When a severe storm hits, linemen must be away from their families for days or weeks at a time to restore power. During one special day each year, however, linemen from around the world have the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of their loved ones at the International Lineman’s Rodeo.

On a frigid but sunny day in October, spouses, family members and friends cheered on the sidelines as 219 apprentices and 210 journeymen teams competed for top honors in the pole climb, hurtman rescue and mystery events. Dale Warman, co-chairman of the International Lineman’s Rodeo Association (ILRA), said that for the 30th annual rodeo, the total number of teams was up compared to prior years.

“For awhile, I don’t think a lot of utilities were taking on apprentices around the country,” he said. “Also, the economy was bad, so some were holding off. Now companies understand that it’s time to celebrate their successes. The rodeo is the perfect place to do that.”

Kerr said about 3,000 linemen and their families bought tickets for the awards banquet, and at the Lineman’s Expo, they sold out every booth space. Teams from all over the world including Hawaii, Jamaica and Canada competed in this year’s rodeo, which was sponsored by Kansas City Power & Light and Westar Energy.

“It is truly an international event,” said Kerr, who has been involved with the ILRA for the last 25 years. “The best of the best in the world are competing.”

One of these linemen, Marz Basulto from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, has competed in the rodeo five years in a row and said he enjoyed everything about the event.

“I get to meet a lot of people, and it’s cool to hang out with a lot of linemen and talk about what we do,” said Basulto, a patrolman whose team earned sixth place in the journeymen municipal division for the 2013 rodeo.

An apprentice from Henkels & McCoy had 20 minutes to replace a primary insulator and tie wire in the mystery event.

Apprentices Test Their Skills

For many of the new competitors, the rodeo was a prime opportunity to show the world what they are learning during their apprenticeship. The apprentices competed in five events: the pole climb, the hurtman rescue, the mystery event, written test and CPR exam.

Duke Energy Apprentice Joseph Hyrkas came out on top with 492 event points and a total time of 31 minutes, 10 seconds, just edging out second place winner Sam Reese from Xcel Energy with 492 points and 34 minutes, 16 seconds.

For the pole climb, apprentices had to climb a 40-ft (12-m)wooden pole with a raw egg in a bucket, remove the old bucket, place the egg in their mouths and hang the new bucket on the J-hook. Then, they had to carefully but quickly climb back down the pole without breaking the egg or free falling. Southern California Edison/Local 47 Apprentice Steven Escamilla captured first place with 00:21:10, just two-tenths a second faster than second-place finisher Denton Williams from Jamaica Public Service. Orville Black, also from Jamaica Public Service, finished third in the event with 00:21:47.

For the mystery event, the apprentices had 20 minutes to replace a primary insulator and tie wire. Marvin Morey, superintendent of electric training from Ameren Illinois, who was cheering for one of his apprentices on the sidelines for this event, said he was proud of how well all of his apprentices did at the rodeo. During the mystery event, he noticed, however, that it was difficult for the competitors to complete the mystery event in 20 minutes, and many of them had a hard time getting the rope into the proper position.

The top three finishers in this event were Orville Black from Jamaica Public Service, Richard Hall from SMUD and Joseph Cowley from SMUD. Cowley also finished sixth in the pole climb with a time of 23 seconds, eighth in the hurtman rescue and 35th place overall out of 219 apprentices.

Like the other apprentices, Cowley was looking to “finish clean,” meaning that he strived to earn the perfect score of 100 points for each event. However, the judges could dock points for anything from breaking the raw egg during the pole climb to not being able to throw the rope during the mystery event.

Journeymen linemen work as a team to demonstrate their skills in the mystery event at the International Lineman’s Rodeo.

Journeymen Go for the Gold

Once the apprentices top out as journeymen, they have the opportunity to participate in a new category at the rodeo. The top 45 journeymen teams all scored 400 points overall, but the JEA team of Michael Corbitt, Robert Hess and Brian Gregg won this division with a total time of 12:53:40. Arizona Public Service came in second, and Duke Energy earned a third place spot on the “Journeyman Best of the Best” listing.

Like the apprentices, the journeymen also had to compete in the pole climb and hurtman rescue. Iin lieu of taking the CPR exam and written test, however, they participated in two mystery events. They also competed on three-person teams rather than individually, as in the apprentice division.

For the pole climb event, the three top teams were Southern California Edison/Local 47, Hot Line Construction and SMUD. SMUD also won first place in the hurtman rescue, followed by IBEW Local 702 and JEA. C.T. Bryant, the judge for the journeyman rescue competition, said unlike in the apprentice hurtman rescue event, the scene was considered energized.

During the hurtman rescue, the apprentices had to move a 170-lb mannequin safely to the ground without contacting the pole.

“They have a man down on the pole, and to succeed in the event, they had to be able to rescue the injured man in less than 4 minutes,” said Bryant, operations manager for Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. “They must also not make contact with anything carrying electrical current until they are able to de-energize the line.”

For the first mystery event, the journeymen had to cut a hot jumper using a battery-operated Husky tool mounted on a Hastings hot line tool and clamp stick. The top finishers for this event were SMUD, Greystone Power and Arizona Public Service. The second mystery event involved replacing a primary poly dead end bell using an A.B. Chance extendo stick, Lug-All hoist, sling, wire grip and pole guard. JEA captured first place, followed by Arizona Public Service and SMUD.

Supporting the Competitors

Throughout the rodeo, the apprentices and journeymen showed off their skills in front of their friends, family and the Kansas City area community. “We love every minute of it,” said Dennis Kerr, co-chairman of the ILRA. “The event is not just to show the trade, but rather to stress safety, training and skills. More importantly, it is a family event so kids can see what their dads or moms do for living.”

Over the last few years, the ILRA has strived to make the rodeo a family event, said Warman. For this year, the organizers offered children rides in the elevated lift, a turn in the bounce house and the opportunity to ride a small train around part of the grounds. Of course, many of the children could be found on the sidelines of the competitions, cheering their parents or grandparents on to glory. While linemen often have to work in the middle of the night or in a remote region restoring power, the rodeo gives them the opportunity to shine in the spotlight for the world to see. 

2013 Lineman's Rodeo Winners


Editor’s note: To see video clips and more photos from the rodeo, visit www.tdworld.com/electric-utility-operations,
T&D TV and the Electric Utility Operations Facebook page.