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Spotlight on the Line Trade: Donald Putnam of Ameren Illinois

Feb. 20, 2020
Donald Putnam, a journeyman lineman for Ameren Illinois, enjoys restoring power to customers following severe storms.
  • Born in Litchfield, Illinois, and has three brothers and two sisters.
  • Married to his wife, Kimberly, for the last eight years. They have three sons: seven-year-old Asher, five-year-old Emmett and two-year-old Baylor. His family also has three miniature Schnauzers.
  • His twin brother and brother-in-law are linemen in the shop where he currently works.
  • Enjoys trying new restaurants and traveling with his wife. He also likes hunting and gambling.

 Early Years
When I was 26, I was working in a factory and decided I needed to learn a skill. I signed up for a line apprentice training school that winter. After I graduated, I started working out of Local 175 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I served as an apprentice on a barehand crew for Henkels and McCoy. I traveled through Alabama maintaining switches and changing high-priority transmission poles while energized.   

 Day in the Life
I'm currently a journeyman lineman with Ameren Illinois. My responsibilities are to watch out for my brothers and teach the apprentices safe work practices. My typical work day could range from troubleshooting to new installation of underground/overhead conductors on a crew.

I am currently working on a single-phase extension to feed a new Dollar General.  Ameren is always working on keeping up to date with hardening its system with smart meters, voltage optimization and routine maintenance.

Challenges and Rewards

The biggest challenge with working in the utility field is finding a balance of work and life outside of work.  The reward of restoring power to people after a major storm is always best—whether it’s a three-phase-line or just a house service, most are grateful.

Tools and Technology
I can’t live without battery-operated tools including drills, cutters and presses. I also recently installed a bucket knuckle in my truck to hang all my tools. It’s been nice not having to pick everything off the floor of the bucket each time I need to go up.

Safety Lesson
My bucket truck, which was parked on the side of the road, was struck by a drunk driver. I learned never to turn your back on traffic or think every driver is at full attention.

I also had to perform pole top rescue on my pole buddy.  We were working a secondary open wire dead-end pole, transferring open wire to the new pole from our hooks in the backyard.  He made accidental contact above his secondary gloves with a hot leg and became locked on to the phase.  I had to knock him off the wire, and he went unconscious. The crew and I started pole-top rescue and lowered him to the ground. Once he made contact with the ground, he gained consciousness and was transported to a local hospital for kidney failure.  

 Memorable Storm
My most memorable storm was while I worked for Tennessee Valley Authority. During the "Day of Devastation," strong storms rolled through the south. I believed the valley had around 150 transmission towers down.  We worked long hours getting back critical lines putting up 500 kV towers.

 Future Plans
I would go into the power industry if I had to start over again, but I wouldn’t like to come in much younger than I did. I also have an entrepreneur itch I'd like to scratch. 

 Attention linemen: Do you know of a journeyman lineman who has made significant contributions to the trade who we could profile in a future Lifeline department? Email Amy Fischbach, Field Editor, at [email protected] with the name of the lineman and what makes him or her stand out from the rest of the crew. 

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