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A Showcase of Safety and Skill

Lineworker rodeo promotes camaraderie, development, peace of mind

July 2024

Jake Parker, ANEC, competes with his team in the equipment operator portion of the Gaff-n-Go Rodeo. (Photo by Jay Diem)

by Jim Robertson, Staff Writer

A lineman receives a phone call on a stormy night. The power is out. The kids are asleep. His wife nervously smiles as she tells him goodbye and to be safe. She, like many other spouses and loved ones, has never actually witnessed him in action on the job.

For the past two decades, the Gaff-n-Go Rodeo has provided a stage for utility lineworkers and equipment operators to showcase the skills and hard work required to safely perform their jobs — rain or shine. Wide-eyed children, spouses and parents often watch in awe as lineworkers climb to the tops of 40-foot poles, sometimes in driving rain. The rodeo simulates real-life scenarios.

This past May was the 20th anniversary of the Gaff-n-Go Rodeo, now the largest regional event of its kind in the U.S. It attracted more than 300 lineworkers from 11 states as far away as Arizona and California. The two-day event was hosted by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Va. 

“This wonderful event continues to set a high bar, especially from the perspective of commitment to safety and excellence,” says Steve Harmon, Gaff-n-Go Rodeo committee chair and Community Electric Cooperative president and CEO. “It is extremely rewarding, and even somewhat emotional to see the families interact and observe their parent display their skills.”


Parker’s wife, Taylor, and their daughter wore custom shirts to this year’s rodeo. (Photo by Jay Diem)

“Having my family there is always a great feeling,” says A&N Electric Cooperative journeyman Jake Parker. “Hearing my almost 2-year-old on the sideline this year screaming ‘Go Daddy, go Daddy!’ was also a great feeling.” Parker’s wife, Taylor, and daughter wore custom T-shirts for the second straight year. The Parker family has been there to support Dad each year in all types of weather — heat, cold and pouring rain. They’re proud of him no matter what the results are, as long as he comes home safely each day.

“For us, the rodeo is another family event,” says Patricia Parker, who followed her son to every event again this year. “We get to watch our son compete and the opportunity to spend the weekend with our daughter-in-law and granddaughter.”

With several lineworkers competing in their first rodeo, their nervousness was mirrored by the loved ones who came to show support. Spouses, children, parents, friends and coworkers gathered throughout the event field as competitors displayed the skills, strength and hard work required to keep the lights on.

Mason Johnson with his fiancée, Izabelle, and their son

Choptank Electric Cooperative apprentice Mason Johnson, competing in his first rodeo, describes the experience as nerve-wracking. He says, “I get up there. I’m literally shaking in my boots, trying to figure out what I’m going to do, and I just so happened to catch my son laughing in the background. I turned around to look at him and thought to myself, ‘That’s what this is all for.’ It took the nerves right away because I knew that’s all that matters. My family’s here watching me, and you really can’t beat that.”

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative apprentice Zach Carlisle, also attending his first rodeo, was supported by his wife, Jessica, and their baby boy, Rudy, cheering him on. “I’ve never seen him climb before,” says a nervous Jessica as Zach prepares for the pole-top rescue event. “When you’re at home and they go to work, you really don’t think about it. But, when you see it  firsthand, it kind of sinks in … how scary their job actually is.”

The Gaff-n-Go Rodeo is intentionally planned as a family event. With vendor booths, food trucks, apparel sales, and a variety of youth activities for children of all ages, loved ones — children especially — can stay entertained while waiting to cheer on their lineworkers at each event.

Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative’s Jake Till values the time spent with his family each year. His parents and fiancée have supported him for the past three years at the annual rodeo. “It makes you feel good having people who care about you come out and support you, especially in the rain and mud,” says Till. “I also really like answering all their questions about the rodeo and linework in general.”

Taylor Waples, whose fiancée, Cole Baker, competed for Delaware Electric Cooperative, says that in addition to the excitement, hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for the rodeo, she enjoyed seeing families and coworkers cheering for DEC lineworkers. “I also got to witness our son, Reed, cheering his daddy on for the first time this year,” she says about her third experience at the Gaff-n-Go Rodeo.


In addition to competition and bragging rights, the rodeo provides an atmosphere of learning.

Waples is proud of her soon-to-be husband for finding a career that he loves shortly after graduating from high school. “He comes home every night and tells me about his day and all of the new things he learned,” she says. “One of my favorite things is when we’re driving and he says, ‘I did that pole,’ with a big smile on his face.”

Recognizing the hazardous nature of a lineworker’s job, Waples also says, “What worries me is one mistake could make a life-altering change, causing him to not come home to his family.” The emphasis on safety is strictly enforced at the rodeo and every day on the job.

“I know linework is a very dangerous job, and I worry about Jake every day,” says Patricia Parker, Jake Parker’s mother. “I am reassured that his employer [ANEC] stresses safety first. Linemen look out for one another. That is how I get to sleep each night.”

Parker’s parents are proud of the work he does, performing a service to the community every day. “The community truly respects and appreciates all our linemen do,” says Patricia Parker, “and that is what makes me most proud.”

“Being that this was our first lineman rodeo experience, I had no idea what to expect,” admits Izabelle Lomax, who is engaged to Mason Johnson. “Since we have an almost-one-year-old, it’s even more important to me now that he is safe and able to return home to us every day. The emphasis on safety at the rodeo was extremely comforting.”


Jake Till, NOVEC

Linework can be exhausting, especially in extreme conditions, but according to Till, participating in the rodeo is one of his favorite things to do at work. Competing with coworkers and building camaraderie can be highly rewarding. “My absolute favorite part is watching the growth of the new apprentices during their first rodeo,” he says. “The confidence they gain in their ability to climb proficiently is incredible. The rodeo is an amazing time to meet your coworkers’ families and spend time with your own.”

“Watching the rodeo gives us the opportunity to see Jake perform tasks he does every day at work,” says Patricia Parker. “Safety is a priority at the rodeo, and the linemen are scored heavily on how safely they perform.” The Parker family compares the enjoyment of attending the rodeo with sitting in the stands and cheering for their sons at sporting events while they were young.

Parker is motivated to compete each year by the opportunity to show people what linework is all about. He says, “Having an event like this shows family, friends and the public what we do on a daily basis.”

In addition to competition and bragging rights, the rodeo provides an atmosphere for learning. Apprentices and journeymen pay close attention to their colleagues from other co-ops and other states looking for ways to improve their approaches to various tasks.

“It’s awesome how all of the guys cheer each other on and give each other helpful tips before and during the events,” says Olivia Miller, who is engaged to Till. “There is a great sense of camaraderie. You can tell there are a lot of good mentors among the journeymen and leads.”

A memory from this year’s rodeo that stands out for Lomax is attending the awards banquet that attracted more than 1,000 people. “Although it was exciting to see Choptank bring home a few awards,” she says, “it was endearing to see how everyone was supportive of each other, whether they worked together daily or not.”

See the results from the 20th annual Gaff-n-Go Rodeo at gaff-n-go.com

Save the date for 2025: May 16-17 at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Va.