IBEW 1245/PG&E West Coast Lineman’s Rodeo
The sun was hot, but it was the linemen who were blazing up the poles at the sixth annual IBEW 1245/PG&E Lineman’s Rodeo, which took place in Livermore on July 29, 2017. Thirteen journeyman teams, 25 apprentices and three pre-apprentices came out to put their skills to the test in what has become one of the most exciting and well-loved events of the year. Each and every competitor arrived ready to give it their all in the hopes of doing well enough to advance to the International Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas City this fall.
“It kinds kicks your butt”
The Rodeo is designed to give linemen a chance to show off the skills they use at work, but it’s a far cry from an average day on the job. The intensity of the competition, the pressure of the stopwatch, the large crowds of spectators and the outside-the-box events can make even the most seasoned linemen a bit nervous.
For many of the competitors, the Mystery Events proved to be the most challenging aspect of the competition. Since the specifics of these surprise events aren’t unveiled until the day of the competition, they are difficult to practice and prepare for. Zackery Doty, representing PG&E out of Bakersfield, explained how his first Mystery Event pushed him well outside his comfort zone.
“We had to change out the flying belt insulator with hot sticks, and that’s something that we don’t really do out in the field,” said Doty, an experienced competitor who went all the way to the International Rodeo last year. “It’s pretty tricky to do it if you haven’t done it in a while … it kinda kicks your butt a little bit.”
But of course, the competitors were happy to embrace the challenge.
“I like [coming to the Rodeo] … because it sharpens your skills,” said Tim Mace, who works for PG&E GC in Merced. “For example, you know that if you come here, you’re going to have to do hot stick projects, and nowadays, we don’t really do a lot of projects with hot sticks [at work] anymore.”
Mace, who lives in Mariposa, noted the added challenge of holding the Rodeo during fire season, as many of the linemen are working more hours than usual to restore power in areas that have been impacted by wildfires.
“We have one guy that got off work late last night, got home at 9:30pm, and left at two o’clock this morning to be here for this [Rodeo], and then has to work again at six o’clock in the morning tomorrow,” he said.
“Goosebumps at times”
While the competitors showed off their skills on the poles, their families cheered them on from below. Watching a loved one race up to the top of the pole can be a real thrill, especially since families rarely get a chance to see their beloved linemen on the job.
“It is so much fun! I had no idea how exciting it would be,” said Jordan Vaughn, who came up from Bakersfield to watch her husband, PG&E Apprentice Mike Vaughn, compete for the first time. “But it’s also nerve-wracking. I started to get goosebumps at times.”
The linemen weren’t the only ones who got to experience the excitement of being up on the pole. Some of the kids also got a chance to practice their climbing skills on a practice pole, as well as on the rock wall. Those who are still a bit too small to climb had activities of their own, including a petting zoo, face painting and free snow cones, which were enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
This year’s Rodeo also featured a unique addition to the field of competitors. Ever since IBEW 1245 and PG&E launched this event six years ago, there’s never been a woman enter the competition, but Pre-Apprentice Lineworker Shelby Wiedenbeck decided to break that barrier this year, becoming the first woman to compete at this Rodeo. Wiedenbeck quickly proved herself as a force to be reckoned with, coming in first place in one of the three Pre-Apprentice mystery events.
One of the most thrilling moments of the day was the “long line” demonstration. For most linemen, using the “long line” while suspended from a helicopter is just an average day’s work, but for their families, friends and spectators, watching the feat up close was both breath-taking and eye-opening.
When the time came for the all-important awards ceremony, the competitors waited eagerly, hoping to hear their names called over the microphone and get that highly coveted trip to Kansas City.
This year, PG&E will be sending the top nine apprentices and top four journeyman teams to the International Rodeo. The decorated team from Grass Valley, comprised of Adam Beene, Anthony Albright and JP Richard, came in first place overall at this year’s Rodeo, and will be heading back to Kansas, where they won it all back in 2014 and are looking to do it again. They’ll be joined by Nick Smith, Jordan Chene and Tony Humbert who are fresh off their big win at the NSUJL Rodeo last month; Luke Bogart, Jacob Hunt and Heath Hatch from Fresno; and Shannon Spah, Steven Bentley and Mike Medeiros, also from Fresno. Apprentices Colton Baker, Trent Kaher, Kyle Baker, Brandon Branch, Mike Binn, Gary Hoch, Gino Brancato, Bryan Ketch and Dustin Curry will be advancing to the big show in Kansas as well.