by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

When I was a small boy back in the early 1960s, my absolute favorite TV show was Rawhide. The show had it all. There were memorable characters. There was tough, relentless, but fair-minded trail boss Gil Favor ... quick with the draw, hard-charging Rowdy Yates, played by a very young Clint Eastwood ... and the crusty old cook Wishbone, with his wagon full of seemingly every ingredient and implement of cookery needed to feed dozens of hungry trail hands, multiple times a day for weeks on end.

Each episode also featured a great story, with high drama and low comedy and enough gunplay and tension to keep you riveted to your seat throughout. (Back in those days of three networks and no remote controls, I realize that it was easier to keep viewers captive to a given show, but I still think the show was addictive and entertaining.)

And then there was the show’s stark cinematography, featuring Western landscapes of mountains and mesas, flatlands and rivers, deserts and dust, and lots and lots of cattle, made more dramatic and exotic when seen in the flickering black-and-white images that emanated from the picture tubes of that day.

Further helping to define the show at the time, and to bring back memories of it ever since, is the signature song by Frankie Laine. “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, though the streams are swollen, keep them dogies rollin’, Rawhide! Rain and wind and weather, hell-bent for leather ….”

But though the show is now a distant-albeit-pleasant memory, the spirit of Rawhide lives on. In your community. In your neighborhood. In fact, in your electric cooperative. Specifically, in the guise of the line-crew members who keep the lights on for you and the nearly one million other Virginians who receive electricity from one of the Commonwealth’s 13 consumer-owned electric cooperatives.

When you think about it, there’s a lot in common between a trail hand and a line worker. There’s a love of the outdoors. There’s work that is both physically and mentally demanding. There’s the need to get your job done through “rain and wind and weather,” and, for that matter, through hurricanes and ice storms and blizzards, too. And perhaps most sobering, there’s the very real threat that, with even one tiny mistake, the unforgiving and dangerous nature of your work could leave you maimed, or dead.

Early last month, on a beautiful blue-sky day that was hardly typical of the conditions in which they frequently labor, nearly 120 line workers gathered on a field adjoining Liberty University in Lynchburg, and took part in the friendly competition of a “lineman’s rodeo” (see pg. 41). This rodeo featured nearly 30 teams of line workers representing 12 electric cooperatives, three large power companies and one municipal electric utility. Working on lines that were “dead” (no electricity flowing through them), and with hundreds of family members, friends and co-workers there to cheer them on, these modern-day cowboys demonstrated the various skills a line worker must have in climbing poles, handling lines, and, in an emergency, rescuing a colleague injured at the top of a pole.

And what do you think was the most important element in every competition in which they took part? It was the “S” word. No, not Speed. It was THE watchword of line workers: Safety. As you can imagine, when every move could be your last, line workers must focus on safety — for themselves and for the members of the public they serve — every second of every minute of every hour they’re on the job, day or night, good weather or bad.

Sponsoring the rodeo for the fourth consecutive year was Central Virginia Electric Cooperative of Lovingston, south of Charlottesville. The president and CEO of Central Virginia, Howard Scarboro, nicely summed up the purpose of the rodeo in the printed program that all participants and attendees received: “For those participating in the rodeo, you are to be congratulated for your hard work and your service. Electric consumers enjoy a higher quality of life because of your contribution ... Good luck to each and every one of you. Climb safe. Climb strong. Take pride in your performance. We are proud of you.”

At bottom, the mission of any electric utility — including your electric cooperative — is to deliver electricity safely, efficiently, and as continuously as possible, to your home or place of business. It’s the line-crew workers who are principally responsible for accomplishing this mission.

It’s these line-crew workers who perform some of the most difficult, dangerous and daunting work imaginable, often in brutally uncomfortable weather conditions. They don’t expect thanks any more than Gil Favor or Rowdy Yates did when they reached the end of the cattle drive with all the herd in tow.

But if you get the chance, and take it, and say thank you to one of your co-op’s line-crew members ... you’ll likely “make the day” for a true unsung hero, who endures discomfort and danger to help you and me avoid both.


Home ] Up ] Cover Story ] Food For Thought ] Down Home ] Reader Recipes ] Book Sense ] [ Editorial ]