Lineworker rodeos require objective observers, like Mecklenburg’s Clint Card
by Laura Emery, Deputy Editor
By his nature, Clint Card is not one to judge others. Except, of course, when there’s serious competition going on.
As competitors climb up and down utility poles in front of him like gymnasts in hardhats, Card’s keen eyes monitors their every move. He serves as a rodeo judge at the annual Gaff-n-Go Lineworker Rodeo in Doswell, Va., and the International Lineman’s Rodeo, held each year in Bonner Springs, Kan.
Both rodeos exist to highlight and reward lineworkers’ dedication, attention to safety, daily demonstration of proficiency in their job skills and spirit of cooperation.
At the Gaff-n-Go Lineworker Rodeo, highly skilled lineworkers from up and down the East Coast compete in events based on traditional lineworker tasks and skills. The event attracts hundreds of friends, family members and spectators who come to watch lineworkers from multiple states ply their trade in a competitive yet friendly environment. It will be held May 13-14 at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Va.
LOVING LINE WORK
While Card, manager of district operations for Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, is judging those competing, he’s also a little envious of them.
“I joined the team at MEC 33 years ago as meter reader/groundman, so I know what it feels like to be up on the pole in day-to-day line work and during storm, but also in these rodeo competitions,” he says.
While he’s currently in a supervisory role, Card says he misses line work “terribly.”
After just a few days of being at MEC, Card says, “I knew the Lord had put me in the right place. You’re doing something that helps others, and that’s a good feeling.”
He was undeterred by his first major storm event. “It involved four or five rough days and sleepless nights working through the heaviest of rain,” he remembers. Then, after a brief pause, he adds, “That’s when I really knew it was the perfect job for me.”
It’s this deep respect and love of the job itself that makes his role in the lineworker rodeos about more than donning a judge’s hat.
“When they sound the horn, everybody wants to win. But all who compete at the rodeo win. You establish relationships you will have for a long time. We’re all doing the same job with the same goals,” he says..
JUDGING WITH FAIRNESS
Talmadge “T.R.” Eubank, foreman at Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, competed against Card in multiple rodeos. “Clint embodies what I think is important in a judge, and that is being knowledgeable and fair. He’s worked it, he’s competed, he knows,” says Eubank.
B.J. Walker, retired line supervisor at Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, has judged alongside Card for many years. “I’ve been in the co-op world for 35 years and I’ve never heard anybody say anything negative about Clint Card. I think that speaks volumes,” he says.
Card recalls his first impression of the lineworker rodeo. “The Gaff-n-Go got its start in Lovingston, where it was run by Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. I think the mindset for a lot of guys, at the time, was, ‘We do this line of work to help people and make money; we ain’t going to make a game out of it.’”
But Card admits that curiosity led him to check out the event in person. After that, it was a no-brainer. “I knew I wanted to establish a team and compete,” he says.
“Clint and his teams have won, or placed in the top three, in both of the rodeos. … His willingness to work hard to make these events the best they can be is driven not by his competitive nature … but by the pride he takes in what lineworkers do and in their teamwork and camaraderie,” explains MEC President and CEO John C. Lee Jr..
PERILS OF JUDGING
During his time as a judge, Card has seen some interesting things, one of which brought new meaning to the phrase “egg on your face.”
“We used to have an event where competitors climbed a 40-foot pole with a bag, containing an egg. At the top of the pole, they had to take the egg out of the bag and transfer it to their mouth while hanging the bag on the top of the pole.
“Well, one of the guys competing one year had the egg break in his mouth. He spit it out and it went all over the judges watching down below. It was pretty hilarious,” he says.
Card also has seen some minor injuries occur. “When you see slip-ups during the competition, you know they could be dangerous during real-life linework scenarios on energized lines,” he says.
It serves as a stark reminder to all that safety always needs to be a lineworker’s first priority, he adds.
“The number one thing is safety and the biggest thing behind safety is knowledge,” he says.
And if you’re not competing safely … well, Card will be the judge of that.