When I was a small boy back in the early 1960s, my
absolute favorite TV show was Rawhide. The show had it all. There were
memorable characters. There was tough, relentless, but fair-minded trail
boss Gil Favor ... quick with the draw, hard-charging Rowdy Yates, played by
a very young Clint Eastwood ... and the crusty old cook Wishbone, with his
wagon full of seemingly every ingredient and implement of cookery needed to
feed dozens of hungry trail hands, multiple times a day for weeks on end.
Each episode also featured a great story, with high
drama and low comedy and enough gunplay and tension to keep you riveted to
your seat throughout. (Back in those days of three networks and no remote
controls, I realize that it was easier to keep viewers captive to a given
show, but I still think the show was addictive and entertaining.)
And then there was the show’s stark cinematography,
featuring Western landscapes of mountains and mesas, flatlands and rivers,
deserts and dust, and lots and lots of cattle, made more dramatic and exotic
when seen in the flickering black-and-white images that emanated from the
picture tubes of that day.
Further helping to define the show at the time, and to
bring back memories of it ever since, is the signature song by Frankie Laine.
“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, though the streams are swollen, keep
them dogies rollin’, Rawhide! Rain and wind and weather, hell-bent for
But though the show is now a distant-albeit-pleasant
memory, the spirit of Rawhide lives on. In your community. In your
neighborhood. In fact, in your electric cooperative. Specifically, in the
guise of the line-crew members who keep the lights on for you and the nearly
one million other Virginians who receive electricity from one of the
Commonwealth’s 13 consumer-owned electric cooperatives.
When you think about it, there’s a lot in common
between a trail hand and a line worker. There’s a love of the outdoors.
There’s work that is both physically and mentally demanding. There’s the
need to get your job done through “rain and wind and weather,” and, for
that matter, through hurricanes and ice storms and blizzards, too. And
perhaps most sobering, there’s the very real threat that, with even one
tiny mistake, the unforgiving and dangerous nature of your work could leave
you maimed, or dead.
Early last month, on a beautiful blue-sky day that was
hardly typical of the conditions in which they frequently labor, nearly 120
line workers gathered on a field adjoining Liberty University in Lynchburg,
and took part in the friendly competition of a “lineman’s rodeo” (see
pg. 41). This rodeo featured nearly 30 teams of line workers representing 12
electric cooperatives, three large power companies and one municipal
electric utility. Working on lines that were “dead” (no electricity
flowing through them), and with hundreds of family members, friends and
co-workers there to cheer them on, these modern-day cowboys demonstrated the
various skills a line worker must have in climbing poles, handling lines,
and, in an emergency, rescuing a colleague injured at the top of a pole.
And what do you think was the most important element in
every competition in which they took part? It was the “S” word. No, not
Speed. It was THE watchword of line workers: Safety. As you can imagine,
when every move could be your last, line workers must focus on safety —
for themselves and for the members of the public they serve — every second
of every minute of every hour they’re on the job, day or night, good
weather or bad.
Sponsoring the rodeo for the fourth consecutive year
was Central Virginia Electric Cooperative of Lovingston, south of
Charlottesville. The president and CEO of Central Virginia, Howard Scarboro,
nicely summed up the purpose of the rodeo in the printed program that all
participants and attendees received: “For those participating in the
rodeo, you are to be congratulated for your hard work and your service.
Electric consumers enjoy a higher quality of life because of your
contribution ... Good luck to each and every one of you. Climb safe. Climb
strong. Take pride in your performance. We are proud of you.”
At bottom, the mission of any electric utility —
including your electric cooperative — is to deliver electricity safely,
efficiently, and as continuously as possible, to your home or place of
business. It’s the line-crew workers who are principally responsible for
accomplishing this mission.
It’s these line-crew workers who perform some of the
most difficult, dangerous and daunting work imaginable, often in brutally
uncomfortable weather conditions. They don’t expect thanks any more than
Gil Favor or Rowdy Yates did when they reached the end of the cattle drive
with all the herd in tow.
But if you get the chance, and take it, and say thank
you to one of your co-op’s line-crew members ... you’ll likely “make
the day” for a true unsung hero, who endures discomfort and danger to help
you and me avoid both.