Moe Alters is the proverbial good host. He's the guy at the party who makes sure everyone is having fun, has enough to eat, while corralling the wild ones and keeping the party going strong. Only Alters, safety and training coordinator for Westar Energy (Topeka, Kansas, U.S.), isn't hosting a party for a just a handful of friends. He has played host to countless Westar line crews as they participated in the International Lineman's Rodeo for nearly 20 years.
Collie Roland, a senior engineer at Westar, said Alters relishes his role as host of the Westar tent at the rodeo. “He's the go-to guy to get a hat or some food,” Roland said. “He's a good person, and you just like being around him.”
Alters joined Westar in 1967 as a lineman. Then in 1990, he became a line supervisor and started serving as a judge at the rodeo. When he joined the safety and training department in 2000, he also became Westar's organizer for the event. He explained that his job as safety coordinator fit him to a T, because he's a big proponent of job safety and enjoys traveling throughout the company to meet with all the linemen at training sessions. Westar's participation in the rodeo has also further strengthened its training program.
“The rodeo has brought good changes to all the participating utilities' safety practices,” he said. “The linemen see how the crews from other utilities do things and everyone benefits.”
As a rodeo judge and now as Westar's organizer, Alters has been known to keep rodeo participants in line with a firm hand and a twinkle in his eye. “When I was a judge, the linemen could get a little wonky if they didn't agree with my call. Winning is a personal matter with these linemen, but I think that the judges' calls are rarely reversed,” Alters said. “You don't have to put up with too much of that as a judge, because there are strict rules that the participants must follow.
“Also, the guys on my team come up with their rodeo T-shirt design each year but they have to run it by me,” Alters said. “If the design has derogatory comments or is off in any way, I won't let them put Westar's name on it. I've learned the hard way because there were a couple of T-shirts I've let through over the years that I ended up being reprimanded for.”
Westar and Kansas City Power & Light shared a tent at the rodeo for a few years, so Alters shared tent-hosting duties with Dale Warman, retired KCP&L director of field operations. “We started sharing a tent because there were rumors that the two companies were going to merge,” Alters said. “Dale and I wanted to get both companies' crews together so they could get friendly. There were some good relationships that came out of that. We finally separated into different tents because there were so many people.”
Warman chuckled as he shared one story that revealed Alters' prickly side. “At a rodeo a few years ago, a representative from another company came up and said, ‘You owe me a new extension cord.’ I asked why, and he said, ‘One of your security people told me to change it out because it was unsafe. I didn't do it so when he came back, he cut the plug off the cord.’”
“Guess who the security person was?” Warman asked. “Of course, it was Moe.”
In his own defense, Alters said, “If you've been to the rodeo, you know about the huge number of people walking around. This tent was clear across the aisle and there wasn't any power nearby. So they kept stringing this 50-ft cord. I rolled it up and told them it was a tripping hazard. I didn't want anyone taking any legal actions. I did this a few times but it kept getting plugged back in. Finally, I took my pliers, cut off the plug and then gave it back to them. It created a bit of an uproar.
“I found out later that the rodeo association told them it was okay to plug it in, but it wasn't okay with me,” Alters said. “Because of that, they put a power pedestal by all the tents, so I guess I changed the way they thought about it. I took some ribbing about it, though, mainly from Dale.”
On rodeo day, Alters arrives at 4:30 am to help manage the parking lot. Then he heads over to the tent to make sure everyone is getting fed. “I have met people from all over the United States and made friends with them,” Alters said. “I have gone to work alongside other utilities in their service areas following a storm, and I have seen people I know from the rodeo. You also get to see the crews' wives and children at the rodeo, which is a lot of fun. It's a big social event.”
Though Alters has enjoyed managing the Westar tent at every rodeo, one year stands out as his favorite. “Westar's Wichita/El Dorado team took top honors in 2006 and was named World Champion Journeymen Team. They beat more than 200 other teams to win,” Alters said. “Some of the teams get to practice during working hours, but Westar crews have to practice on their own time. So our crews usually don't have all the practice hours under their belts. But we have always had good crews and in 2006, everything came together and really clicked for them. That was my rodeo highlight.”
Editor's note: To learn more about the 28th Annual International Lineman's Rodeo & Expo, scheduled to be held Oct. 12-15, 2011, visit www.linemansrodeokc.com.