by Steven Johnson, Staff Writer
More competitors, more vendors, a bigger awards banquet and even more grillers — just about everything about the 17th Gaff-n-Go Equipment Operator’s and Lineman’s Rodeo set a record.
Held May 10-11, 2019 at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia, the rodeo attracted hundreds of co-op friends, family members and spectators who watched more than 150 talented lineworkers from six states ply their trade in a friendly yet competitive environment.
“We’re really proud that this has grown from pretty humble beginnings into one of the largest regional rodeos in the country,” says John C. Lee, CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and chairman of the Rodeo Committee.
The Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives hosted the event, which was sponsored by TEREX in partnership with NESCO Specialty Rentals.
The May 10 equipment operator’s rodeo tested each three-member team’s ability to maneuver trucks and equipment used in electric distribution systems. Meanwhile, nearly a dozen teams lit a fire to barbecued pork, chicken and beef in the Gaff-n-Grill event, won by Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s “Blowing Smoke” grillers.
On May 11, declared Electric Utility Line Workers Day by Gov. Ralph Northam, three-member journeyman teams and individual apprentices competed in events that simulated real life. “It is so impressive to observe these professionals as they work 40 feet above the ground on a course of utility poles while always keeping safe and efficient work practices front and center,” says Richard Johnstone, VMDAEC president and CEO.
The vendor expo featured 51 exhibitors in 2019, compared with 30 in 2013. And 540 tickets were sold for the awards banquet, held Saturday night at the Hilton Richmond Short Pump Hotel, up from 330 in 2013.
Also assisting were Clint Card of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and C.T. Bryant, retired from Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, the co-chairmen of the Rodeo Working Group. Additionally, participants and spectators dug deep in their pockets to help raise nearly $6,000 to support a Dominion Energy worker recently injured in the line of duty.
“These guys work with each other in major storm events in the middle of the night,” Lee says. “I think it’s highly comforting for them to know that the guy on the next pole is someone they met and got to know here at the rodeo.