TO AN OUTSIDER, THE PATCH OF LAND SPROUTING DOZENS OF UTILITY POLES STRUNG TOGETHER in tight clusters might be nothing more than an odd sight. But to hundreds of journeymen and apprentice linemen, this acreage in Bonner Springs, Kansas, U.S., is the place to celebrate teamwork, competition, skill, tradition, friendship and family. This is the site of the 26th Annual International Lineman's Rodeo, co-hosted by Kansas City Power & Light (Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.) and Westar Energy (Topeka, Kansas) Oct. 17.

A TEST OF SKILL

A dozen teammates from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 18 (Los Angeles, California, U.S.) cheered as Mark Garcia and Sotero Ramos raced to complete maneuvers high atop a pole. They were two of the last to compete from their group. Their teammates, wearing jackets embroidered with their local name, shouted encouragement.

“The same guys tend to qualify two years in a row for the rodeo, but the other guys keep working on their skills and then a new team usually replaces them the third year,” said Jay Puklavetz, who has the distinction of qualifying for the rodeo each year from 1990 to 2001. Now he comes to help and to cheer on the other guys.

This year, teams tested their skills in the hurtman rescue and the pole climb. They also competed in two mystery events in which they learned what their task would be just hours before demonstrating it. Apprentices competed in a written test, the hurtman rescue, the pole climb, performing cardio pulmonary resuscitation and using an automated external defibrillator, and a mystery event. The competitors are judged for safety, good work practices, neatness and ability, proper equipment handling and timely completion of the tasks.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

Kevin Shaffer, business manager of the IBEW Local 17 in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., sees the rodeo as a family event.

“My son is a third-generation lineman and all of our family comes to the rodeo,” Shaffer said. “It cost a lot of money for our group of 49 people to fly here, but it was worth every penny. It's also a chance to see old friends and meet crews from other countries, including Europe and Canada. I've been coming since the rodeo started and I wouldn't miss it.”

Natasha Greims, wife of Rodney Greims of CenterPoint Energy (Houston, Texas, U.S.), also sees the rodeo as a family event. This is her first time to attend because her husband had been called away the previous two years to work on storm repairs following hurricanes.

“It is a bit stressful watching your husband compete, but it is also a lot of fun,” Greims said. “The wives got to be part of the big T-shirt trade, which I enjoyed, because we are building our collection.”

The Friday night “Trade Night” at Black & Veatch's headquarters has become a tradition. Crews swap T-shirts and hats emblazoned with their company's or local's logo. Veterans of the event take pride in their extensive collections.

The rodeo also represented a getaway for their families. Crews from Oklahoma Gas & Electric (Ardmore, Oklahoma, U.S.) cheered on teammates Andrew Chavers and Shane Bynum as they competed in a mystery event. Noting that there were no women in their crowd, the crews admitted that their wives had slipped out for a bit of shopping at the enormous Legends shopping complex down the road. Families also joined the crews for an awards banquet at the Overland Park Convention Center on Saturday night.

A SPIRIT OF FRIENDSHIP

The grounds of the U.S. Agricultural Hall of Fame pulsated with activity during the rodeo. Upbeat country music played over the speakers and a friendly announcer gave regular updates on the events. Crews and their families crowded along the sidelines, watching the action. Linemen from other teams even offered a few encouraging words to their competitors.

“We enjoy coming to meet the men from other utilities but also to connect with the guys from the other Westar offices,” said Dave Shockley from Westar Energy. “We wouldn't get to see some of these guys if it weren't for the rodeo.”

A desire to share friendship and best practices were the reasons the first lineman's rodeo was offered in 1983. That year, about a dozen teams from Kansas and Missouri participated. Since then, the event has attracted teams from across the U.S. and a few from other countries. In 2009, 153 teams and 215 apprentices participated.

THE LATEST AND GREATEST

Each year, the rodeo is preceded by a safety and training conference and an expo. The conference features industry experts who discuss all aspects of on-the-job safety. At the expo, more than 100 exhibitors showcase their latest line equipment and related products.

New this year, the Disaster Relief Expo was featured in the parking lot of the convention center, rather than in the exhibition hall. Parked in the lot were large and small trailers containing everything a crew would need for a base camp when they are sent out of town for storm repair work.

Recovery Logistics (Cary, North Carolina, U.S.) featured a sample trailer with sleeping bunks, a mobile office with several onboard cubicles and portable laundry services. The company also provides tents, refueling, generators, fencing, catering, bulk water supply, bathhouses and restrooms.

“Our company was founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to provide base camps to wireless telecommunications companies,” said Shawn Kent from Recovery Logistics. “Then other industries, including the power industry, began contracting for our services.”

Catering Cajun (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.) provides more than just food service. The company also provides sleeping trailers, tents, restrooms, sinks, showers, laundry service and miscellaneous services such as lighting, generators, water tankers, forklifts, support staff networking center satellite communications and golf carts for on-site transportation.

Emergency Disaster Services (Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.) and Event Management Group (Garner, North Carolina, U.S.) provide the same turnkey base camp equipment and services as Catering Cajun. All Clean Emergency Services (Santa Barbara, California, U.S.) offers all the base camp services except food service.

Storm Logistics (Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.) offers mobile sleeping quarters that feature on-board toilets, sinks and showers. Each of the 22 bunks in a trailer has a reading light, fan, electrical outlet and storage for personal belongings.

Charlie Martin, owner of Storm Logistics, said, “I was involved in storm cleanup in early 2000 and saw the need for trailers. I've adapted the trailers based on linemen's comments on what they wanted, such as showers, sinks and restrooms under the same roof as the bunks.”

Martin's related company, C. Martin Events, also offers logistics base camp design and layout; shower, restroom and laundry facilities; information management services and contracts for food service.

Linemen come to the rodeo and related events for a variety of reasons: to enjoy camaraderie with others in their company and industry, to make family memories, to learn about a new piece of equipment and to test their abilities. Whatever draws them, though, all who were interviewed agreed that they would be back again.

2009 Lineman's Rodeo Winners

Journeyman Overall
Place Company Team members
1st Arizona Public Service/IBEW Local 387 Wheeler, Claude, Vandever
2nd Snapping Shoals EMC Harper, Burke, Brake
3rd IBEW Local 304 Justice, Tankersley, Johannsen
4th Arizona Public Service/IBEW Local 387 Wright, Houle, Kahrs
5th CenterPoint Energy Clapp, Goyer, Phillips
Journeyman Division Winners
1st Place Company Team members
Contractor IBEW 11th District Drummond, Walsh, Fleming
Investor owned Arizona Public Service/IBEW Local 387 Wheeler, Claude, Vandever
Military United States Military Drennan, Myers, Sanders
Municipal Los Angeles Department of Water & Power Peace, Schneider, Nicklaw
REA, EMC and Co-op Snapping Shoals EMC Harper, Burke, Brake
Seniors CenterPoint Energy Clapp, Goyer, Phillips
Journeyman Pole Climb
Place Company Team members
1st Arizona Public Service/IBEW Local 387 Wheeler, Claude, Vandever
2nd IBEW Local 702 Novak, Diekemper, Bailey
3rd Oklahoma Gas & Electric Henson, Stacy, Yarbrough
Journeyman Hurtman Rescue
Place Company Team members
1st IBEW Local 702 Novak, Diekemper, Bailey
2nd Arizona Public Service/IBEW Local 387 Wheeler, Claude, Vandever
3rd Oklahoma Gas & Electric Clark, Mullins, Peyton
Mystery Event 1: Skills Demonstration
Place Company Team members
1st Arizona Public Service/IBEW Local 387 Wheeler, Claude, Vandever
2nd IBEW Local 304 Justice, Tankersley, Johannsen
3rd Rocky Mountain Power Sherill, Clark, Freitag
Mystery Event 2: Replace Lightning Arrestor
Place Company Team members
1st Southern California Edison Hinojos, Ramirez, Durnerin
2nd Blue Grass Energy Wiglesworth, Shumaker, Neeley
3rd Arizona Public Service/IBEW Local 387 Brian Wheeler, Claude, Vandever
Apprentice Overall
Place Company Team member
1st Progress Energy Curtis Garst
2nd Progress Energy Tyler Medford
3rd Dominion Virginia Power Jonathan Backus
4th Walton EMC Charles Ryan West
5th The United Illuminating Co. Steven Fargo
Apprentice Division Winners
1st Place Company Team member
Contractor IBEW Local 2150 Chris Bracey
Investor owned Progress Energy Curtis Garst
Municipal Manitoba Hydro Eric Day
REA, EMC and Co-op Walton EMC Charles Ryan West
Apprentice Written Test
Place Company Team member
1st Progress Energy Curtis Garst
2nd Walton EMC Charles Ryan West
3rd Walton EMC Brandon Waters
Apprentice Pole Climb
Place Company Team member
1st Southern California Edison Enoc Verdin, Jr.
2nd Arizona Public Service/IBEW Local 387 Cole Woodburn
3rd IBEW Local 266 Philip Garcia
Apprentice Hurtman Rescue
Place Company Team member
1st Walton EMC Bradley McCallister
2nd Southern California Edison Enoc Verdin, Jr.
3rd Southern California Edison Josh Regalado
Mystery Event: Replace Bad Insulator
Place Company Team member
1st Los Angeles Department of Water & Power John Russo
2nd Walton EMC Bradley McCallister
3rd Missouri Valley Apprenticeship Eric Sandstrom
Apprentice CPR
Place Company Team member
1st The United Illuminating Co. Steven Fargo
2nd Rocky Mountain Contractors Jake Ingram
3rd Rocky Mountain Trent Humphreys