A Roundup of Wood Walkers

On May 10 & 11, plan to come and marvel at the climbing, rescuing, power-restoring derring-do of competitors taking part in one of the largest line worker rodeos in the country.

March-April 2019

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

In the idol worship of youth in the ’60s, my heroes tended toward professional athletes. This was a more innocent time, or perhaps merely a time when the citizenry was less-informed about the sins and shortcomings of athletes … actors … and elected officials.

Technology of course has changed all that. The ranks of today’s public figures are now swelled with a new category, those internet celebrities who move from anonymous aspirants to viral sensations with one video post.

In this current age, we’re bathed in an unrelenting shower of texts and tweets, sharing the latest gossipy revelations, nasty dustups or confessional moments involving this growing legion of public figures.

Few would see their reputation burnished in such a glass house.

And few do.

With the perspective gained from 63 winters — 23,000 days more-or-less, filled with needless worries, small disappointments, an abundance of joys and a growing sense of gratitude for it all — I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a lot of things. Including the distinction between celebrity and heroism.

Being wealthy, or successful, or well-known, doesn’t make you a hero.

After all, heroism is about sacrifice. About serving others. About following a higher calling or serving a higher cause. About taking risks. About putting others first, without thought of personal gain or glory.

Most heroes are not household names. They’re not pursuing celebrity. They’re not chasing wealth. Their ranks are populated with police officers … firefighters … emergency responders … schoolteachers … volunteers … school bus drivers … caregivers … soldiers, sailors and Marines.

And there’s another set of heroes as well. Heroes who risk life and limb to keep us comfortable and safe. Every hour of every day of every year, utility line workers are building, maintaining or repairing an electric line somewhere, overhead or underground.

It’s a calling that benefits all, but that few can do.

Those who can are smart, sure pros who put their skills to the test — and their lives on the line — every time they climb a pole or into a bucket and ascend to a zone so dangerous that one misstep can take a limb … or a life.

To celebrate their work, and thank them for their sacrifices, the electric cooperatives of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware host an annual line worker rodeo, now in its 17th year. Called the “Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s Rodeo,” this year’s events will be held on Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11, at Meadow Event Park north of Richmond off I-95, at the Doswell exit. (Gaffs are metal spikes that line workers attach to their boots, enabling them to climb wooden poles more easily, which is why many call themselves “wood walkers.”)

During two days of spirited competition, over 150 line workers — representing dozens of utilities from states up and down the East Coast — will gather to test their skills against the best of the best. These dedicated professionals don’t ask, or expect, us to thank them for keeping the lights on. Which is all the more reason to do so.

It’s gratifying to watch these line workers, who normally toil far from the public eye, basking — if only for a moment — in a burst of applause, as colleagues, family members and friends cheer them on during timed and scored tests of their skill.

It’s even more gratifying to watch a small child gaze upward, in awe, as Dad skillfully scales a utility pole and rescues an injured colleague, even if this time that colleague is “only” a life-size mannequin.

Real heroes abound at the gaff-n-go rodeo. We hope to see you there, at this year’s roundup of wood walkers! More details are available at gaff-n-go.com.