Josh Lira, an apprentice lineman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers(IBEW) Local Union 304 (Sedalia, Missouri, U.S.), didn't attend the 23rd Annual International Lineman's Rodeo to compete. Instead, he took his wife April and 3-year-old son Isaac to cheer on his fellow linemen. Lira, who has been with IBEW Local Union 304 just under a year, was joined by hundreds of colleagues, families and friends who traveled from near and far to root for the 210 journeyman teams and 242 apprentices who were competing.

The International Lineman's Rodeo and Expo, cohosted by Kansas City Power & Light (Kansas City, Missouri) and Westar Energy (Topeka, Kansas, U.S.), was held Oct. 5-7 in the Kansas City metro area. With blue skies and a high of 80°F (27°C), the linemen had some of the best weather to perform in than the rodeo has seen in recent years. And this year the weather leading up to the rodeo was decent across the country as well, so there weren't hundreds of linemen absent due to hurricane restoration as there had been last year.

A master judge for the rodeo, Bob Kilday commented that nice weather makes for a good competition. Retired from Ameren UE, where he was a lineman for nearly 40 years, Kilday was pleased with this year's participants and said that he saw a high level of skill out in the field.

Don Johannsen, Luke Justice and Mike Schllicher of Westar Energy took top overall for journeymen, while Scotty Burkes of Georgia Power Co. (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.) took first overall for apprentices.

Burkes, who also took first overall for apprentices last year, credits God, his wife Marcy and his family for his back-to-back successes. “The training this year was definitely more intense,” Burkes recalled. “Every time we practiced … I knew I was the only one with anything to lose. I was determined to keep that from happening … practice was just climb, climb and climb. When we, Brandon Benefield, my rodeo partner, and myself, got tired of climbing, we just climbed some more.”

In addition to coming from the United States, linemen traveled from Canada, England, Ireland and Jamaica to compete. A team of linemen from Electricity Supply Board (ESB) Networks in Ireland, which had competed in the 2004 rodeo, returned to the rodeo to compete again. The ESB team won a competition at home to qualify for the international rodeo.

The Irish linemen described some of the challenges they had to deal with in the competition. “Both methods [those used in Ireland and those used in the United States] are completely different,” commented Clem Power, a lineman for 25 years with ESB. “This is a big steep learning curve for us. We do very little stick work and any of our hot-line stuff is done with a dedicated glove crew.”

A spirit of friendship was evident throughout the show. One lineman even commented that some of the tightest bonds he's made with fellow linemen have been while waiting in line to compete against them.

The International Lineman's Rodeo and Expo is committed to promoting safe work practices along with introducing new safety techniques, tools and equipment that help improve the safe performance of line work. This year show planners added a special half-day Safety & Training Conference and more than 200 attended the free conference.

Of course, the rodeo and expo aren't all work and no play. The linemen had plenty of time to socialize with each other and meet new friends. At the Friday night “Trade Night” at Black & Veatch's headquarters, linemen chowed down on some barbecue while swapping some witty T-shirts, fancy belt buckles and hats, among other items. And Saturday evening, the linemen all came together and clapped and cheered for their brothers who won.

With the success of this year's show behind them, plans are already under way for next year. Mark your calendar now for the next International Lineman's Rodeo and Expo to be held on Oct. 25-27.

MULTINATIONAL TEAM COMPETES AS ONE

This was the first year a rodeo team had been comprised of linemen from different countries: Larry Hall of Westar Energy (United States), Stewart Muscroft of EDF Energy (Britain) and Brendan Walsh of ESB Networks (Ireland).

Communication was key for this team because of the differences in each member's respective work rules, said Hall. “Most of the techniques are indeed different,” says Muscroft. “By closely watching other teams on the day and discussing it among ourselves we managed to work out what we were to do.” Muscroft was required to wear fall-arrest equipment, and Walsh's hooks were not like the hooks used in the United States. His hooks allow him to work standing on a platform attached to the hooks, rather than belted in like U.S. linemen. The multinational team placed 22nd in the senior division and 154th overall.