Tdworld 731 Octobereuolifelinehopper

Steve Hopper

Oct. 1, 2012
Prairie Power
  • Born in Macomb, Illinois.

  • Has two daughters, Lynde Nicole and Samantha Jo.

  • Describes himself as easy going but safety-minded.

  • Enjoys playing pool and throwing darts.

  • Can't live without the battery-powered impact tool.

  • His favorite project was working construction on a river crossing in east St. Louis, Missouri, in the early 1980s. During this project, the crew he was on installed a 167-ft, 345-kV, three-way deadend tower. The next tower over the river was 270 ft.

Early Years

Back in 1978 after the ice storm in Illinois, my brother got a job as a groundsman truck driver, and I was working as an assistant manager at a Musicland store. He was making twice as much money, so I decided to get into line work, as well. I started the apprenticeship program a year later.

When I first started in the utility industry, I remember working on a distribution line in a remote region of Middletown, Illinois. At that time, I was a groundsman truck driver and had to help set poles for Central States, a contractor for Menard Electric Cooperative.

As an apprentice for Local 51, I worked for L.E. Myers, M.G. Gilbert, Miller Construction, Hodack Construction, Menard Electric and Ruff Electric. After I topped out as a journeyman, I went back to Menard Electric and worked on checking wire sizes and phasing, and obtaining all of the transformer information for a new computer program to balance load.

Day in the Life

As a foreman over lineman/substation operations for Prairie Power in Jacksonville, Illinois, I don't have a typical day. Sometimes, I don't know what I am doing from one day to the next. My day usually starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m., during which time I'm always on the job site. I work with four crew members: two journeymen and two apprentices.

Right now, we are focusing on substation work. For example, we are currently upgrading our north loop to 69 kV and dismantling the 34.5-kV substation. As soon as we get a new line installed, we'll put in another substation at the end. We'll have some 34.5-kV lateral feeds from Ameren, but our integrated system is now 69 kV.

Industry Challenge

I think right now, transmission is the No. 1 problem. There are a lot of power generation projects out there, but there are limited resources to get the power from one place to another.

Safety Lesson

When you do something day in and day out and everything becomes routine, you don't always watch yourself carefully. While I've never witnessed a fatality, I've been with someone who got burned, and I've had a few near misses. It really brings home the fact that you have to pay attention all the time.

For example, one time I was testing oil in a substation service transformer all day. It was hot, I was sweaty, and I was working on the last one of the day. As I was opening the cutout door that powered the transformer, I wasn't paying attention, and the door I opened was part of a SCADA system or remote meter reading. The coop had removed our cutout and put in their cutout. I went up to get the oil sample and I got shocked. The electricity went through my fingers and down to the palm of my hand. There was no serious damage because it wasn't full voltage. The wire was insulated, but I realized what I did as soon as it happened.

Another time, I was working on a stringing trailer getting the wire attached to the pulling rope and the brake was not properly set. I had put a blanket on the ground, and as I attempted to set the brake, the wire made contact. I felt the current go through me. I was lucky that there was no path to ground.

Memorable Storm

I remember putting up a three-phase line and getting power back on to 300 to 400 customers. It was just a wonderful feeling to help people after a tornado hit near Spoon River Cooperative's service territory. Everything was dark, and we could see the lights come back on for everyone.

Plans for the Future

It has taken me 24 years to become a foreman. Our company is so small that the ability to rise up in the ranks is limited. I'm only four years from our retirement age of 62, but I may stay on a few years longer for the health insurance.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!