channel is Robin's favorite TV channel. She tracks the progress of storms, particularly when her husband is out in the field.

“The linemen's wives call each other when our husbands are gone on a job,” Robin said. “We've gotten to know each others' families through cookouts and going to listen to music together. I also see a lot of the families when they come into my diner. They are all good people.”

Given what she has experienced as a lineman's wife, would she marry him all over again? “Absolutely,” Robin said. “I jumped in feet first because I'm crazy about him.”

REPAIRING WHAT NATURE DESTROYED

“My husband loves to come in and repair what nature has destroyed,” said Paula Adkins. Sam, her husband, is the youngest of five brothers, all of whom were linemen. Sam is a lead safety technician with Kenny Construction Co. (Chicago, Illinois).

Working on the damaged infrastructure after a big storm is dangerous, Paula said, because much of it is old and needed to be replaced years before the storm hit.

When the storms roll through the U.S., Paula becomes the “weather wife.”

“I used to track the storms on paper before the Internet came along,” Paula said. “In fact, my weather-wife habits saved my husband's life. He and his crew were out in the woods of Indiana. I was watching a storm and told him he was going to get a tornado right where he was.”

Sure enough, the sky turned green, the winds picked up and the hail began to fall. Sam called her afterwards and told her that her warning enabled them to take cover right before the storm hit.

The Adkins family has boxes of cards made by the children in the communities where Sam has served. ”When the crews come into a town to restore power after a storm, there are usually a bunch of people lining the highway cheering as the trucks come in,” Paula said. “They have a big party and a send-off for the crews when the work is done.

“A friend of ours recently passed, and in his obituary it said that he enjoyed being a lineman because it is a 24-hour a day job from sea to sea,” Paula said. “That really does explain it.”

Sam has worked on every big storm, including hurricanes, tornados, floods and ice storms.

Paula said that though her husband is often gone, their kids really respect his work. “They think he is one pretty tough guy,” she said.

He has lived out of a suitcase since he was 19 years old. He travels around the country from job to job. Currently, he is working on the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL) project and home most every weekend, but it has not always been that way. Sam has been gone for long periods of time. The longest was the three months he worked in Alaska.

Sam is really devoted to his work, but surprisingly, he does not want his own son to become a lineman. “As the linemen age, they need new linemen, but it takes a special breed,” Paula said. “They are very physical, and most of the kids now are less physical and more into technology. Also, the linemen do the work for their families, but they are not so quick to want their own children to do it. It's like a policeman who doesn't want his own child to be a cop because it's so dangerous.”

Line work is not only dangerous, but in a traveling job, there is a greater risk of a vehicle accident. “Also, when the linemen work in big cities, they run the risk of being shot, like in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina,” Paula said. “That's sad, because the linemen are in their communities to make it better.”

Paula said that a good lineman's wife is called a “keeper.” The keepers are the women who are independent, who can take care of themselves, their homes and their kids when their husbands are far away. They aren't whiners. They just get the job done.

“You have to be as tough and proud as your guy is or it isn't going to work,” Paula said.

MARRYING THE VOICE ON THE RADIO

Lori Luensmann heard her future husband, Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative (Gonzales, Texas) lineman Ronnie Luensmann, speak over the radio a full year before she met him face to face. She worked as a dispatcher for the Texas co-op, and Ronnie was one of the linemen she regularly sent out.

“I asked the girls in one of the other offices what each of the linemen looked like since we rarely saw them,” Lori said. “One gal drew pictures of each of them and Ronnie had the most striking blue eyes.” Before long, we were finally able to put a face with a voice.

Eventually the two were married. Being married to a lineman has helped her to better understand utility operations.

“Over the radio, you hear the lineman talk about all the equipment, such as the transformer security lights, but you never really know what they are talking about,” Lori said. “Ronnie shows me all kinds of utility equipment and explains just about everything about it. Some I understand, some I don't.”

Lori said that her work as a dispatcher helped her to understand why a lineman's job can be so demanding. “It does get difficult when the kids come along and they wonder where their dad is,” Lori said. “Ronnie has never been gone for more than a week at a time, but it is still hard, even though we know he is helping people. One time, my little boy was sobbing on the phone to his dad when he was gone and asking, ‘When are you coming home, Daddy?’”

Since both Lori and Ronnie work for GVEC, their children have grown up with the company. “My daughter, who is five, asked me where she was going to work when she grew up,” Lori said. “She meant in which GVEC office would she work. My kids really don't know anything else.”

Lori said the biggest challenge for her is trying not to worry about her husband's safety, although she knows safety is number one at GVEC.

“We've had some really big ice storms and thuderstorms,” she said. “You sit and pray, ‘Please God, bring him home safe.’”

She acknowledges that Ronnie is not cut out to work behind a desk, though. “He had shoulder surgery two years ago and had to stay in the office to do paperwork,” Lori said. “He went nuts and missed the adrenaline rush of his job.”

He wants to become a licensed electrician and combine that with being a lineman. “I think that is what he was made to do,” Lori said. “I can't imagine him doing anything else.”

HUSBAND'S WORK PUTS WIFE IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Autumn Davis, wife of CenterPoint Energy (Houston, Texas) lineman Danny Teague, became something of a local celebrity in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike because of a confrontation at a grocery store.

“This man was wondering when the power would be turned on,” Autumn said. “I told him that my husband worked for CenterPoint, and he said, ‘I'll bet you have lights.’ This ticked me off because I had been without power for nine days, had been taking care of my two kids by myself and my husband had to be gone nearly the whole time. I let him have it and told him that though my husband works for the power company, we were suffering like everyone else.”

As a result of the encounter, Autumn wrote her husband a letter, telling him how much she appreciated what he did as a lineman. Danny gave the letter to the head lineman, who got choked up as he read it aloud to the other linemen. Soon, the letter ended up in the hands of the CenterPoint CEO. Autumn was interviewed by a local TV station, and her letter appeared in the local newspaper and on the T&D World Ike blog.

“Sometimes the public doesn't understand what linemen really do,” Autumn said. “They have a physically and mentally challenging job. They don't just drive around in a truck and flip switches all day. It's nice to talk with other women whose husbands and boyfriends do the same work.”

Autumn finds that companionship with the other linemen's wives, particularly at the annual lineman's rodeo in Texas where her husband competes. She hasn't watched her husband on the job so watching the lineman's rodeo helps her to understand all the tasks a lineman must do.

Danny, whose grandfather was also a lineman, usually works nights with the same crew. “They are a tight-knit bunch, a band of brothers really,” Autumn said.

Danny recently tore a ligament in his knee playing football with some buddies, so he has been on light day duty while he recovers. “He is really anxious to return to his crew,” she said. “He really likes to work with his hands and do something new every day, and he's a bit of a perfectionist.”

Autumn summarized both the joys and challenges of being a lineman's wife. “So many linemen's wives live day in and day out without their loved ones,” Autumn said. “My husband does not carry a weapon, pilot a ship or carry out government orders, but every day, he and his brothers risk their lives to ensure that we have the very basics of what we call life.”

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