The sun was ablaze, the competition was stiff, and the events were tougher than ever at this year’s West Coast Lineman’s Rodeo, co-sponsored by IBEW 1245 and PG&E.
The addition of two new “mystery events” — an impact connector change-out with sticks, and an insulator change-out using a baker board — left many of the competitors feeling like this was perhaps the most difficult lineman competition in the country.
Despite their vast on-the-job experience, along with the training and practicing they did to prepare for the rodeo, many of the teams, especially those that came from outside PG&E, felt intimidated by these unique new events.
“The hardest part is not knowing all of the tools. Some of this stuff, we’ve never really used before,” said SMUD lineman and Local 1245 member Keno Grigsby, who travelled from Sacramento with his teammates to compete in the rodeo.
“Both of these mystery events are as challenging as I’ve seen in a long time,” remarked SoCal Edison lineman Steve Lekvold, an IBEW 47 member who has been competing in rodeos for 20 years. “[The impact connector event] was our first event, and it was very challenging. I think we did pretty well, but it was certainly different. Something I’ve never seen before.”
Amid the crowds of spectators, the competitors themselves also gathered around the bleachers, carefully watching as other teams went through the new events, noting which techniques seemed to work best, and developing strategies to employ when it was their turn on the pole.
Even the most seasoned teams from within PG&E didn’t take their experience for granted. PG&E Fresno GC Lineman Luke Bogart was fresh off a strong showing at the NSUJL Rodeo in June, and his team had also placed 2nd at last year’s rodeo, earning him a trip to the International Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas City in 2015. He had every reason to be confident, but in true lineman fashion, he displayed nothing but humility.
“There’s a lot of moving parts … [these mystery events] are really a full day’s work,” said Bogart. “We come out here, and we just try and do our best.”
The mystery events weren’t the only new additions to this year’s rodeo. For the first time, pre-apprentices were able to compete in their own division, with two mystery events of their own, along with a written exam. The family-friendly rodeo also featured some new attractions for the kids, including a monster truck demonstration and a petting zoo.
For many PG&E employees, even those who didn’t compete, the rodeo is a unique opportunity to get their families together, cheer on their colleague and spend quality time together outside of work.
Jeff Barton, PG&E GC Cable Splicer out of Richmond, decided to bring his wife, Melissa, and their one-year-old son to the rodeo to support the team that was representing his yard in the competition. The whole family was showing their union pride in IBEW 1245 apparel. Even baby Jacob donned a onesie with the union’s logo emblazoned on it.
“I like that everybody gets to come out and see what these guys actually do,” said Barton, who had never been to a Lineman’s Rodeo before. “It’s pretty neat.”
“They Can Watch What We Do”
Second-year apprentice and first-time rodeo competitor Kenny Turner from Fresno GC had quite the cheering section, comprised of his mom and dad, his grandparents, his girlfriend and her parents. His mom was particularly excited to watch him climb, as she hadn’t seen him in action since he graduated from Northwest Lineman College in 2013.
“It was fun, a lot of fun. And it gave me the chance to really push myself,” said Turner. “I think the hardest part was getting my nerves out … it’s definitely a little nerve-wracking, with everybody watching you. But having the whole family out here, so they can see what we do, I think that’s actually the coolest part.”
Indeed, the rodeo gives families and friends a chance to see first-hand exactly how much skill and strength it takes to do this kind of work. The competitors never cease to impress the spectators as they endure the heat, the challenges and the performance pressure. At one point, when a hiccup during the insulator change out event caused one competitor to fall into his safety harness, the spectators were able to see exactly why the union always emphasizes safety first, above all else. Of course, the safety marshalls immediately paused the event, brought the lineman down and checked him out. Once the medics determined that he was unhurt, his team started the event over again.
“Having all his safety gear on really prevented anything serious,” noted IBEW 1245 Senior Assistant Business Manager Ralph Armstrong, who served as a judge at the Rodeo.
A Ticket to Kansas City
At the end of the day, the winners were announced. PG&E sends its top six apprentices and top five journeyman teams to the International Lineman Rodeo in Kansas City every year, and this year, those tickets went to apprentices Brandon Branch, Shiloh Leader, Anthony Holguin, Brandon Dance, Gary Hoch and Dustin Curry, as well as journeymen Sal Holcomb, Bob Brock, Steve Hernandez, Jose Morales, Jimmy Hines, Heath Hatch, Marco Acosta, Josh Turner, Ryan Skelton, Nick Smith, Jordan Chene, Tony Humbert, Shannon Spah, Jarod Conway and Mike Medeiros.
The winners are listed below. Congrats to all who competed!
1st Place: Dustin Curry (PG&E)
2nd Place: Gary Hoch (PG&E)
3rd Place: Greg Frizzel (SMUD)
1st Place: The Sly Boys – Shannon Spah, Jarod Conway, Mike Medeiros (PG&E)
2nd Place: IBEW 1245 – Phillip Hartnett, Kyle Geisser, Josh Raley (City of Roseville)
3rd Place: Rodeo Dogs – Nick Smith, Jordan Chene, Tony Humbert (PG&E)
1st Place: Too Legit To Quit – Sal Holcomb, Bob Brock, Steve Hernandez (PG&E)
1st Place: Ashton Cooper (PG&E)