Nelson Smith

Nelson Smith, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative

June 11, 2014
Born in Burgaw, North Carolina. He and his wife, Betsy, have four children and six grandchildren. His son Kevin is a lineman with AEP in Lynchburg, Virginia, and his nephew Vann Padgett is an apprentice lineman with Duke Energy in Florida. Enjoys boating at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia and spending time with the grandchildren. He also likes maintaining his jet ski, pontoon boat and lake toys for his grandkids. Describes himself as hyper, knowledgeable, cautious, optimistic and resourceful. His coworkers would describe him as patient, calm, helpful, knowledgeable and observant. His favorite boss was Wayne Tate, whom he worked for from 1984 to 1993. He admired his work ethic, his attention to safety, his knowledge of industry standards and his teaching abilities. His favorite “pole buddy” was Spooky Manspile. They worked together so long that they could communicate without words.

Early Years

When I returned home from my first year of college, I had some friends working in the power industry. I liked the idea of working outside in a service industry.

My first job was as a groundman for Four County Electric Cooperative in North Carolina in 1973. I’m now a line superintendent for Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in Gretna, Virginia.

Day in the Life

In my current position, I arrive at work at 6 a.m. I pick up my assignments for the day, hold a morning tailgate session and then go with my crew to the job site. Sometimes assignments change quickly because of emergencies or priority needs.

Right now, we are working on new construction work orders and reconductoring jobs as well as changing out dangerous poles. I enjoy doing the large reconductoring jobs; they are my favorite kind of project.

Challenges and Rewards

The biggest challenge to my job is keeping everyone safe under all weather conditions, especially when working extended hours. The biggest reward is seeing the lights come on after a storm and seeing everyone go home safely.

Safety Lesson

While working in the power industry, I learned firsthand the importance of safety. Back in 1986, I suffered an electrical contact injury. This incident prompted me to be much more aware of my surroundings as well as the importance of personal protective equipment.

Memorable Storm

My most memorable storm moments were when I was asked to take a young crew to Lake Charles, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina. It was amazing to watch those young kids adapt to totally new surroundings, adverse working conditions and total devastation. Many of them had never worked outside of Virginia before.

Another memorable storm moment was taking another group of young linemen to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Although out of their element, they performed admirably.

Recruiting New Linemen

One of the biggest challenges is recruiting young people who are willing and capable of learning line work. However, I am inspired by the enthusiasm that I see on the faces of the young apprentices and linemen coming up in the trade. I enjoy passing on what I have learned in my 40 years in the industry.

Rodeo Memories

While I’ve had many memorable moments during my time in the power industry, my experiences at the rodeo really stand out. I was honored and excited to compete in the senior’s division at the International Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas City in 2007 and 2008. I returned to Kansas City as a judge in 2012.

Life as a Lineman

Along with competing in the rodeo, I’ve also enjoyed my career in the power industry. Linemen have to make a lot of sacrifices to keep the lights on in all conditions, and at times, they have to miss important events like birthdays and holiday dinners. Despite this, I have thoroughly enjoyed my career, and I am very appreciative of my family support and the support of my cooperative team. I can’t think of any other career that I would have rather been associated with than line work.

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