Tdworld 12392 Img 6236 1 1

Trade Night Memories: Linemen Swap Shirts and Stories

March 6, 2018
The annual Trade Night gave linemen the opportunity to network the night before the International Lineman’s Rodeo.

The 2018 International Lineman's Rodeo Week is only seven months away. In the meantime, here's my look back at the 2017 Lineman's BBQ and Trade Night last October:

For many years, Transmission and Distribution World’s team covered the annual Trade Night, bringing our readers the stories behind the best T-shirt designs. Last year, however, our magazine actively participated in the event for the first time by trading “Lineman Life” T-shirts to celebrate the launch of our newest e-newsletter.

As I quickly discovered, being part of the action and observing on the sidelines are a world apart. While I’ve seen linemen trade the shirts off their own backs and bring duffel bags of shirts to the event, it was another thing entirely to see how the event unfolds with such a flurry of activity, camaraderie and fun.

Since I had an extra wristband to the event, I invited my eight-year-old daughter, Lily, to help select the shirts, announce the winner of the Milwaukee Tool/Electric Utility Operations giveaway and participate in the Trade Night. Standing between Steve Lach, our publisher, and Ashley Lutz, our marketing manager, Lily helped swap our blue and gray short-sleeved shirts. In return, the linemen gave her everything from a maple syrup lollipop, which she instantly enjoyed, to utility-branded ball caps, which she took home for her older brothers. One item she received, however, will remain in her treasure box forever—a special IBEW coin.

After we had given away all of our T&D World shirts, Lily and I joined a table of attendees for the Lineman’s BBQ. Shortly thereafter, a lineman wearing a cowboy hat sat down next to us. As Lily and I were talking with him, she proudly pulled out her IBEW coin and showed it to the lineman, who was from Salt River Project in Arizona. He then pulled another IBEW coin out of his own jean pocket, telling her that he kept it with him every day, but that he wanted her to have it.

“When you talk to your friends, tell them that you got this coin from a real-life lineman,” he said.

Tribute to the Line Trade
Not only commemorative coins, but also short-sleeved and long-sleeved shirts were traded at the annual event. As in years past, each design had its own theme and story, and some illustrations were even created by the linemen themselves. For example, Gerardo Soto, an apprentice for Oklahoma Gas & Electric designed his company’s short-sleeved black T-shirt, which featured special items from Oklahoma’s state flag—an Osage Nation buffalo-skin shield and seven eagle feathers.

On the back of the shirt, Soto gave the design his own twist with the silhouette of a lineman climbing against the backdrop of an American flag and the phrase, “Through Rain, Hail, Wind, Hurricanes & Tornadoes, Our Linemen Are There.” He also included a special tribute on the sleeve of the shirt to honor those who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.

“The sleeve is a big deal for me,” Soto says. “Linemen pass away, and I wanted to include them in the design. We all stand together.”

Not only OGE, but also other utilities, such as Ameren Illinois and Owen Electric Cooperative, included the names of their fallen brothers on the back of their Rodeo shirts.

In addition, the linemen focused their T-shirt designs on the hard work that linemen do day in and day out to keep the power on—even in the most severe weather conditions. For example, Flint Energies’ dark green and bright yellow shirts featured an illustration of one of the journeymen teams within the design. Underneath the black-and-white photo, which showed the back side of the linemen as they held hot sticks, it stated the phrase, “We Are the Storm.”

“While the storm may be bad, our linemen are even badder,” says John Martin, journeyman lineman for Flint Energies.

Southern California Edison also took a similar approach with its rodeo shirts with the message, “We Refuse to Be Outworked.”

Culture of Linemen

Not only storm-themed shirts, but also the culture of the linemen trade was included in the design. Case in point, the shirt from Empire Electric District, which was designed by Mike Hayward, featured a design likely to appeal to linemen across the country.

“It has everything that linemen like—the American flag, motorcycles and line work,” says Robert Vaness, journeyman lineman for Empire Electric District.

Also, the shirt for Hydro One featured diverse elements of line work, from distribution to transmission to helicopters, says Matthew Langlais.

Finally, Tyler Headrick of IBEW 753 wore a Union shirt bearing the “genuine lineman’s code” within a Budweiser-style design. The phrase read, “We stand together to protect our families, our rights, and the American dream.”

Honoring Heritage
Other shirts gave a shout out to the service territories covered by the competitors’ companies or locals. Because National Grid operates in more than one state, its rodeo shirts not only included lightning and line work illustrations, but also mentioned the states where the linemen work—New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Meanwhile, Eversource’s shirt included the names of the three states that it serves—Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, the shirts from Gainesville Regional Utility featured a bright orange alligator and the phrase, “Linemen Of the Swamp,” and the IBEW Local 2 shirt from St. Louis pictured the legendary St. Louis Arch and St. Louis Cardinals logo.

IBEW Local 104 out of Boston went a step further by including an illustration that represented its heritage.

“Our Boston local has a traditionally Irish representation on all of our shirts,” says Brian Lovell, journeyman lineman for IBEW Local 104. “This year, we have a red pot of gold and the words, ‘I Want Me Bucket of Gold.’”

Lovell says he also enjoys the event, and has looked forward to it for the last three years.

“I love it,” he says. “It’s fun to show off our skills and get a lot of shirts.”

Amy Fischbach ([email protected]) is the Field Editor for the Electric Utility Operations section of Transmission and Distribution World magazine.

Editor’s Note: To see a photo gallery of the Trade Night, visit

Voice your opinion!

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