Rodney Lewis and Rick Childers of the International Lineman's Rodeo Association display a championship belt from last year's rodeo.
Q&A with the ILRA
1. How long have there been state-wide and local lineman's rodeos?
Childers: The Lineman's Rodeo started 36 years ago. Back in the day, there were no local rodeos, and most of the competitors came from Kansas and Missouri. It's grown so much that utilities can no longer send everyone who wants to go. They needed a method in order to select the competitors, so over the last 20 years, they started organizing rodeos at a state and local level.
2. Today, how many local and state rodeos are held prior to the International Lineman's Rodeo?
Lewis: There are more than 30 lineman's rodeos that are either sponsored by companies or associations. For example, some of the events include the Montana Rodeo, Texas Lineman’s Rodeo, Michigan Lineman’s Rodeo sponsored by Detroit Edison, Georgia Lineman’s Rodeo sponsored by Georgia Power, West Coast Lineman’s Rodeo sponsored by PG&E, LADW&P Rodeo, and Southern California Edison Rodeo.
In addition, the Enmax Rodeo is held in Calgary, Canada on July 15, 2017 by the local utility, which really goes out of its way to show the linemen and apprentices the wonderful hospitality of our brothers and sisters in Canada. This rodeo is held during the World Famous Calgary Stampede Rodeo, so all of the traveling teams from Canada and the United States can go and check out the Stampede. There are great folks and It's just a real good rodeo!
The Pacific Northwest (PNW) Lineman’s Rodeo is July 22, 2017, in Gresham, Oregon. This is my home Rodeo and is also known as the Death March of Lineman Rodeos with tough events and lots of folks attending. We have some of the International Lineman's Rodeo judges from Kansas who come out each year to judge, which is really nice. We also have a true high line event with high line poles at this rodeo. There are also events for apprentices, pre-apprentices, and a tree trimming exhibition. The award ceremony is preceded by an auction where local line art is auctioned off to help our local burn center, which receives a large part of the proceeds from the PNW Rodeo. There's lots of food, beer and fun with many of the local utilities and line construction companies represented by their teams.
Linemen compete for a spot on the International Lineman's Rodeo teams at the Southern California Edison Lineman's Rodeo.
2. How do you think these regional and local events help prepare the apprentices and linemen for the international competition?
Lewis: The local and regional rodeos help prepare the teams and apprentices for the big show in Kansas. Most of the top teams and apprentices attend regional and state rodeos throughout the summer and fall honing their skills and events to prepare. I do know that our Rodeo teams and apprentices compete at three regional rodeos, and one in Canada this season to prepare for Kansas. They get to see different events and get tips and pointers from other competitors and learn most importantly what not to do.
3. Does the ILRA get involved with local rodeos, or are they organized by utilities and other associations instead?
Lewis: There have been local and state rodeos for close to 30 years. The ILRA gets involved with committee work on their local rodeos, and also judging at their state and local rodeos but the organizational work is done locally.
Childers: At the state and local rodeos, they can do whatever they choose to do, but most include the pole climb and the hurtman rescue for the journeymen and apprentices. If they go to our Web page, they can see all the events and materials listed, and they can set up their grounds exactly like we do at the International Lineman's Rodeo. That way, they can practice and get a head start.
4. Does the ILRA have any specific guidelines that state that the international competitors must first win at a local, state, or regional level? What about those linemen who work for companies that aren't located near a rodeo?
Lewis: No, we do not specify you must have placed or won one of the other Rodeos to compete at the ILRA. Most of the companies take their teams and apprentices who have consistently won or placed at their state or local rodeos though sending the best of their best.
Childers: Some companies, like Duke Energy, have multiple rodeos across the country. But for small co-ops, linemen and apprentices may not have the opportunity to compete at a local level. In these cases, the co-op can ask for volunteers and then send them to the International Lineman's Rodeo.
5. What special things do you have planned for the 2017 International Rodeo? Do you have any changes as far as the competition or event overall?
Lewis: We have some changes this year for the apprentices. We are sticking with getting back to some of our basic skills that we should all be familiar with. We are going to have a ton of vendors at the rodeo grounds again this year with handouts for the families and friends.
Childers: The mystery events will be a surprise for the journeymen and apprentices as always. Last year, we moved the apprentice testing to Friday, and we are going to do the same thing this year. We will begin testing at about 1 p.m. and run until about 4 p.m. on Friday. We polled the apprentices last year, and the vast majority liked getting it out of the way. On the day of the rodeo, they didn't want to have to think about a test and instead concentrate on the physical part of line work.