Real lineworkers climb

By Dana Simone

National Grid lineworkers receive seven-plus years of training, and as one would guess, climbing poles is part of the curriculum. Interestingly, today’s lineworker climbs only about ten percent of the time, usually when a bucket truck can’t reach a remote area or backyard service. Otherwise, it’s up in a bucket to repair downed wires, replace transformers, or maintain lines.

The training is essential for anyone participating in the International Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas City. The rodeo is old school – there are four events, each requiring work atop a 40-ft pole, and there are no bucket trucks.

The annual rodeo draws the most skilled lineworkers from all over the world and focuses on safe work practices.

Earlier this month, 36 of our lineworkers from New England and New York – ranging from apprentices to an over-50 journeyman team – went old school.

After landing a spot on the team this past spring, each lineworker committed to 64 hours of training (one day a week for eight weeks). Operations supervisors from MA, NY, and RI coordinated tryouts and the practices. The “coaches” – Gary Bourque, Jason Bouvier, Josh Conway, John Doherty, and Gene Gates – lent their support at the event as well.

Additionally, a logistics team, led by Josh and Gene began compiling all the equipment the team would need (including grills – they make their own breakfast and lunch); and managed the transport, set-up, and take-down of it all.

The weeks of training culminated on a giant field in Kansas City, on a wet and chilly fall day, with about 3000 contestants from around the world.

Participants knew two of the rodeo events ahead of time: a speed pole-climb and a hurt-man rescue. Two other “mystery” events were a cutout change and dead-end bell switch.

Now, don’t be fooled into thinking that the speed pole-climb was as straightforward as it sounds. Add two small pouches and an egg to the mix before proceeding:

Climbers scramble up the pole gripping a pouch with their teeth (with an egg inside!), place the pouch on a hook at the top of the pole, drop a second pouch down, and climb back down with the egg in their mouth.

The objective is two-fold – to focus and to relax – if you crack your egg, you’re cooked.

An unofficial fifth event is swapping rodeo shirts with other contestants, and this year’s big score was one from Hawaii Electric Light.  At the BBQ that follows, it doesn’t matter where anyone is from, just that they all share a passion and are gathered to enjoy it together.

For the second year running, Rhode Island President, Tim Horan, attended the rodeo, snapping photos, and giving encouragement. He already has next year’s event in his calendar (October 19, 2019) and is gently “recruiting” other leaders to join him.

Tim glows when reminiscing about the competition, “Our lineworkers do this work 24/7 in our RI, MA, and NY communities. To watch them demonstrate their safety and skills at the rodeo never grows old.”

Lest we forget it was a competition, we did have some winners. Ben Williams from New York was our top performer, placing 5th overall in the Apprentice category.

See our National Grid participants and results here.

Photos by Wally McDonald.

One Comment

Gene Gates

Great job guy’s. This event gets better and better each year because of our team effort. Keep up the good hard work.


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