High-Flying Cowboys

Keep Power Rolling, Rolling, Rolling Across the Countryside

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

The hat and gloves of leather have been replaced with hard plastic and rubber. The belt that held six-shooters and bullets now holds heavy tools. Blue jeans and boots, though, are still standard apparel. And climbing in the saddle? Today that means strapping gaffs, instead of spurs, onto your boots and climbing — not a horse, but a wooden pole — to keep the power rolling, rolling, rolling across the countryside.

Keeping the electrons moving to your home or business, like cattle on a drive to market, often means these “high-flying cowboys” are plying their special skills during times when you and I are safe and snug at home, when violent thunderstorms have rumbled over the landscape, or when thick sheets of ice have tightened their grip on the land.

These modern-day cowboys, of course, are electric utility linemen. And given what a typical “day at the office” is like for these career climbers, you can imagine what a delightful change of pace it was on Saturday, April 9, when nearly 100 of them competed in multiple demonstrations of safety and skill during the 9th Annual Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s Rodeo. This special competition involving and also honoring linemen is sponsored by the trade association representing 15 member-owned electric cooperatives in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

These linemen displayed their considerable skills before hundreds of onlookers at The Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Va., just north of Richmond, new site of the Virginia State Fair and in the shadow of theme park King’s Dominion. These highly trained professionals not only brave weather’s wildest and worst offerings, but they also practice a trade whose dangers are obvious to even the most casual observer.

While some of the normal occupational dangers are muted for the rodeo — for instance, there’s no power flowing through the demonstration power lines — the participating linemen must follow all safety protocols and procedures fully, during this demonstration of discipline, training, and focused skill. Meanwhile, 40 feet below, observers on the ground — mostly family members, friends and colleagues — are vigorously cheering their favorite lineman on with the prospect of glory — that “glory” being a modest trophy for the winning teams and individuals — or with an even-more-substantial reward: a congratulatory handshake from a colleague; a hug from one’s spouse or child.

Virginia’s 13 member-owned electric cooperatives are rightly proud of all of the dedicated men and women —engineers and accountants and office workers and of course linemen — who work hard to “keep the lights on,” every hour of every day, every season of every year, in a long and intricate chain of professional expertise that trails back from your meter through distribution lines, substations, transmission lines, and back to power-generating stations of various sizes and fuel sources.

This system that delivers power to us when and where it’s needed has as its final — and most visible — cog the job done by these “high-flying cowboys.” And like the cattle drives of the 19th-century American West, these tough-as-whit-leather professionals deliver the goods to market, safely, reliably, and with a minimum of fanfare or fuss.

It’s a craft that all of us admire from the ground, but a calling that only a few feel moved to answer. If you would like more information on the lineman rodeo, please visit a special website, www.gaff-n-go.com or www.facebook.com/gaffngo. 


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