If you ask linemen what they can’t live without in the field, you’ll find that it doesn’t fit in a toolbox or on a shelf. It’s a bucket truck, and for today’s workforce, it’s a critical part of the utility fleet.

For example, Duke Energy now has about 500 trucks and has been using them for as long as he can remember, says John Evans, a learning services manager for Duke Energy.

“When I started in 1979, we didn’t have as many of them as we have now,” says the journeyman lineman. “When I came on board, we were climbing poles and doing mostly pole work. We had a bucket on the line truck, but it was sitting on the cab and was quite cumbersome to install.”

Times have changed, and over the years, manufacturers have made major modifications to these vehicles to make them more user-friendly, ergonomic, and safe and easy to operate. In turn, linemen are empowered to be more productive in the field.

Meeting Weight Restrictions

With all of the new technology available on the market, not to mention the necessary materials to get work done, it’s a challenge for linemen to decide what items to place on their trucks. As such, utilities often need to contend with weight restrictions set by the Department of Transportation.

Evans says crews can only put 20,000 lb on the real axle, and trucks typically weigh about 15,000 lb. Some tandem vehicles allow linemen to add more weight, but this requires a much larger truck with a wider turning radius, which isn’t always conducive to getting out of small neighborhoods.

On a typical day, a Duke Energy crew often loads up a truck with line hoses, rubber blankets to cover up bales, insulators and jumpers, and fiber-strapped hoists to move energized conductors. Within their tool bins, they’ll also need to carry steel grips for different wire sizes, two sets of personal climbing tools, rain gear, battery-operated hand tools, an inverter to charge batteries and connectors, bolts and other hardware.

Because the weight of all of these tools and equipment can add up quickly, Duke Energy tried to find ways to solve the problem of too much weight on the truck. For example, the company often requires linemen to pull a material trailer and purchases trucks with fiberglass (rather than steel or aluminum) bodies, which help to reduce weight.

“When we design a bucket or line truck, we design it with a lineman in mind,” Evans says. “We want them to easily get to equipment and to not have to worry about weight issues.”

At Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), the utility’s standards committee has made the trucks more heavy duty, so that they can withstand the weight and be legal to handle the necessary items like crossarms, insulators and palmer bells. With that in mind, however, it’s still a challenge for linemen to keep within the standard weight, especially when they need to carry an extra load of rock or other heavy materials.