Local 769, Sturgeon Electric
Born in Mesa, Arizona.
Describes himself as honest, proud, respectful and thankful.
His favorite coworkers are Floyd Far, Scott Olsen and Mark Cunningham, because they are always there for him and helped him to learn the trade. He has a lot of respect for all of them.
Enjoys participating in Team Rope competitions, hunting and fishing.
Can't live without his hooks and line belts.
Life as a Lineman
I recently topped out as a journeyman lineman for Sturgeon Electric. I entered the apprenticeship program right out of high school, and I worked in Tucson, Arizona, for many years on a four-man crew. It was the best crew I've ever been on. I recently moved to Queen Creek, Arizona, to work on a six-month project to build 58 miles of a 500-kV line.
I do everything from distribution to transmission to underground. We start at 6 a.m. every morning, and we get done at 4 p.m. We usually do work such as pole changeouts. We just finished working on a reconductor on a 13.8-kV line.
I am a fourth-generation journeyman lineman for Local 769 in Phoenix. I worked for my dad, Mark Bell Sr., prior to getting into the trade. He was a general foreman for Sturgeon Electric, and he sent me out with the guys who taught him. I liked the camaraderie and the people I worked with, and I knew it was a great trade to get into. My grandfather, Don Bell, is also in this business, and he came from Louisiana and was one of the founding members of Local 769. My late great-grandfather, J.M. Bell Sr., was also a union lineman in Louisiana. It's rare to be a fourth-generation lineman. You see a lot of third-generation linemen, but it's unusual to have a great-grandfather who was in the trade.
While I love line work, I also have a passion for roping. I roped my first live steer when I was 5, and I started competing at about 9 years old. I grew up on a ranch, and my father taught me how to rope. I competed in high school and then traveled to Australia with my uncle to teach a team roping school. For a long time, I wanted to be a rodeo cowboy, but I discovered that the job didn't pay very well.
For that reason, I decided to go into the family trade. As an apprentice, I became friends with my foreman, and we began roping together. We even qualified for the World Series of Team Roping last December. When the economy gets better, I'd like to take some time off and compete professionally.
I've worked on many different projects during my time as a lineman, but I especially enjoy working hot on reconductor projects. Those are my favorite kinds of jobs, because you really have to watch what you are doing and it's more challenging. If you make a mistake, someone could get hurt or someone could lose power.
Challenges and Rewards
One of the challenges I face as a new lineman is that you are working on a different project every day. However, it's rewarding to see what you have done and know that you've done a good job. I also enjoy learning from the people I am around.
I've never seen a coworker get injured, but I've witnessed many close calls. Those are scary moments. In fact, I experienced my own near-miss situation when a hard sleeve came apart in a middle of a line. We were raising the primary five-foot and the hard sleeve came out. The line came down, and the root closure didn't work, and the line that was hot fell to the ground. At that time, another lineman and I were on the pole, and we had to find the reclosure and the circuit. It could have been tragic.
Plans for the Future
I'd like to be a working foreman on a distribution crew in five to 10 years. I also would like to be a professional team roper. I love line work, but I've always loved competing in the rodeo. If I had to do it over again, I would definitely go into the utility industry. It's a family tradition to me, and I love everything about it.
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