Many linemen spend their entire careers working in the field. When they decide it's time to retire, their knowledge about the line trade can often be left behind.
After spending 37 years in the electric industry, I wanted to share my experiences with those linemen who are still working to keep the lights on. In my opinion, knowledge is not valuable unless it is shared with others.
As a young man growing up in Routt County and graduating from high school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I did not have a clear career path. After earning a degree from a community college, getting married and starting a family, I realized that construction work in Colorado was very seasonal and often part time. I knew from the onset that it was imperative I find work that was steady and that had benefits.
Fortunately, a local line superintendent offered me a job to read meters for the Yampa Valley Electric Association (YVEA) in northwest Colorado. I didn't realize it at the time, but that moment was a turning point in my life.
On Jan. 3, 1972, I reported to the office. At that time, there was no formal interview and no need for a résumé. My boss was simply looking for two major things — a desire to work and to be dependable. My parents instilled both of those qualities in me at an early age, so I got the job, and I never looked back.
Thirty-seven years later, I find myself reflecting back on the opportunities that YVEA gave me over the years as a meter reader, lineman and meter technician. I also often think about the type of income and security it provided for my family and me. In an effort to help others in the line trade, I am offering the following advice to the current and future wave of linemen.
Take pride in your work
I really enjoyed line work and was one of those guys that followed the spec book to the letter. I always felt that if all journeymen took the same approach, then utilities would have uniformity to their lines. Having consistent workmanship is particularly advantageous when linemen have to go back and work on a structure at 2 a.m. when it's 25 or 30 degrees below zero.
Get the power back on
Restoring power was one of the most rewarding parts of being a journeyman. I enjoyed trying to figure out the cause of the outage and then turn the lights back on for our customers. Troubleshooting was always a challenge because no two outages were ever the same. As a result, I had the opportunity to learn more about our electrical system. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment and pride.
Learn how to work hot
With the aid of bucket trucks and rubber gloves, working our lines hot without interruption has been a great tool. When time and application allows, the art of hot sticking should be passed on with encouragement to our younger linemen. I can still remember my very first stick job, changing out suspension insulators hanging off fiberglass arms on a 69-kVA line. Our four-man crew worked on the project on a nice summer day, and it was a positive experience.
I spent about 10 years working on substations, and I learned the importance of safety. No matter what your classification is, keep in mind your safety practices for you and your coworkers. Going home at the end of the day is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your family.
When you work for a small company, you have to take advantage of any opportunity while you can. Be willing to do whatever is asked of you, and always go the extra mile.
For example, a chance conversation with a meter technician led me on a different career path. He told me that he planned to retire in a year and a half, and after working for 12 years as a lineman, I was looking at a new opportunity.
Linemen are a lot like athletes — over time their bodies eventually wear out. At the ripe old age of 39, I got the chance to move into metering. I figured that I had another five to 10 years on the line crew, so this move was sooner that I had envisioned.
I learned, however, that it's better to prepare for an opportunity ahead of time, rather than simply waiting for an opportunity to come along and fall into your lap.
Be open to new experiences
While I encourage you to embrace new opportunities, I also advise you to give yourself some time to adjust to a new job position. For example, I had been working for the metering department for about a month when I questioned whether or not I was doing the right thing.
I was used to climbing poles, building line and terminating underground as a journeyman. Testing meters and wiring current and voltage transformers, as a meter technician was a whole new ball game. Now I had my own truck, my own office, and no need to work overtime or compete with 15 other guys on a daily basis. On the downside, I was responsible for the billing multiplier as well as the registers I changed out or put on each meter. I was responsible for about 13,000 consumer meters and had set up a good change-out program for myself.
Serve your customers
The last 10 years of my career were strictly devoted to metering, which involved high use and voltage complaints. I liked the challenge of trying to help the customers figure out why they had uneven voltage or their bill was running higher than in the previous months. This gave me a chance to build relationships with the consumer and work on public relations, which is every employee's responsibility. I liked to figure out the reason and then help suggest a solution. By working together, we could resolve their voltage problem or high bill complaint.
When you get to that point in your life when you start looking at retirement seriously, start thinking about what is going to fill that void when you do retire. I started to really look at retirement about nine years before I left YVEA, and I became actively involved in my community.
I would encourage you to serve on a committee or a board or run for a local office. Prepare yourself for those golden years and then leave yourself open to suggestions and whatever may come your way. Whatever you decide to do after you walk out the door for the last time, enjoy each day.
Ray Beck (firstname.lastname@example.org) is retired from the Yampa Valley Electric Cooperative in Craig, Colorado. He worked in the industry for 37 years. He is currently serving on the Craig City Council.
The Electric Utility Operations section is designed to help utility field personnel increase productivity and safety on the job. The section, which goes out to 10,000 Transmission & Distribution World readers each month, carries a monthly theme and includes features and departments such as Life Line and Safety Talk.
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