Some people aren't sure what they want to do in life, but James Herrin isn't one of them. From the time he became a “grunt” (groundman or apprentice to a lineman) for an electrical contractor in 1966, Herrin knew he wanted to be a lineman. “I have never wanted to be anything else,” says Herrin, a 22-year veteran of Bryan Texas Utilities (BTU; Bryan, Texas, U.S.). “It didn't matter that I could have found another trade — I wanted to be a lineman.”
Four decades later, Herrin's devotion to his calling remains strong. “My career has been a full one,” he says. “I have been exposed to every facet of line construction to a degree, traveled to many places, worked for nonunion and union contractors, and investor-owned and municipal utilities.”
Today, Herrin serves as underground and service manager at BTU. He instructs and facilitates work activities during major service disruptions. In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, Herrin assembled a crew and personally supervised restoration efforts for the City of San Augustine, Texas. “Linemen are a great breed of men who take pride in their work,” he says. “They bond together like no other profession.”
Part of that bonding occurred early in Herrin's career. “Grunts were treated very badly,” he remembers. “But it was just a rite of passage, and everyone went through it.” Herrin admits the early days were rough and rowdy, but “I mellowed out when I realized I would probably live past 40.”
“I spent many hours on weekends practicing my climbing skills,” he continues. “I wanted to be the very best lineman I could be. If not the best, then I would work the hardest. I vowed to always treat anyone that pulled on my hand-line with respect and as an equal.”
Herrin stayed true to his word. His strong work ethic has earned him the admiration of his peers as well as the distinction of being the only living person inducted into the International Lineman's Hall of Fame inaugural class. In 1996, Herrin helped found the Texas Lineman's Rodeo with The Texas Engineering Extension Service. He and his fellow officers formed and incorporated the Texas Lineman's Rodeo Association in 2005. Today, Herrin serves on the association's board of directors and acts as chairman of the advisory committee.
Despite his accomplishments, Herrin remains modest. “I always wanted to have a good reputation as a lineman and a man,” he says. “To borrow a quote, ‘Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.’ So, I would say that my character is of utmost importance.”
In addition to his passion for work and family — he and his wife of 44 years, Patty, have six children and eight grandchildren — Herrin's other great love is singing country-western music. “Singing is a natural high for me, and maybe for everyone who sings. It just feels right,” he says. “It's even better if there's a crowd and they have a good time and enjoy the music as well.”
Nights, weekends and holidays, Herrin can be found dressed in cowboy attire, performing for an audience. “I sing a lot of songs by a lot of different artists, such as George Strait, Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson and Mickey Gilley, to name a few,” he says. “I like to sing songs that everyone recognizes, but sometimes people expect you to imitate or sound like the original artist. I do a little imitation of Willie [Nelson] now and then, but it's just for fun. I'm not George or Alan or anyone else. I just want to enjoy being me.”
Recently, Herrin recorded a song he cowrote with singer/songwriter and friend Jack Houston about linemen called “Somebody's Hero.” He and Houston are currently recording another song titled “Call a Lineman,” which they plan to release along with “Somebody's Hero” on a two-song CD.
For Herrin, the word “hero” holds deep meaning. “Heroes are the people who do what has to be done, when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences,” he says. “I guess I always wanted to be a hero — just like in the Old West. Linemen are everyday heroes.”
For more on Chick Herrin, his career and his music, visit his website at www.singinglineman.com.