As you ascended the hill at dawn off
Candlers Mountain Road in Lynchburg, the distant view was confusing: a
seeming array of fore-masts and main-masts on a fleet of 19th-century
schooners, barren of sails, anchored at port in a sea of greening turf grass
and damp ocher.
A closer inspection revealed the masts
to be wooden climbing poles, anchored in a field and awaiting the nearly 150
line workers whose skills and determination they would test severely
throughout a beautiful early April Saturday. This event, the seventh annual
Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s and Equipment Operator’s Rodeo, drew line workers
from seven states, from as far west as Kentucky and Ohio, as far north as
New York State, as far south as the Carolinas, and of course from Virginia
and Maryland, too.
And while Central Virginia Electric
Cooperative, of Nelson County, started the event, and while the electric
cooperatives of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware are now the primary sponsors
and participants, this rodeo has a big corral, also featuring teams from
investor-owned power companies like Dominion Virginia Power, and from
municipally owned systems such as the city of Salem, the town of Front
Royal, and the cities of Danville and Manassas.
When the team of 50 judges is added into
the mix, along with a considerable number of colleagues, family members,
friends, and members of the general public, total attendance at this
year’s event ranged close to 500 folks. Everyone there was either
demonstrating, celebrating or supporting the craft of electric utility line
work, the most important, most dangerous, and often the most forgotten
element in the delivery of electricity to our homes and places of business.
Line crew workers are so good at what
they do that all of us expect electricity to be at our disposal 100 percent
of the time, 24/7/365. When the delivery of this hugely reliable daily
necessity is interrupted — usually by extremes of weather such as winter
ice, spring windstorms, summer thunderstorms, or fall hurricanes — we
expect it to be restored as quickly as possible.
And the unsung heroes who restore your
power and mine are these highly skilled “wood walkers,” who toil
relentlessly in weather conditions that keep the rest of us indoors, save
for a dire emergency. So given their status as emergency responders whose
services are as vital as those provided by police officers, emergency
medical technicians, or firefighters, it’s only appropriate that, one day
each year since 2003, their skills have been showcased at this
“gaff-n-go” rodeo (a gaff is a metal point on a line worker’s climbing
gear, worn on the lower leg, that allows him to plant his feet into the pole
and “walk the wood”).
The fellowship and camaraderie among
this tightly knit fraternity, the sharing of stories, and the renewal of old
friendships and building of new ones are all hugely important to each of
these dedicated professionals. For observers at the rodeo, it’s hugely
moving to watch a lineman’s small children gaze in awe as their father
successfully completes the “hurt man” demonstration rescue of a
life-size mannequin “stranded” at the top of a pole.
These scenes embodying pride in their
craft and in serving others were repeated over and over again during the
rodeo, held this past April 4 on the grounds of Liberty University, on a day
whose powdery blue sky, wispy wandering stray clouds, and 70-degree sunshine
proved ironic counterpoints to these wood walkers’ usual working
An added bonus of this very special
event is the fact that all proceeds from the rodeo go to the educational
scholarship foundation started in 2000 by the electric cooperatives of
Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Thanks to the 2008 rodeo and other
fund-raising events, last year there were 35 high school graduates from
electric cooperative service areas who each received a $1,000 scholarship
from the foundation, providing them with a helping hand as they began their
educational journey after high school.
As you can tell, line workers are
special folks, who do extraordinary things under excruciatingly difficult
conditions, all to keep your and my lights on. If you’re interested in
seeing them demonstrate their skills at future rodeos, please be sure to
visit our rodeo site, www.gaff-n-go.com. If you’re interested in learning
more about the educational scholarship foundation, or making a
tax-deductible donation to it, please visit www.vmdaec.com, or
www.co-opliving.com. And next time you see a wood walker, please consider
telling him thanks for a job well done.