They don’t buck, but they are plenty tall. And during the heat of a lineman’s rodeo, an electrical-line mechanic has to stick to a power pole like a cowboy to a bull.
“It is all about positioning, and making your steps count,” said Travis Faunce, a fourth-year electrical-line apprentice with Glendale Water & Power.
Olympics of the utilities world, the lineman’s rodeo sees electrical workers competing at regional, national and international competitions. Events include a timed pole climb, the hurt-man rescue and a written apprentice test. The workers scale the poles wearing gaffs, ankle braces fitted with metal spikes that they dig into the wood in order to peg their way up.
At stake are oversized trophies and — perhaps more importantly — bragging rights.
“It is competitive,” said Pat Riley, an electrical superintendent for Glendale Water & Power. “There is a lot of pride in bringing home one of those trophies.”
An eight-member team from the utility scored big Saturday, winning 18 of 36 trophies at a local lineman’s rodeo, hosted by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in Sun Valley. The wins included second and third place in the overall competition, Riley said.
In one event, participants held a raw egg in their mouths, ascended a power pole, deposited the egg in a bag at the top of the pole, and then descended — all while being timed. In another, the mechanics had to retrieve a “hurt man,” or dummy, from the top of a pole.
Other events include hanging transformers and cross arms, the perpendicular piece of wood that supports wires, and installing short circuits.
“They simulate the kind of work we do on an everyday basis out in the field,” Riley said.
The rodeos allow utilities to measure the effectiveness of their training, while also showing their stuff to the larger community, Riley said. Working as an electrical-line mechanic is a physically demanding job that requires someone to scale as high as 90 feet, he noted.
“[The rodeo] is a great way for the utilities to give the public an opportunity to see what kind of work we do in maintaining electrical service to their house,” Riley said. “Most people go in and turn their light switch on and never give it another thought.”
Third-year electrical-line apprentice Edgar Castillo said he loves being outside and working with tools. And he doesn’t think twice about free climbing dozens of feet into the air.
“At first I did,” Castillo said. “Now, I don’t even think about my feet. It is just nature now, it is like walking.”
Every year the rodeo events are tweaked, forcing participants to train harder and explore ways to do things differently, Faunce said.
Bringing home a dozen and a half trophies just sweetens the deal.
“It felt good,” Faunce said. “It felt real good.”