National Lineman’s Day

The energization of the first house on Kankakee Valley REMC in 1939; courtesy KVREMC

Most of you know that I am (or maybe was) a power lineman, as well as an industrial electrician. Frankly, I love both, but was prouder of being a lineman, and as we used to say, qualified to work hot. It’s a pretty good job, except at 2 am when you’ve been out since 8 the previous morning in 80 below wind chill during a blizzard. But that too engenders a certain pride.

It’s also a job that often runs in families, my dad was one too. When he started a man (and they were all men in those days) had about a 50% chance of dying on the job. By the time I came along, it was quite rare, Why? Better tools and much better work rules, and management that valued their people. And for that matter, Grampa ran the town light plant, as did one of my uncles, another was a district manager for Northern States Power, and dad was eventually general manager of a rural electric coop.

I was taught from childhood on both by dad and by others in the company: There is no such thing as a no-fault accident, somebody always had a way to prevent it. Fault is a legal term and means something else, but all accidents are avoidable by taking (or not taking) some action, or list of actions. Let’s start here:

I’ve worked 2200 in plants, and it’s safe if you follow the rules. But electricity is an unforgiving b*tch. It’ll kill you, sometimes quickly, but often fairly slowly and painfully if you screw up.

I’m sorry but such a list of blown safety rules, to me, makes this little less than suicide, and him a poor employee, and you know what, once he thought about it, I’ll bet his supervisor wasn’t surprised, although saddened. But that’s fine, he failed as well.

 

I have a strong preference for overhead lines because you can see enough to make sense of it, that’s not always true of underground, but I’ve worked both. Not really very different than how we did it in the 60s, but a world apart from how dad did it in the 30s. And he was one of the people who saw how much better it could be, and sold it to his board and wrote the book.

It shouldn’t happen, but it does, and frankly, it is why you never see electrical utility crews leaning on our trucks, which we specifically do ground. The advice given here on what to do if this happens to you is the same that I have been taught all my life.

One thing that causes us out here to lose a farmer every once in a while, is when they get something to close to a power line, note that you don’t have to touch it. Think about a farmer holding a 20-foot section of 8-inch aluminum pipe getting close to a line. Most years out here it happens once or twice, or a grain elevator, or even a combine sometimes. As our Public Power Districts keep saying, Look up; For safety’s sake. It’s good to go home at the end of the day.

And finally, most American power companies have demonstration rigs like this that are available, and the skilled presenters that go with them. if you haven’t seen one (or even if you have) pay attention, this is the straight scoop from our side of the meter.

And yes, I have killed more than a few generators (and sometimes the tractors they were attached to, when I safed a line. DO IT RIGHT, or be prepared to kill a lineman, or to replace your generator, cause after a storm, we simply don’t have time to drive the line first, and often have people from other companies or contractors helping who don’t know the system.

Curious where I learned this? Here.

On his last day before retirement, I asked my dad what he was most proud of. The answer could have been many things, when he had started with them, the coop was a shoebox of paper, when he retired it was a multi million dollar company and one of the biggest employers in town, of which every employee was a local, and so many other things. He looked at me and said, “Come with me.” He took me out into the lobby of the office and pointed to a plaque on the wall, and said, “This.” It was a plaque from the insurance company proclaiming that the company had worked one million man hours without a lost time accident.

And you know, at the other end of my career, I don’t have a plaque about it, but I’ve never had a man seriously hurt either. My people always went home safe at night. And for me as well, it is one of my proudest achievements. And you know something else, Dad and I were both considered hard asses to work for. It’s connected. And that is about a century’s worth of electrical work done right, without casualties.

 

About Neo
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

16 Responses to National Lineman’s Day

  1. audremyers says:

    LOVED this article! It was great; so interesting as all I know about electricity is that it’s invisible and it can kill you.

    For those of us not raised in the heartland, would you take a minute and spell out the letters? ” … REMC in 1939; courtesy KVREMC”

    You’re the perfect person to ask! Just before, often during, and sometimes after a hurricane, we can see and hear what we call ‘transformers’ exploding. What is a transformer and why do they explode???

    Please excuse me but for my own edification, shouldn’t it be ‘co-op’, as opposed to coop? Remember, this question is coming from the woman who said ‘Pilot’ asked ‘What is truth’ when anyone with half a brain knows it was ‘Pilate’

    Liked by 2 people

    • NEO says:

      Thanks, Audre! REMC us Rural Electric Membership Corporation, which is a Rural Electric Cooperative formed under the Indiana REMC act originally of 1935. It was (and is) an act giving a format and requirements to form a coop for the purpose of providing central station electric (later landline phone, as well) to rural areas where commercial power companies wouldn’t/couldn’t afford to build. The kvremc is Kankakee Valley REMC, which is one of those coops, where dad became project superintendent om 1 August 1939 and retired from about 30 years later. We call it going to the maintenance amongst lineman, it often has to do with being tired of ‘booming’ from one job to another. In dad’s case, I suspect part of it was that my sisters were just about school age, as well as building more coops just about over. He’d been project superintendent for about half a dozen since 1935.

      A transformer is a device that changes one voltage to another. Your power line is probably about 7500V and the transformer will change it to your house current 120/240V. Nothing really but two coils of wire wound on a common core. Occasionally, they will catch fire when their output is shorted out, which mostly happens in storms. Just like when that demo team, ran the ‘squirrel’ up in the demo, except on a far larger scale. When the output is shorted their is an infinite current draw, and while there is overcurrent protection sometimes it is too slow, and the transformer explodes. They’re oil cooled and the oil while nonconductive, if usually flammable and burns quite well.

      Probably, it should, but common usage has become coop, thus risking confusion with a chicken house!

      Like

  2. audremyers says:

    I don’t know how to edit a post after it’s been posted so here’s a post script to my comment: Lon dated a lineman lady, Liz, who was about 6’3″ and beautiful. I met her years later when Lon and I happened to be in the same place she was. Until Lon mentioned her, I never knew women were linemen!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not kidding about arc flash, the company wouldnt let us throw breakers over a certain amount. The electricians had to suit up when certain arc flash ratings/voltage were met. I never stood in front of the unit I was dealing with. It is a bad joke when people call it “sunless tan”. Also, there were only certain people that could deal with the unit compressors (4175?) and the unit had to call the power company when they were dealing with that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yep, the last plant I worked in very few of the electrically qualified maintenance people were allowed to work on 2.2KV stuff, although with my line background, I was from day one. There’s a huge amount to know to protect yourself and others. The arc flash calculation itself is pretty complex.

      I did laugh one Sunday morning, I was standing on a cable tray as we craned in a new pad mount transformer, 14,000 lbs, almost 80 feet from the crane, worked out to almost 200 feet of stick. The supervisor looked at me and said, we should probably go inside. My comment was, not much point, he drops that on these trays, the plant will come down 2 counties away, might as well enjoy the day.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The plant I worked at let operators do a decent amount of LO/TO’s. I had previously had been maintenance but I wasnt the electrical superfreak. You wouldnt catch me near a unit compressor either. Lucked out in not being around for big installs like you mentioned.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          We all do as we do! 🙂 I was a projects guy there, we quite literally designed and built a lot of the equipment, Our operators did LO/TO to do their maintenance, but problems always came to maintenance.

          I was very glad however not to be on crisis there, panic every day.

          Like

  4. the unit says:

    I want to hear about the mistreatment of undocumented line workers. Are they fried up somewhere in the lines. /sar & 🙂
    “I don’t have specific stories, but I am thinking a lot about undocumented workers right now. My birthday was just last week and for the past couple of years I’ve done a fundraiser on Facebook. This year I picked a non-profit to support undocumented workers. That’s a group that has completely fallen through the cracks and received zero help from the federal government, certainly.”
    https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/she-tested-a-coronavirus-vaccine-a-month-ago-heres-what-the-last-4-weeks-have-been-like/ar-BB12JvXj

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Portly Movie Review: Teacher (2019) – The Portly Politico

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