Over the decades, the line trade has gotten safer through more extensive training and improved personal protective equipment. Even so, it still ranks as one of America’s most dangerous occupations.
To ensure that all of his brothers and sisters in the line trade come home safely to their families each night, Curtis “Bull Grunt” Helms, a lineman from Beaumont, Texas, embarked on a 20-day “I Am My Brother’s Keeper Walk Across America” to increase awareness. Helms serves as an instructor at the Bull Grunt Academy at the Elite Line Training Institute, which funded and supported the purpose of the walk.
Embarking on a Journey
“We are losing people in the trade,” Helms said. “It doesn’t matter whether they are union or non-union — I want everyone to be safe.”
Through his faith in God and his passion for the industry, Helms was able to successfully complete a coast-to-coast journey from South Carolina to California. His mission was to heighten awareness of the need for safety in the line trade and to honor anyone who lost his or her life on the line and support the missions of the Fallen Linemen Organization (FLO) and the National Sisterhood United of Journeyman Linemen (NSUJL).
On Oct. 15, he flew to Charleston, South Carolina, to start his walk. That night, he took a cab to the aquarium and slept on a park bench that night. Vowing to only take rides from linemen or their families, he then met Jeremy Garrett, who gave him a ride to his next destination.
Rather than accepting long-distance rides, he only traveled with the linemen or their families for 30 miles at a time. He then walked long distances in between.
On the second day of his trip, “an angel from the NSUJL” set up a Facebook page, which was later managed by Ashley Price, Helms said. His followers could track him on the page and help to line up food and hotels.
“It just snowballed after that,” Helms said. “I didn’t walk at all in Georgia or Alabama. My feet barely hit the ground. I would get another 30 miles, and then there was another car sitting there. They were supposed to be at work, but they all helped me out. It was mind blowing.”
Through the app, the drivers knew where to take Helms to drop him off at the next ride. If he reached his destination and no one was waiting, he would then take off walking on the pre-destined route, which was mapped out by the Bevins Company. When Helms first made a video on his Facebook page about his intentions to do the walk, the company volunteered to plan the route and mail a T-shirt to anyone who volunteered a ride to Helms. Rather than walking on the interstates, he stuck to the backroads during his walk across America.
“Everything was so detailed and organized,” Helms said.
Through the Facebook page, the moderator would tell him where to meet the lineman or family member to get his net ride. One day, he received 11 rides in one day, but overall, he received rides from 94 different people. He will never forget, however, receiving a ride from a mom who lost her son in an accident.
“She went 1,000 miles out of her way just to give me a ride,” Helms said. “It was much bigger than me, and it meant so much to her to be able to help me.”
Living Life on the Road
As he traveled from coast to coast, he slept in a hammock six nights out of the 20 he was on the road. The linemen provided motel rooms, hot meals and anything else he needed for his journey.
“The interaction with the people was the most beautiful part,” he said. “To know that our industry is so united, and that we are truly our brother’s keeper. The way they showed up was just amazing.”
Every night, he stopped walking at about 6 p.m., and if he didn’t have a motel room lined up, he then hung his hammock between two trees. One night, he turned off his GPS so he couldn’t be tracked, but his followers could still see his location on the map.
“As I was standing in the ditch, another ride came by to pick me up,” he said. “It was an emotional roller coaster and a truly humbling experience.”
To transport his possessions — a change of clothes, shaving kit, rechargeable batteries, phone, hammock and mosquito net — he pushed a jog stroller from one destination to the next.
Once he finally arrived at his final location in Huntington Beach, California, he was greeted by his wife, who was flown out to California by his boss, Chad Dubea, who gave Helms paid time off during his journey.
“I understand now why they cry on Survivor,” he said. “When you do a 20-day trek across America, you are alone and surviving. When I saw my wife, I just lost it.”
In the future, Helms said he hopes other linemen follow in his footsteps and volunteer to embark on a similar Walk Across America to raise awareness and funds for fallen linemen.
“I want to keep it going to heighten awareness for our industry,” he said.
Editor’s Note: To contribute funds to the Fallen Lineman Organization or the NSUJL, please visit their pages on Facebook.