As a boy, Westerns were my favorite entertainment genre. I
enjoyed the old West in all its available forms: chapter books, comic books,
movies, TV shows, and outdoors play. Going to movies was a rarity, so I
remember well my top cinematic experiences: The Magnificent Seven, True
Grit, The Sons of Katie Elder, Once Upon a Time in the West and Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were among them. But as an early member of the
TV generation, my most-anticipated regular fix of Westerns came through the
small screen, every Friday (later Tuesday) night, when the best recurring
Western around was aired — Rawhide!
Trail boss Gil Favor was grizzled, gruff, terse, and as
tough as the harsh Southwestern terrain through which he and his drovers
wrangled and wrestled several thousand head of cattle to market, each week
overcoming deserts, dust storms, disgruntled drovers, and desperadoes. Gil’s
load was lightened thanks to his able foreman, Rowdy Yates, played by a
young actor whose easy smile on TV would become a menacing smirk but a few
years later in several landmark big-screen “spaghetti Westerns.” The actor?
The one and only Clint Eastwood.
Flash forward to 2010, specifically April 10, at the
Virginia Farm Bureau Center at Meadow Event Park, site of the new Virginia
state fairgrounds in Caroline County. On this bright, sunny early spring
day, about 150 modern “cowboys” are wrangling, not heads of cattle, but
instead with the daunting difficulty of climbing about 40 feet up a utility
pole and quickly and efficiently assisting a “hurt colleague,” ably played
by a mannequin dubbed “Rescue Randy.” This “hurt man” exercise is but one in
an array of challenges in which these utility linemen test their knowledge,
skill and savvy in one of the most dangerous professions around.
Thankfully, at this “lineman rodeo,” participating
apprentice and journeyman linemen are able to display their skills in front
of family members, friends, and work colleagues, and do so on a warm, dry
day while working on lines that are not energized with electricity — hardly
the usual dark, wet, disagreeable conditions in which they labor through
spring floods, summer thunderstorms, fall hurricanes and winter ice storms
to ensure that your and my electric service is restored as quickly,
efficiently, and safely as possible.
But if the atmosphere at this 8th annual “Gaff-n-Go
Lineman’s Rodeo” seems merely festive, don’t be fooled; the competing teams
from electric cooperatives, municipal utilities, investor-owned power
companies, and contract crews take what they’re doing VERY seriously. And
thus, when the crew from Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative is announced as
winning the equipment operator’s rodeo that demonstrates supreme skill in
operating line trucks, an explosion of cheering can be heard throughout the
Virginia Farm Bureau Center’s banquet hall at that evening’s awards dinner.
These modern-day “cowboys” may seem terse, and focused, and intense, because
they are. But they also take great pride in the enormous skill it takes to
do a job few want to do, and even fewer are able to do, and to do it under
the worst possible conditions.
This “Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s Rodeo” is proudly sponsored by
the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives,
publishers of Cooperative Living magazine. It’s become one of the largest
regional lineman rodeos in the nation, with six states represented at this
year’s rodeo, and nine electric cooperatives in Virginia and Maryland
sending journeyman teams and/or apprentices to compete. Plans call for next
year’s lineman rodeo to again be held at Meadow Event Park, at the Kings
Dominion exit just off I-95 north of Richmond. If you’d like to have your
family see these unsung heroes in action, please make plans to
attend. There is no charge to do so. Details on next
year’s event will be available soon at www.gaff-n-go.com. When you visit the
website, you can even sign up as a fan of the rodeo on Facebook.
So, next time you see one of your electric cooperative’s
linemen in the community, please be sure to say thanks for doing a job that
few of us think about, but all of us need done. If Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates
were alive today, who knows? Rawhide might instead feature those “cowboys”
who keep the power rolling, rolling, rolling, across miles and miles of