This year, linemen and their families came together for competition and camaraderie at the 2021 International Lineman’s Rodeo.

Return to the Rodeo

Jan. 5, 2022
After a 'Lost Year' due to the pandemic, linemen compete at the 37th International Lineman’s Rodeo.

For 2020, T&D World and Utility Products honored the line trade through a Virtual Celebration Week. This year, however, linemen and their families came together for competition and camaraderie at the 2021 International Lineman’s Rodeo.

“When we started talking about doing the Rodeo in January of this year, my heart rate jumped up two-fold due to the excitement of seeing the competition and meeting up with friends,” says Dennis Kerr, co-chairman of the International Lineman’s Rodeo Association (ILRA). “It is one of the best events of the year for me.”

By participating in the competition, journeymen linemen and apprentices can connect with other linemen from around the country.

“They can watch how they work, learn about other skills they don’t have and have great camaraderie with people around the country,” Kerr says.

Due to travel restrictions and other concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer linemen and their families traveled to Kansas City for the 2021 Rodeo Week and international teams were not able to participate. Even so, Kerr said the 2021 event helped to bring the line trade back to a sense of normalcy.

“In 2019, we had 1200 competitors, which was a record, and this year, we had about half of that,” he says. “When we decided to do the Rodeo, we didn’t care how many we would get. We were just interested in doing the Rodeo.”

In the early days, the Lineman’s Rodeo started out with very few competitors, and over time, it has been growing and growing. Kerr foresees the same trend happening in the future.

“In 2022, I think we will be right back where we were in 2020,” Kerr says.

Rick Childers, a retired event coordinator and board member for the ILRA, says he returned to the Rodeo to provide assistance in 2021 after some volunteers dropped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a wonderful event, and it’s fantastic to see everyone back together,” Childers says. “I’ve been with the Rodeo for 30 years, and other than the numbers, I think this is going to be one of the best ones ever.”

Competing as Teams

At the International Lineman’s Rodeo, journeymen linemen compete in six different divisions—military, IOU, muni, REI, contractor and senior. The journeymen linemen must compete in teams of three, and through teamwork and dedication, they can score the highest number of points during the four events including pole climb, hurt man rescue and two mystery events.

The pole climb event has been a traditional part of the International Lineman’s Rodeo, but in past years, the ILRA bestowed individual awards for the fastest climbers. That was not the case for 2021. According to the ILRA, the award drives the wrong behavior for climbing poles.

“We are trying to promote safety, and we wanted to make sure that no one got hurt,” Kerr says.

All of the apprentices and journeymen teams started out with 100 points for each event, and then if they made mistakes, they received point deductions.

“I tell the competitors that the best thing to do is not have any deductions to have an opportunity to be part of the award ceremony,” Kerr says.

For the pole climb event, the journeyman lineman team of Brandon Gloria, David Angove and Kyle Vanderpool completed the event with zero deductions in a time of 0:136:47. The trio of journeymen linemen scaled a 40-ft wood pole and were judged for their ability to bring a raw egg in a small bucket safely down to the ground without hot-dogging or free-falling.

In addition, the journeyman teams competed in a simulated energized hurt man rescue event. The teams had to work together to rescue a person injured while working to change out a faulty disconnect. Wearing rubber gloves, two of the linemen climbed the pole while the groundman used an extendo stick to open the switch and lay the mannequin carefully on the ground. The Jackson EMC team of Jeff Sutton, Caleb Chapman and Jeremy Adams finished the event in a total time of 01:41:81, topping the competition.

Another tradition at the Lineman’s Rodeo—the mystery events—were back in full force at the 2021 competition. While the linemen can practice their skills for the pole climb and hurt man rescue back at home, they don’t know the full event description and rules for the mystery events until they arrive in Kansas City for Rodeo Week.

Hastings sponsored the Journeyman Mystery Event #1, which involved an obstacle course for the journeymen linemen teams. The linemen had to climb a pole and perform a function at each cross-arm per the event guidelines. Two of the linemen worked together on the pole while the groundman focused on using a telescopic stick to open the cutout and performing other duties.

Russell Smith, Casey Slater and Brian Wheeler from the Hotline Construction/Team Dry Canyon team from Ventura, California, finished the event more than 45 seconds ahead of the next team, capturing first place in the event. Smith says he has been to the International Lineman’s Rodeo several times.

“We love coming every year,” Smith says. “It’s an awesome experience to be a part of it and see everyone throughout the years. We are just here to have a good time.”

For the Journeyman Mystery Event #2, the team replaced two insulators and steel pins using PLP #2 Pre-form Tie with grommets on a 10-ft Brooks braceless crossarm using rubber gloves and AB Chance hot sticks. The Duke Energy team of Jay Tipton, Keith Griffin and Sandy Barnhill won the event with a time of 16:12:84. This team also won the “Best of the Best” in the journeyman division with a total of 398 event points, two deductions and a time of 35:46:22.

Spotlight on Apprentices

In the apprentice division at the International Lineman’s Rodeo, 182 apprentices competed in the hurt man rescue, pole climb, and two mystery events. In addition, they had to complete a written test the day before the competition at the Overland Park Convention Center. Aaron Sabato of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), who was crowned as the “best of the best” in the apprentice division, won the written test event with 88 points.

As he and the other competitors from PG&E participated in the Lineman’s Rodeo, a support team was on the sidelines cheering them on. Ahmad Ababneh, vice president of major projects and programs for electric operations for PG&E, says his company sent three journeymen linemen teams from PG&E, one from Local IBEW 1245 and seven apprentices to participate in the competition.

“What does it mean for PG&E and trying to get back, especially after the cancellation last year?” he says. “We are excited to be here and for our team and everyone else who represents our industry. It’s a great event for all of us coming together and representing what we do every day, which is keeping the lights on and serving our customers and communities. Teams can exchange best practices, and linemen can learn from each other. I’m looking forward to having a safe event.”

Alex Benoit, an apprentice for National Grid, came in second place in the apprentice division at the 2021 International Lineman’s Rodeo. He participated in the competition two years ago and was glad to return to the Rodeo.

“I am happy to be back,” Benoit says. “It’s a great time meeting all these people, seeing the tools in the trade, being safe and having fun doing what we do.”

Ted Ghyra, an apprentice for Omaha Public Power District, climbed to the top in three categories in the apprentice division—pole climb, mystery event #1 and mystery event #2. Ghyra, who is topping out in November 2021, plans to compete on the journeyman team next year.

“I was very happy with my performance,” Ghyra says. “Everything was going right for me that day.”

At the awards ceremony following the Rodeo, Ghyra earned five award plaques from the ILRA.

“Walking across the stage is always an awesome experience, and it’s a feeling that never gets old,” he says. “What I like most about the rodeo is visiting and competing with some of the best linemen in the world.”

He says he wanted to thank everyone who made the International Lineman’s Rodeo possible this year.

“Last year was very disappointing not being able to compete, however, I’m glad they brought it back this year,” he says. “I’d also like to thank the guys who helped me to prepare for the Rodeo.”

During the Rodeo, the apprentices participated in a rope splice competition in a tent on the Rodeo grounds. By climbing poles and practicing putting on his tools a few times a week leading up to the Rodeo, Ghyra was able to prepare for the hurt man rescue and pole climb. Because the mystery events were a mystery until he arrived, he just focused on best practices and his skills during the competition.  

“I’ve learned to pay attention to the little details in the events, because if you do those right, it will save you a lot of time,” he says.

Line Families Unite

When linemen earn the opportunity to compete at the International Lineman’s Rodeo, they often bring their families along with them to watch them compete. As they scaled the poles and competed in the event, their line families bundled up on the sidelines in blankets and coats in the chilly start to the Rodeo.

Then as the sunshine spilled over the Rodeo grounds, the children headed over to the Kid Zone, where they could jump on inflatables, ride a small train and eat treats like cotton candy. Families also were able to visit the exhibitors’ booths on the Rodeo grounds, ride a bucket truck 80 ft in the air to gain an aerial view of the competition and gather in their companies’ tents surrounding the event areas.

As her husband, Tom Swayne, prepared to compete at the International Lineman’s Rodeo for the DTE journeyman team, Lynne was on the sidelines supporting him. Swayne and his teammates, John Appleberg and Keith Wilder, finished first in the seniors division at the 2021 International Lineman’s Rodeo.

“I’ve been married to a lineman for 35 years, and as a lineman’s wife, I am the power behind the power,” she says. “I am the one that had to keep the kids quiet and the house going while he was working storms, traveling for hurricanes and following storms around the United States. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have a lineman family, and it has been a fantastic life, and I am so proud of these guys.”

Dale Warman of the ILRA says he was excited to see all the linemen and their families back in Kansas City for the 2021 Lineman’s Rodeo Week.

“My heart is full of joy to see all of these people come here,” he says. “They are smiling and happy, and it’s like everyone is coming out of a cloud. That’s what it is all about. This Rodeo is for the linemen and their families to reward them for what they have done. They have had a bad year, but now they are coming out. We are so lucky to be able to do that. We appreciate everyone who put in time to make it happen.”

Amy Fischbach ([email protected]) is the Field Editor for T&D World magazine.

Editor’s Note: To see a photo gallery and video highlights from the 2021 safety conference, visit the T&D World Web site at

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