Linemen Are Always Wired Up

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I heard a noise last summer and looked around the corner to find a truck parked in my back yard.



A lot of the utility workers from around here are down in the southeast right now, trying to repair all the infrastructure damage done by Hurricane Michael. They're putting in some long, long hours, a long way from home.


On more normal days these are the guys who keep my computer and TV running, not to mention, oh, lights and heat. Speaking as a person who once, as a lad, tried to dig a piece of bread out of the toaster with a fork, I wouldn't take their job for love or money. (The toaster won.)


Bud Oly Lite Added Oct 12, 2018 - 6:17am
Yes, unsung heroes, those men are. People who show contempt toward electricity aren't known to live very long. Consider yourself lucky you were "kissed" by a toaster, lol. They're often vilified whenever someone loses power for oh, say five or ten seconds. Nature's way of telling someone they need to unplug and/or disconnect for a little while.
Ward Tipton Added Oct 12, 2018 - 7:08am
And look around, you will see that even more people are paying freelance satellite techs to reinstall their DirecTV ... big business after a disaster, but lots of people just cannot wait to get their idiot box hooked back up. 
Dino Manalis Added Oct 12, 2018 - 8:49am
 We need those service personnel, but the electrical wiring should be underground and not hanging overhead!
Mark Hunter Added Oct 12, 2018 - 8:56am
I also got shocked once at a fire, Michael ... but only once, and at least a better story than the toaster. We firefighters are so grateful when we see the linemen show up.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 12, 2018 - 8:58am
I’m not surprised, Ward, but TV would sure be low priority for me. I’d get antsy after a few days without internet, though.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 12, 2018 - 9:00am
Not the first time I’ve heard that, Dino! I’m sure there are arguments against going underground, but it would sure help fire truck placement, among other things.
Ward Tipton Added Oct 12, 2018 - 10:23am
Lots of added cost and engineering challenges in underground utilities ... hate to see everything shorted out every time a water main burst. 
Even A Broken Clock Added Oct 12, 2018 - 10:40am
Mark, we went through the derecho in West Virginia back in 2012, and seeing the crews work after that gave me a lot more respect for their work. It also led us several years later to install a natural gas backup generator. Haven't had to use it so far but eventually it will be worth its price. If only the natural gas supply is large enough to handle all of the generators they've sold kicking on at the same time (our neighbor across the street has one also and I'm sure there are more on the gas line we use).
The Burghal Hidage Added Oct 12, 2018 - 12:19pm
Unsung heroes indeed! There are not enough of them.  It can be dangerous work, but to a man these guys take safety very, very seriously. Now the suits in the boardroom may be a different story, but you don't have to worry about those guys showing up at an ice storm. Thanks for sharing this Mark and hope for the safe return of all those fellas working round the clock down there in the Gulf.
I would encourage youngsters to seriously consider it as a career choice. A journeyman lineman pulls down six figures in a year with most of your larger power companies and even the fellas working with the Co-ops fare pretty well. It's a  good skill to have and there is a lot of demand
Leroy Added Oct 12, 2018 - 2:41pm
It's a pleasant job in spring and fall on fair weather days, I imagine.  Otherwise, thank goodness there are people willing to work a dangerous job under high-pressure and under the crappiest of conditions.  And, it's a lot more dangerous than a toaster.  You can unplug a toaster and be safe.  There can be residual currents in long lines even when disconnected.  I've never had a healthy fear of electricity.  I'm surprised I am still breathing.  I still picture in my mind this Romanian standing in the middle of a substation with massive amounts of switchgear swinging a sledgehammer.  No idea what he was doing.  He's the bravest dude I have ever seen.  
John Minehan Added Oct 12, 2018 - 5:11pm
This puts me in mind of this.
Back in '05, when I was just back from the War and trying to get caught up on Continuing Legal Education ("CLE"), I got back from a marathon CLE class to see the transmission boxes on power poles in my hometown burning.  I realized there were worse things than being behind on CLE. 
Bill H. Added Oct 12, 2018 - 10:06pm
I spent a good part of my 45 year career as a lineman in the communications industry. I remember getting called out in the middle of the night to repair an "outage" after partying out all night and having to climb poles while drunk or stoned because the guy who was actually on-call was either passed out for the same reason, or just turned off his pager.
It was great training, because I learned to "shut off" the buzz and get into the "serious" thinking mode. Imagine if this occurred these days while driving a company vehicle or climbing poles on gaffs!
Mark Hunter Added Oct 12, 2018 - 11:56pm
Those are the shortcomings I've heard about, Ward.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 12:02am
That derecho was something else, Clock--caused a lot of damage up here, too. I've been saving up money for a generator, but haven't gotten one yet--they're worth the price. Luckily for me, if I'm home when a major problem occurs I'll be called up to the firehouse, which has a gas generator--but I don't want my water pipes to freeze while I'm gone.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 12:11am
Yeah, the suits in the board room always have a different outlook on that kind of stuff--that's why I think they should serve a few years in the field before they're ever permitted to be in charge.
You're right that it's a great career to get into, though. Good training, job security, danger if you're into that, and big money--it's like firefighting, only with big money.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 12:14am
Spartacus, there's a fine line between brave and stupid; I should know, I've crossed it several times. Sounds to me like that guy with a sledgehammer needed to work on his situational awareness, but you do have to give him credit for doing what many (including me) wouldn't try. Boy, are you ever right about the crappy conditions.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 12:20am
Ah, Witchita Lineman! I always found that song haunting; my dad had it on a 45 record.
John, I can tell you that firefighters hate utility pole fires, no matter what's burning at the top of them. Most of us aren't equipped to deal directly with energized electrical equipment on a pole, so our job is to clear the area, make sure the fire doesn't spread to surrounding property, and wait for the linemen. Firefighters despise waiting.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 12:23am
Wouldn't go over so well these days, Bill! But it was a different time back then. The old timers when I joined in 1980 would tell stories about how the pop machine at the firehouse used to dispense beer! About the time I started they banned alcohol from the property and started a zero tolerance policy for the volunteers--one beer and you stay home no matter what the call. That's one reason I never did much drinking: I didn't want to miss a fire.
Leroy Added Oct 13, 2018 - 2:44am
I've heard that fireman don't like solar cells much either, especially the larger systems.  How to turn them off can be an issue.
John Minehan Added Oct 13, 2018 - 8:31am
"About the time I started they banned alcohol from the property and started a zero tolerance policy for the volunteers--one beer and you stay home no matter what the call. That's one reason I never did much drinking: I didn't want to miss a fire."
Every volunteer fireman I ever met felt the same way.  It really is a good thing about American life most of us don't think about enough.  
Ward Tipton Added Oct 13, 2018 - 8:38am
We had a few of those pop machines with "Out Of Order" the most common selection ;) 
Bill H? Are you saying that lineman work high and wired on the job? Isn't that shocking? (You are likely old enough to remember when they were called high wires ... though perhaps that was only in the South?) 
Bill H. Added Oct 13, 2018 - 1:33pm
My work was on cable television systems back in the late '60s thru the '70s. We were upgrading systems from ladder lead and G-line systems with tube amplifiers to "modern" 300 MHz coax systems with solid state amps. The early solid state systems were prone to damage from power surges and lightning strikes, which resulted in a higher number of outages than the previous tube-based amplifier systems. Being on-call for systems outages was rotated every other week with the other technician, who was not the most reliable responder when he was on-call. Hence, I would get called out to repair a system outage during my off week, many times when I had been drinking or partaking in the herb. It was either that, or let customers wait until the next day to watch TV.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 5:53pm
That's true, Leroy -- and electric cars can be something of a challenge during firefighter or accident extrication. New electric technology tends to have a lot of failsafe systems to keep it running, but the energy still has to be stored somewhere, and that's when our problems start.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 5:54pm
It is, John. Love volunteer firefighters--they make a lot of sacrifices, right down to skipping that six pack of beer at the end of a long day! That one wasn't too much of a sacrifice for me: I hate beer.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 5:56pm
Out of order selection? That's a brilliant idea! I wonder if I can somehow use that concept to sneak Mountain Dews past my health conscious wife? Maybe drape a sign over a few cans that says "Spoiled, do not touch until trash day"?
Mark Hunter Added Oct 13, 2018 - 5:58pm
Where were you when I needed you, Bill? We didn't get cable TV in Albion until the early 80.
I'll bet a lot of those customers would be happy to let your take your chances with a high B.A.C., as long as it got their cable back sooner.
Tamara Wilhite Added Oct 13, 2018 - 10:12pm
Our society doesn't appreciate these people enough. They are the ones braving the storm and its aftermath to keep the power on.
Bill H. Added Oct 13, 2018 - 10:15pm
When I started with the company, they only serviced a small community of about 600 homes that was behind a large hill that blocked reception from the local broadcasters. At the time there were only 6 channels on the air. We also pumped out the local FM broadcasters. We added a movie channel that would play some of the movies that were a month or two old from VCR tapes on a rotating basis in the evening. This spurred demand from homes outside of our system and began a huge system expansion to the surrounding 5000+ homes and the rest was history. We began carrying HBO in about 1975. By the end of 1980, we were carrying a whopping 54 channels.
I got pretty good at gaffing poles over the years. We had a competition at a local utility company pole yard back in the mid 70's and out of about 30 guys from the local telco and power companies, I came in 5th, and that included competing against some seasoned power company veterans. I only gaffed-out once while climbing a pole, and luckily fell into a bush at the base of the pole.
Ward Tipton Added Oct 13, 2018 - 10:23pm
We never had a television at all when I was a kid ... the first time I had a television in the house was during the Nixon trials. 
Mark Hunter Added Oct 14, 2018 - 9:07am
There are a lot of unappreciated occupations, Tamara, and these guys are definitely near the top of the list. Personally, I'm also a big fan of plumbers and other people who repair my home maintenance screw-ups ... but they don't usually have to do it during a blizzard or thunderstorm.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 14, 2018 - 9:12am
I'll bet those were strange and heady days starting out, Bill. I don't remember how many channels Albion started out with, but we had two premium: HBO was 20, and Cinemax was 22, so that shows you about how many channels we got. But in perfect weather our antennas could only bring in five or six channels, so to us it was amazing.
My relatives in Kentucky were literally surrounded by mountains, and someone mounted an antenna on top of one and ran a cable down just to get a few channels. I'll bet they were even happier than us to see cable when it finally got there! At least you didn't gaff-out and then roll down a mountain.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 14, 2018 - 9:14am
I'm sure you were better off, Ward. Our black and white console TV allowed us to see the Moon landings, but other than that I don't recall much on TV as a kid except for sitcom reruns--and Star Trek, which at the time I'd have thought made it worthwhile.
A. Jones Added Oct 14, 2018 - 7:52pm
A famous song about a lineman (a telephone lineman, I believe) sung by the late, great, Glen Campbell.
Mark Hunter Added Oct 15, 2018 - 7:01am
Yep, Glen Campbell--my dad had it on a 45 record. I always found it haunting.

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