Get-up-n-Go to the Gaff-n-Go!

In early May, you can watch over 150 lineworkers eager to demonstrate their climbing, rescuing, power-restoring skills at the largest rodeo in the East for the pros who keep the lights on.

March-April 2018

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

In the idol worship of youth in the ’60s, my heroes tended toward professional athletes. This, of course, 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 of that. Nowadays we’re bathed in an unrelenting shower of tweets and texts on “smart” phones that ping us with the latest gossipy revelations, nasty kerfuffles or confessional moments from today’s countless public figures. Sigh.

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

Now in my 60s, I wonder: Were my boyhood heroes really heroes, or merely the beneficiaries of an accommodating press and few spotlights to probe the dark corners of their off-field lives? Either way, pro athletes should rarely be idolized as heroes. Talented performers? Determined competitors? Absolutely. But not heroes.

After all, athletes are playing a game they enjoy, at which they’re skilled and for which they receive hearty helpings of both adulation and compensation. Such undertakings are surely entertaining. But not heroic.

Heroism is about sacrifice. About serving others, or a higher cause. About taking risks and putting others first, without thought of personal gain or glory. Its ranks are elite, populated with police officers … firefighters … emergency responders … schoolteachers … volunteers … soldiers, sailors and Marines … and electric utility lineworkers.

Every hour, day and year, utility lineworkers are building, maintaining or repairing an electric line somewhere, overhead or underground. It’s a calling that’s difficult to learn and dangerous to do.

These smart, sure pros put their skills to the test every day. They also put their lives on the line every time they climb a pole or into a bucket, and ascend to a zone so dangerous that a 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 “lineman rodeo,” now in its 16th year.

Called the “Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s Rodeo,” this year’s events will be held on Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12, at Meadow Event Park just north of Richmond off I-95, at the Doswell exit. (The gaff is the metal spike that’s hooked onto the side of a lineworker’s boots, enabling the climb up a wooden pole, which is why some lineworkers call themselves “wood walkers.”)

During two days of spirited competition, over 150 lineworkers from utilities in states up and down the East Coast and beyond will gather to test their skills against the best of the best. These dedicated professionals don’t ask for, or expect, thanks for putting their lives on the line to keep the lights on. Which is all the more reason to give it.

And it’s also why it’s so gratifying to watch these lineworkers, who normally toil only with crewmates, basking in a blessed shower of applause, as colleagues, family members and friends cheer them on during timed tests of their skill.

As moving as it is watching an appreciative crowd, a moment even more powerful and memorable comes when a lineman’s small child gazes upward, in awe, as Dad skillfully scales a utility pole, and successfully rescues a “hurt man,” in this case a life-size mannequin.

We encourage you to attend this year’s Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s Rodeo. You can access all of the details at

And the next time you flip a light switch in your home or business, remember: The electricity that brings you entertainment, information, comfort and nourishment is more than just a flow of electrons. It’s the handiwork of heroes that you can watch on May 11-12 as they “gaff-n-go”!