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Tales from Line Legends

Aug. 29, 2018
Veteran linemen share their stories about life in the line trade, working storms and making sacrifices to keep the power on.

After spending decades in the line trade, veteran linemen have worked countless storms, restored power for thousands of customers and made memories that will last a lifetime. Here are the stories of five journeymen linemen who have made a difference in the line trade — whether by educating the next generation of linemen or helping to power America — through hard work, dedication and courage.

Billy Smith: Fearless Hall of Famer

Billy Smith, a 40-year line veteran, was working in a furniture factory “eating sawdust,” as he puts it, and earning low wages when his brother alerted him to a job opportunity with Southern California Edison (SCE).

Smith left North Carolina and traveled to California, where he earned a dollar more per hour than his father, who supervised about 20 workers at the furniture factory where his son used to work. Straight out of high school, Smith started out as a groundman for SCE making $2.63 an hour. After eight months, he got an apprentice bid in Santa Monica, California. He then served as an apprentice for three-and-a-half years before topping out as a journeyman lineman.

Eventually, Smith became a service crew foreman in 1970. He was responsible for troubleshooting and isolating hot spots. During this time, he worked in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. “I met a lot of great people and enjoyed the job, but it’s not for everyone,” Smith said. “I loved doing line work.”

For example, he met an actor named Royal Dano, who acted in many Westerns and played the part of Abe Lincoln in a television series. While Smith and his crew were working at Dano’s house in Santa Monica, the actor and his wife invited the linemen inside their home and offered them a Coca-Cola. “He was so nice and down-to-earth, and he told us some stories about working in the movies,” Smith noted.

“I just never forgot how nice and personable he was.”

After working as a service crew foreman, Smith moved around to different districts all over Southern California until he retired from SCE after 32 years of service. He still works for contractors today. While he enjoys his job, it can be quite hazardous. As such, he has lost several friends and coworkers over the years.

To raise awareness about the need to work safely, he recently shared his experiences and knowledge with a class of linemen during a graduating ceremony in Beckley, West Virginia. “I told them that you can’t go to work if you are upset and your mind is not on your work, and you can’t do it if you are not there mentally and physically,” Smith advised

He remembers one time, when responding to a fire in the California foothills, he talked to the highway patrol and sheriff’s department about their jobs and how they were like line work. “We agreed that it’s good, easy money, but you have moments of sheer panic,” he recalled. “One thing about linemen is they are some of the most underappreciated people in the workforce today. Many people envision the firefighters, ambulances and law enforcement as the only first responders to accidents. However, linemen are always immediately needed on the scene when the accident involves power lines.

“People are quick to give law enforcement and fire agencies the praise, but few even know what the linemen do in these cases,” Smith continued. “And even though the public isn’t always aware of our role, the other first responders greatly appreciate what we do on these scenes. I remember one time when we had to de-energize a service after a structural fire, and the wire got hot, shorted out and created a big ball of fire. The police and fire department said, ‘You are crazy. I wouldn’t have that job.’

“In the event of a fire or a car accident, police officers and firefighters get everyone out of the car or the home,” Smith added. “Meanwhile, the linemen are the ones in the background getting all the downed wires and damaged poles back up.”

During his career, Smith has seen more than his share of fatalities and car wrecks. For example, one day, he pulled over on the side of the road to do some paperwork. He heard a knock on his car window, and a child asked him, “Are you looking for the pole where my brother fell off?” The day before, a young man had climbed up a power pole to get his brother’s kite down. He made third-party contact with 12,000 V, fell off the pole and died. “It was totally unrelated to what I was doing,” Smith said. “No one called us out, and I didn’t know anything about it until the next day.”

Smith also has seen many drivers get injured or killed when they did not keep their eyes on the road. “It’s a dirty old shame that people don’t just look up and live,” he said.

Not only distracted drivers but also drunk drivers can cause fatalities. “One time, a pole was completely wiped out and a body was lying in the back of the car,” Smith recalled. “The driver just jumped out and ran and left his car there. I’ve also seen a lot of drunk drivers hit the pole and start running. As soon as they get home, they call the police and report their car stolen. The cops then go to their house and interview the owner, and — when they see all of their bruises, cuts and scrapes — they take them down and book them.”

Along with restoring power after car wrecks, Smith also has worked many storms during his career. Since he works in California, he has worked in rainstorms with lightning, earthquakes and snowstorms, but never tornadoes. However, he has worked in high winds.

For example, one time, he was in Palm Springs during a high wind event. He had to go up in the bucket to secure a crossarm that came loose. “I had this fifth-step apprentice with me, and the wind was blowing so hard that I had to sync with the pole and the boom moving,” Smith recalled. “We finally got the bolt back in and came back down, and the foreman asked the apprentice, ‘Why didn’t you help him?’ The apprentice answered, ‘Because I was scared.’ You had times when you were tested as far as your faith.”

On this same storm, Smith said the wind was so fierce it had sandblasted the paint right off cars. In the riverbed, where most of the damage occurred, he had to make repairs. By far, it was the worst storm Smith had ever been in. It was so bad that, as linemen returned the Edison vehicles to the service yard after working in the storm, they were met by a company hired to replace the pitted and damaged windshields and windows.

However, it was another incident that nearly took Smith’s life. The crew was restoring power following the Topanga Canyon fire. While the crew was winching a pole down the hill, Smith and another lineman were on the downhill side of the pole, guiding it as they walked with it down the hill. As they guided the pole, the rope came loose at the top and quickly got slack. Smith and his partner immediately lost their footing and rolled downhill. Partway down, Smith came to a stop and looked back up the hill. No more than 6 feet away, the pole butt was coming right at his head. Smith ducked just in time, causing the pole to slide right over him from head to heel.

When the ashes settled, he met the crew at the bottom of the hill, having walked down with a busted and bleeding head. “It was by the grace of God that I am still here,” Smith said. “The pole was coming right at me, and yet it slid over the back of my head. God was the only thing that saved me. The good Lord was protecting me. I still see the butt of that pole today.”

At the recent graduation, Smith also told the students at the line school that when doing line work, it is important not to get into a hurry. “You will make mistakes, but you must take your time and think everything through. You have to. You are dependent upon your pole buddy, and your pole buddy is dependent upon you. Your head has to be clear.”

For example, Smith recalls when he first made fifth-step apprentice lineman in Santa Monica. He started working the high voltages, and he and his pole buddy were taking bypass jumpers off a 16-kV line with hot sticks. Fortunately, he remembered the practice of double-checking to ensure both linemen were on the same jumper when removing it. His end was in the clear, and as he was chasing the jumper out, he realized his pole partner was not on the same phase.

Watching his partner reach for the bypass jumper to remove it from the hot stick, Smith screamed, “Don’t touch it!” His partner froze. Smith yelled, “It’s not the same phase. It’s still hot!”
“He turned three shades of red and white, and said, ‘If you weren’t so damn ugly, I would kiss you,’” Smith recalled. “Had he grabbed the bypass jumper to remove it, it would have likely killed him. Those are the safe work ethics that I was taught as an apprentice, and they have stayed with me.”

Smith started out as an apprentice in 1963 and retired in 1996. Over this time, he saw unbelievable changes in technology. “Back then, when I was a service crew foreman and we had a circuit out, in order to isolate the problem and switch it out, the switching center would have to send an operator from the center to the outlying substations,” Smith noted. “Now, it is almost all done by remote.”

In addition, the fault indicators now can indicate which direction a fault is in by putting them on the different tap lines. “It’s amazing,” Smith said. “The technology with all the modern equipment can tell you what section of a circuit is down. This makes the outage time a lot better as far as the customers are concerned. Some people get super upset if their power goes out. They scream like hell if it’s not back on in an hour.”

While most customers are very appreciative of linemen when they restore power, not all homeowners have a friendly attitude, Smith observed. For example, Smith has had customers curse at him because their power was out. “I didn’t put up with verbal abuse and irrational, angry customers,” he explained. “I would tell them that I don’t get paid enough money to listen to it. Some people would be complete jerks when we first arrived, but if we would tell them we were leaving, they started acting halfway decent. They came off their high horses pretty quickly.”

Smith has heard stories about foremen and linemen who have endured verbal abuse. Customer would get riled up especially when their power was turned off for nonpayment. In those cases, the foreman would ask for backup from law enforcement. “One time, a customer threatened to shoot the crew because they were working and making noise,” he recalled. “Whenever we called law enforcement for assistance, they always responded quickly, and they always backed us up.

Today, Smith still works in the line trade by inspecting the trenches and conduit to check that everything is the right depth and in proper positioning for cell tower installation. He ensures the work meets SCE’s standards, takes photos of the meter panel and inspection tag, and then prepares a final report. Unlike when he worked as a full-time lineman, Smith now can work out of his house. The contractor provides him with anything he needs from a computer and printer to a truck filled with gas. Smith said he thanks God every day he is still here on this earth and can still work in the industry.

Reminiscing over the personal cost of working in this field, Smith said linemen miss many events and holidays. “People don’t realize what linemen sacrifice,” he said. “My daughter told me she didn’t want her husband to work as a lineman. She remembered all the Christmases I missed when I was out working on storms or had the duty and had to work on holidays. You are away from home a lot, and if I was not
gone, I was sleeping because I worked so many hours.”

Even so, Smith wants to bring as much awareness and recognition as possible to the line trade. Over the years, he has known linemen who have contacted high voltage and survived. For example, high-voltage electricity went right through one of his friends, Johnny, and he is still suffering some side effects today. Another friend, Jerry, contacted a high-voltage line, which stopped his heart, and then he fell on a 4-kV line, which started his heart back up again. A third friend, however, could have avoided a life-threatening accident completely if homeowners had simply brought their barking dogs back inside their house.

“It was raining, and they had a circuit out,” Smith recalled. “Paul and the other foremen were leapfrogging from transformer to transformer to try to isolate the problem. The house had transformers in the backyard and underground wiring with the pad mount. These people had dogs and birds on the patio, which was surrounded with bamboo. They wouldn’t bring their dogs in, which caused Paul, who was switching the pad mount, to constantly have to be on his guard, looking over his shoulder, to make sure the angry, barking dogs weren’t going to attack him. They didn’t give a s--t about the lineman out in the rain. He slipped and fell into the transformer, and his hand contacted 12 kV and he lost a finger.”

Because of all the dangers linemen face in the field and the hard work they do daily, Smith has tried to bring recognition to linemen and the trade. He has donated many artifacts and helped to raise money for the International Lineman’s Museum. In his work with the museum and in his personal life, he continues to be a strong advocate for linemen. As such, he was inducted into the International Lineman’s Hall of Fame in 2010. “It put the cap on my whole career,” Smith said. “It was like getting your master’s degree. It was an honor and a pleasure.”

Joe Torres: A 50-Year Lineman

Joe Torres, who has worked for San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E) for 50 years, was destined to become a lineman. As a city boy who grew up in Detroit, Michigan, he joined the Marine Corps following high school. After his discharge, he was hired as a bartender in Laguna Beach, California, where he met a representative for the Pacific Telephone Co. “Some guy came up to me and asked me if I wanted a job as a lineman, and he sent me to climbing school,” Torres recalled.

Soon he was hired by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) as a laborer for his climbing experience. In 1970, he entered the apprenticeship program and, after working in transmission for four years, went over to the distribution side. “Because I had been in the military and had already done line work for the telephone company, I was able to move up and start running crews whenever someone was out on vacation,” Torres said. “I had the chance to learn a lot about transmission and distribution at that time.”

During his career, he also had the opportunity to work as a line school instructor and a troubleshooter. From the beginning, Torres has enjoyed the trade. “I felt like I was where I should be,” he explained. “I loved the work and everything that went along with it. I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Next, Torres was promoted to foreman, a position he held for 20 years. Then, in 1999, he moved into the role of construction superintendent, which he held for 15 years, and then became a construction manager. Today, he works as a field safety advisor and visits crews in the field to ensure they are following the proper safety practices.

Since he first started in the line trade, Torres has witnessed many changes, from the introduction of bucket trucks to rubber-gloving and barehanding work practices. For example, Torres cited how linemen today do not climb as much as in the past nor do they use hot sticks, which used to be an integral part of working with high-voltage wires. “Being in the trade as long as I have, I don’t see that as a positive,” he said. “What we think would make us safer might actually work against us. We still need to understand that we are working with high voltage, and we must follow the safety considerations.”

In addition to driving home the importance of safety to field crews, Torres is involved heavily in planning the local lineman’s rodeo. After a five-year hiatus from holding its own rodeos, SDG&E hosted a rodeo in Alpine, California, last year with the help of Torres. The event was thoroughly enjoyed by local and visiting teams, noted Monica Curry, SDG&E’s construction manager. “Joe is passionate about the trade and rodeos,” Curry said. “If it hadn’t been for him, we would not have had a local rodeo or been able to send apprentices and journeymen to the International Lineman’s Rodeo last year.”

Torres has not only organized rodeos but also competed at both the local and international levels. He competed in his first International Lineman’s Rodeo in 1992. He remembers rain and lightning forced the linemen to come off the poles more than once during that year’s competition at the amusement park grounds. SDG&E sent 14 apprentices and journeymen linemen to compete, and every person walked up on stage to receive a trophy.

In addition, Torres has met many new acquaintances and got to know linemen from across the U.S., Ireland and England. “We were there to not only compete but also to interact,” he recalled. “Linemen always talk about what they do and how great they are, and we traded stories back and forth. As first responders, we do dangerous and important work, and we are all proud of that.”

Since that first rodeo, Torres has participated in 11 more competitions and, for about 10 of those years, he has had the same pole partner, Pat Flores. In 2013, Torres, Flores and a third team member placed 17th in the senior division. Over the years, Torres has taken home more than a few T-shirts from the trade night, so his wife made a blanket out of all of them. Whenever he makes a presentation about the rodeo, he brings along the blanket as well as a scrapbook of photos. These mementos generate interest in the rodeo from the young apprentices, he noted. “I let them know I’ve been in the trade for 50 years, and I enjoy it,” he said. “Over time, I’ve been able to work with the grandkids of some of the kids that I’ve worked with.”

Some of Torres’ own family members are following in his footsteps. He has two sons serving in the military and one son in the line trade. “My son works for a contractor and, whenever he comes over, he talks about how he builds electric lines and does dangerous work,” Torres said. “I also have a grandson who is learning to climb and wants to work for SDG&E. We are a line family.”

As such, stories about storm work come up often. Torres remembers restoring power following a vicious lightning storm in San Diego. At 2 a.m., it was quiet and dark, and he was putting up wires and transformers. Suddenly, the lights came on. “There were claps and cheers from all the windows, and there were people in there watching us,” Torres recalled. “To hear this appreciation and thank you for restoring power made us feel gracious about what we were doing for others.”

Torres also has been called out several times to restore power after brush fires. The residents see him and other linemen working in the harsh conditions. “They put up signs that say, ‘Thank you to the linemen and thank you to the power company,’” Torres noted. “It makes me realize that what we’re doing is making a difference for others.”

Robert Padgett: Lineman Trainer

Robert Padgett, who recently celebrated 30 years in the line trade, started out his career as a welder and fabricator. While he loved his job, he wanted to work for higher wages and a better life. “A supervisor with the local power company saw that I was working my tail off for minimal money, and he said, ‘How would you like to make $20,000 your first year?’” recalled Padgett, who now works as a senior lineman trainer for Lakeland Electric in Florida. “The year before, I had only made $14,000. Not that I was only seeing dollar signs, but he told me I was smart enough to do something better.”

Today, Padgett feels indebted to the man who hired him and gave him the opportunity to break into line work. In the beginning, Padgett did not understand the scope of the job, but, as time went on, he became more and more interested in working as a lineman. “I thought, ‘Man, this is cool stuff building and maintaining these power lines,’” noted Padgett, who was born in the former sugar capital of the world, Clewiston, Florida.

Padgett has worked on power lines not only in his home state but also other states following several hurricanes. Hurricane Andrew hit Florida when he was an apprentice, and he was deployed to help restore power. “When they told me to climb or set a pole, I did it,” he said. “I knew I was putting lights back on for customers, but there wasn’t a lot left there because of structural damage to the homes.”
Two decades later, he traveled to Long Island, New York, with 20 other linemen to provide mutual aid following Superstorm Sandy. “It was a long trip coming all the way from Florida, but they treated us well,” Padgett recalled.

He also has served on mutual-aid crews for local power utilities hit by severe storms. Oftentimes, Lakeland Electric provides assistance and then a year or two later it requests aid. “We have an awesome mutual-aid alliance, and down here like we are, it’s tough to get help when a storm hits.”

During his career in the line trade, Padgett has tried to help restore power following storms and made it his personal goal to learn as much as he can about line work. He also has shared his knowledge with fellow apprentices and journeymen linemen. “I have trained well over 100 apprentices, and they have all done well in the industry,” Padgett said. “If they leave to go to another company, they come back and make a point to tell me that they have been well trained. That is a good thing.”

Padgett believes today’s training programs are much more rigorous and time intensive than in years past. Case in point: His Uncle Wally was a Marine who served in World War II. When he got out of the Marine Corps, he was stationed in Florida near Jacksonville, and he built some of the very first power lines through swamps in Florida and Georgia. When Padgett told him he also was working in the line trade, his uncle could not believe how long the apprenticeship program lasted.

“He died a month before I made lineman, and he always called me a grunt,” Padgett said. “When I went to his funeral, some of the guys said, ‘You still haven’t made lineman?’ It was funny because it was different than in the 1940s when you could work for six months, then climb a pole, and then they would make you a lineman. Fifty years later, it’s a four-year program.”

Padgett not only enjoys working with up-and-coming linemen but also preserving the history of the line trade. He has collected tools, materials and artifacts from more than a century of line work. “My house is nothing but line work,” Padgett said. “I have a great wife who lets me collect these antiques, and I get them to show the guys how good we have it now.”

As a member of the board of directors with the International Lineman’s Hall of Fame, Padgett has donated some of his treasures to the International Lineman’s Museum in Shelby, North Carolina. He also helped to set all the poles at the museum, and he has educated attendees of the International Lineman’s Expo about the history of the line trade by walking them through the museum trailer.

For his hard work not only with the museum but also in the line trade, Padgett was inducted into the International Lineman’s Hall of Fame in 2017. At the age of 54, he felt like he was too young to be inducted and had not done enough up to that point during his career to warrant the honor. He thought his wife had nominated him but soon discovered another Hall of Famer, Michael Glueckert, made the nomination.
At that point, Padgett felt proud to be part of such a notable group of linemen, many of whom have passed away already. “So many linemen who are inducted are already deceased,” he said. “While their family members are there, they don’t get to enjoy it, and they have to look down from heaven to see the ceremony. I felt very humbled by it.”

Glueckert nominated Padgett because he knows what Padgett has done for the trade. “I know he feels like he is too young, but the timing is right, and it’s the right thing to do,” Glueckert said. “I’m glad he is in the hall. He deserves it.”

So far, Padgett has competed in several lineman’s rodeos. With his wife and two daughters at his side, his family has traveled to Texas, California, Indiana and North Carolina for competitions. “They thought it was cool to travel the country and see what I do for a living,” he said.

He began competing in 1999 and then went to the worldwide competition in Bonner Springs, Kansas, in 2001. That same year, he started the Florida Lineman Competition in Lakeland. The next year, the event attracted not only teams from across the state of Florida but also from Wisconsin, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Colorado, Georgia and the Air Force. “We have the coolest events,” he said. “I put a lot of my time and sweat into it to make it that way.”

Padgett also enjoys going to the International Lineman’s Rodeo. The first time he went, he said he had no clue what was going on. Over time, he has met many linemen who he now talks to regularly. “You compete with the best of the best, and I learn something new every time I go to the rodeo and expo,” he said. “Those pole-climbing linemen are where it’s at. They’re not afraid to be there nor to climb poles at the rodeo.”

While Padgett is only 55 years old, he plans to retire at the end of the year. As long as he is physically able, he plans to do some things he has not been able to do yet. “I want to go do some line-work-related stuff, retire and take a vacation,” he noted. “I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface in my career.”

Bob Stewart: Climbing into His Eighties

Back in 1952, Bob Stewart started his career in the line trade for Pole Line Constructors in Butte, Montana. Decades later, he still climbs poles at the Montana Lineman’s Rodeo, even at the age of 82. “He gets a round of applause when he climbs a pole to hang the lanterns for fallen linemen at the Montana rodeo,” said Stewart’s wife, Ginger, who has been married to Bob for 60 years.

The son of a lineman, Stewart followed in his father’s footsteps. Other members of his family also work as linemen, including his brother-in-law, two nephews and youngest son. He said it has been a good trade, and he enjoyed working as a lineman. “I worked with wonderful people, and everyone helped each other out and learned from one another,” Stewart recalled. “It was a challenging job but were able to see the country. A lot of people aren’t lucky enough to do that.”

During his career, Stewart worked many storms, including Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey. A 1980 ice storm in Montana, however, brings back some colorful memories for him. To withstand the frigid weather conditions, Stewart wore many layers of clothing and took turns sitting in the truck to get warm. “A bunch of people were out of power, and it was 40°F below zero and stayed that way,” Stewart recalled. “When we finally got the power on, the mechanics were going to come back with hot sandwiches, but they instead brought back ice cream cones. I also remember going to one farmhouse, and it was abandoned. The door was broken and cows were inside.”

During his career, Stewart not only worked on storms, but he helped to build some of the nation’s early power lines. In 1958, he served on a crew to build power lines into Yellowstone Park. He also worked for Montana Power, PAR Electrical Contractors and Williams Construction.

Throughout his years in the line trade, his wife said he always focused on safety first. “Bob doesn’t realize that all these linemen look up to him and respect him,” she said. “When he was the boss, he never yelled, and he led by example. When their husbands were on Bob’s crew, their wives told me that they never worried about their safety because they knew Bob would take care of him and do everything right.”
Mike Glueckert worked for Stewart when he was an apprentice for Williams Construction. During that time, Glueckert said Stewart was a very soft spoken and kind superintendent who nicknamed him “Apprentice” and “Tiger.”

“When it comes to safety, an iron fist will never work,” Glueckert said. “It makes a larger impact if you can be kind to someone, tell them how much they mean to you and make sure they are safe, so they will be able to see their families at the end of the workday.”

To honor Stewart’s years in the line trade, Glueckert nominated him for the International Lineman’s Hall of Fame, a recognition Glueckert felt Stewart deeply deserved. “I was very honored, and it was a wonderful experience,” Stewart noted. “I was very fortunate.”

Stewart also enjoyed competing and volunteering at the annual Montana Lineman’s Rodeo, held the third weekend in July. He competed in the last 24 years out of 25 years. One year, he even competed at the rodeo the same day his granddaughter got married, but he left early to celebrate with his family. While he has served as a judge for the rodeo, he always has preferred competing in the contest. One time, his team earned sixth place at the rodeo.

Stewart also helped to train apprentices in Montana as well as test linemen in Colorado and Utah. According to his wife, if he had it his way, he would still be working, but he has paid his dues already. “We have grandkids and great-grandkids,” she said. “But, it’s been a good job for us. Bob always said that he would have a job, and he did. It’s been a good ride.”

Mike Glueckert: Well-Rounded Lineman

During his 43 years in the line trade, Mike Glueckert has worked for a dozen contractors, a rural electric cooperative and an investor-owned utility. As such, he is accepted into different worlds and has been able to move around. “I looked forward to going to work almost every day,” Glueckert said. “It was a lot of fun. I had so many job offers and opportunities in this trade, and I feel very honored and blessed.”
Glueckert blazed a trail into the line trade following high school. “When I was in grade school, my best friend’s father owned a small line construction company,” Glueckert recalled. “He told all of us kids, ‘When you get out of high school and graduate, and you want to work as a groundman, come and see me.’”

Since that time, Glueckert has seen the line trade evolve tremendously. “I am not a big fan of the 100% fall arrest,” he said. “I may be too old school, but I also recognize that it won’t go away. I have faith that the new tools will be lighter and more amiable to work with.”

He also has seen the trade change from the elite hot-sticking linemen to rubber-gloving and barehand work, which enables linemen to work higher voltages without taking outages. To commemorate the history of the line trade, Glueckert has amassed a large collection of hot sticks, which he stores in a special barn on his property. “I have a lot of cool stuff, but it belongs to the industry, not to me,” he said. “One day, I will donate everything to the International Lineman’s Museum.”

Today, he says the older tools are making way for new, modern tools. “There’s no wood out there anymore,” Glueckert observed. “I will ask 40 apprentices if they have any wood tools at home, and not one of them do. The wood tools and the tools of old are gone, and the glass and porcelain insulators are also starting to disappear. The industry is really changing, and wood tools are getting more and more rare.”
Another rarity is the existence of a line shack in Glueckert’s state of Montana. This historical building is located on private property underneath the oldest transmission line built west of the Mississippi. NorthWestern Energy owns this transmission line, which was built in 1909. In the “Storm Soldiers II” documentary, Glueckert is shown standing in the line shack, which he hopes one day to get registered with the National Register of Historic Places.

“In Montana and other places in the nation, cabins were spread 17 miles apart under the transmission line,” Glueckert explained. “A lineman would go on horseback and go from one cabin to the next to inspect the line. When he got to the cabin, he would dial over dispatch to a telephone system to make sure everything was OK. This happened between 1910 and 1960.”

In addition to learning about the history of the line trade, Glueckert also cofounded the Montana Lineman’s Rodeo. He personally funded the very first rodeo, which attracted about 450 people. By its fourth year, the rodeo brought in 4000 to 5000 people, and it was only second in size to the International Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas. Glueckert remembers hiring puppeteers from Disneyland, offering helicopter rides to attendees and designing interesting events. He then helped with the rodeo for another three years until he turned it over to the local union.

While he would like to compete in the rodeos, Glueckert has not participated in three years because of knee and shoulder surgeries. However, he still enjoys judging at the rodeos. “I want to do my part to give back,” he said.

Glueckert also helped the line trade by starring in “Storm Soldiers II,” which put linemen in the spotlight. He later was inducted into the International Lineman’s Hall of Fame. “To have your friends think that much of you to do that for you is life changing and overwhelming,” he noted. “We all have different milestones in our lives, like getting married and having children and grandchildren. I would say the Hall of Fame is a milestone. It’s had a profound effect on my life. I owe it all to Jesus, my Lord and Savior.”

Glueckert, who recently applied for retirement benefits with the IBEW, has inspired five other members of his family to pursue careers in the line trade. He grew up with five brothers, and his youngest brother works as a lineman with NorthWestern Energy, his nephew is an apprentice lineman with PAR Electrical Contractors, and he also has in-laws and cousins who work as linemen. “We are trying to keep a little line work in the family,” he said.

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