Linemen at West Penn Power in Butler, Pennsylvania, were pulling conductor by hand, leading to shoulder and elbow injuries. At times, the field crews would depend on a pickup with a block on the pole to pull in the conductor, but because the workers didn't have a motorized mechanism, it was a time- and labor-intensive process.

After considering building a tool internally, West Penn Power discovered a product that was already out on the market to solve this problem. Dubbed the “Blue Ox,” and now called the CP50, the puller allows users to install secondary conductor through underground conduit from the pole or pad transformer to the meter box.

Testing the Puller in the Field

To test the product out in the field, the utility invited the manufacturer, Sherman + Reilly, to assist the crew at the University of Slippery Rock in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Management decided that if the Blue Ox could handle this difficult project, then it could work in most other similar applications.

The test went extremely well. In fact, the conductor was pulled in high range except for the last 10 ft to 15 ft, which had to be dropped down to low range. Overall, however, they were able to get the conductor pulled right in.

The conductor pulling took about 15 minutes, and much of this time was spent on explaining how to work the machine.

In contrast, it would often take the linemen considerably longer to pull it by hand. Traditionally, they would pull the ultra blue quarter-inch line with the customer's rope. At that point, they would then hook the conductor onto the ultra blue and then pull the conductor from the pad or pole to the meter socket.

Garnering a Positive Response

So far, the machine has received a positive response from the field crews. The linemen use the machine for all underground secondary conductors, eliminating the need to pull the heavy wires by hand.

Every West Penn service center now has a puller, and the utility now has about 30 of them in the field. Anytime the linemen need to work on an underground service, then they put the product to use.

Once the utility invested in the pullers, West Penn Power invited Sherman + Reilly to visit its linemen at the service centers to demonstrate the proper operating procedure. For example, the vendor visited the Butler Service Center to train the linemen how to use the Blue Ox a few years ago.

Since then, Sherman + Reilly has launched an enhanced version of the puller called the CP-50 Compact Safety Puller, and West Penn Power already has several of them in use in the field. This capstan puller has a 500-lb pulling capacity yet weighs less than 40 lb. It's portable, on wheels and has spuds for adapting to different conduit sizes. In addition, it can be powered by gasoline-powered drills. The puller is compact enough to be stored on a line truck and due to its light weight, easily mounts and dismounts from a meter box.

By investing in this product, West Penn Power is striving to reduce the number of injuries caused by its linemen performing secondary pulls by hand. This machine has helped the field crews to improve ergonomics in the field while enhancing both safety and productivity.


Paul Bartley (pbartley@fristenergycorp.com) is the regional operations supervisor for lines for the Butler Service Center for West Penn Power, a First Energy company in Butler, Pennsylvania. He has worked for the company for almost 39 years. In his current role, he is responsible for line crew distribution, overhead and underground, and subtransmission.