My father was a painting contractor and encouraged me to find a job with good benefits. Since he was self-employed and knew the challenges of working on his own, he wanted me to be able to get insurance coverage and paid time off.
Wheatland Electric Cooperative, a rural electric coop in western Kansas, had an job opening for a truck operator in 1974. I applied and was hired to drive, operate and care for a digger derrick truck. Later that year, a foreman asked me if I wanted to learn how to climb with hooks and become a lineman.
I asked him if I would make more money, and he said yes, so I began my apprenticeship. After I topped out as a journeyman and acquired my journeyman level in metering and in substation technology, I worked as a serviceman and troubleman for the REA. I enjoyed solving problems to restore power.
Day in the Life
I am now a professor of electrical technology at Dodge City Community College Tech Center. I teach young men electrical fundamentals, electrical safety, how to climb poles with fall arrest safeties, how to work on the pole and how to become apprentice linemen.
The college has an outreach program via a partnership with Westar Energy Inc. in Topeka that introduces young men in the area to the line occupation. After completing the two-year program, the students will earn an associate’s degree in applied science in electrical power technician training. Starting in the fall, a partnership with Westar Energy and Flint Hills Technical Center in Emporia will enable us to offer classes in three Kansas locations: Dodge City, Topeka and Emporia.
The industry is going to lose a large number of experienced linemen in the next few years, and I would like to prepare many apprentices to help learn to fill some of those openings.
Not long after I went to work for the REA, my foreman told me about an accident that occurred a couple years prior. A crew was replacing a three-phase in-line pole (C-1). The phases were untied and tied out away from the pole with link sticks and ropes. The field and center phase were pulled out to the field side of the pole and anchored to metal stakes in the field. Now, depending on how long the spans were, these phases sometimes got pretty close to the ground and weren’t supposed to be worked this way. After the phases were secured, the pole was changed out and the new pole was being plumbed. The crew foreman started walking backward out into the field area so he could plumb the new pole. He walked backward into one of the phases that was anchored out and died instantly. I quickly learned that safety was important, and if a bad situation was not remedied and controlled, it could became a dangerous situation.
On May 1, 1988, a blizzard moved into western Kansas. I was working as a line foreman in Leoti. The snow started late afternoon with winds up to 50 mph, and the “horizontal snow” made visibility difficult by sundown.
We got a call that customers were out of power, so we drove a pickup truck out to patrol the feeder that was out. A few miles down the line, we found a broken insulator on the field phase. I put on my tools and grabbed a hot stick, ground chain and an insulator. While I was retying the phase wire, I glanced down to where I had parked my pickup. All I could see was the headlight beams. I finished my tie, dropped down and took the ground chain off, dropped the stick and chain to my apprentice on the ground, and got down off that pole.
Life as a Lineman and Instructor
I feel like a blessed man to have been able to be an electric lineman. Today, I feel very fortunate to be able to explain to young men how that profession can benefit them, too.