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As rodeo nears, Northern Neck linemen are praised

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell recently designated April 6 as Electric Utility Lineman Day in Virginia issuing a proclamation that praised linemen and their history of courage and precision. This weekend, more than 120 electric linemen from Virginia and eight neighboring states will compete in  a competition designed to test their skills.

The 11th Annual Terex Equipment Operator’s Rodeo will take place April 5 and the Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s Rodeo on April 6.

A “gaff” is the metal spike that linemen attach to their boots to assist in climbing wooden utility poles.

Both events will be held at the Caroline County Agricultural Fairgrounds near Ruther Glen.

“I don’t think people know how dangerous it is working around high-voltage electric lines. These guys go through a four-year training program,” said Mary Howell, a manager at the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.

In addition to facing danger, linemen are the first to step up when neighboring communities need help.

“There were five widespread power outages in Virginia over the past nine months and Northern Neck helped out in all of them,” Howell said.

Linemen have been instrumental in the growth of rural communities. McDonnell’s proclamation made clear, “beginning in the 1930s, the provision of electricity began to make its way into the farms, homes, towns, and village of rural American thanks to the creation of Rural Electric Cooperatives, which are electricity providers owned by those they serve.”

The Operator’s Rodeo is open to linemen from all types of electric utilities and draws competitors from as far away as South Carolina and Rhode Island. This is the first rodeo in a long time that will not feature linemen from the Northern Neck. But Howell praised the readiness of Northern Neck linemen and said she hopes they will compete next year.

Friday’s event will showcase equipment operators testing their ability to maneuver the bucket trucks and digger derricks used to maintain electric distribution systems. Saturday’s event features individual linemen and teams competing in a variety of timed and scored events.

A tools and equipment exposition will be featured each day and both events are open to the public. The Hon. Marla Decker, Virginia’s secretary of public safety, and retired U.S. Army Lt. General Joseph R. Inge of Chase City are scheduled to speak on Friday.