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EWEB Competes at PNW Lineman Rodeo

July 28, 2022

Rodeo Highlight

At this rodeo, power poles take the place of bulls and electric workers stand in for cowboys. During this family-oriented event, electric linemen climbed poles using razor sharp, steel point shoes, called Gaffs (think cowboy spurs) to compete in mock equipment repair events. Just like how rodeos originated from cowboys coming together to practice their skills, this rodeo shines a light on a profession many know little about, but one we all rely on to keep the lights on.

A three-man journeyman crew from EWEB took 15th place at this year’s Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo on July 23 at Portland General Electric’s training course in Gresham. It was the first time the rodeo has been held in two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-one teams from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona, and Utah competed in five events: cutout installation, high line jumper replacement, hurt-man rescue, pole climb and pole transfer.

Events such as high line jumper replacement and cut out installation are tasks linemen perform routinely in the field. Judges scored competitors based on their execution of the task.

In contrast, the pole climb event is rowdy contest in which two linemen race up opposite poles, toss an egg to each other mid-air and then climb down. The fastest team to complete the task without breaking an egg wins. In the hurt-man rescue, a dummy is stationed at the top of a power pole waiting to be rescued. This is a common practice scenario as linemen are required to renew a rescue certification each year.

Proceeds from the event are donated to the Portland Burn Center. Last year, even though the event was cancelled, they raised $50,000 for the burn center from utility donations and sponsorships. EWEB was represented by Philip Henneman, Joe Lay and Evan McGill (pictured), who are 4, 10 and 9 years into their careers, respectively. EWEB also had one apprentice compete, Jeremy Kernutt, and provided one judge for the event, Ryan Oosthof.

Before becoming a journeyman lineman, a person must complete 7,000 hours of apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is a combination of studying practical theory in the classroom and in the field training, including 1,000 hours of working with energized lines.  

“There are multiple ways to become a lineman,” said Larry Longworth, EWEB Dispatch Supervisor. “One method is through outside construction which consists of applying through the union hall, interviewing, and being ranked on a list for union contractor call outs. The other method is to be hired by a utility and bidding through a competitive process for an apprenticeship opening.”

In both scenarios candidates can make themselves more competitive by attending one of the linemen schools offered in Oregon, Idaho and California.

The event is a true family affair filled with vendors and activities for kids, including a rock-climbing wall for kiddos to practice their “pole climbing” skills right next to the professionals. EWEB’s local 659 Union was also there raising money for their Brotherhood Fund.

“We’ve raised over $81,000 to help 188 Union families just by selling merch,” said Don McElroy, 659 Union Assistant Business Manager for EWEB. “If there’s anyone out there ready to start their career as a lineman, we’re here to help.”

“Placing 15th is a very respectable finish as the events are highly competitive and this rodeo marks a return in participation by an EWEB team,” said Longworth. “The team represented EWEB well and I’m hoping to see more participation by our folks next year.”

The PNW Lineman Rodeo is a philanthropic opportunity for comradery amongst utilities. It’s also an opportunity for public education. If you want to have some fun and learn about the community who reliably and safely keeps your power on, then plan to attend the Rodeo in 2023. Admission is free, and all proceeds from purchases of food, beverage and merchandise are donated to the burn center.