Local lineman competes in regional ‘Rodeo’

Haven’t heard of the ‘Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo’? Take a look, and see those people who keep your power on, showing their skills …

Families come to watch the Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo, held just a few feet east of outer East Portland, each year.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

What many consider the electric utility industry’s most captivating competition brought teams of linemen from across the country to the 25th annual “Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo” on July 28.

Hundreds of journeyman linemen and apprentices – as well as their families and friends – came to the day-long event, which is held each year on the edge of outer East Portland, hosted by Portland General Electric (PGE).

This “rodeo” is a way for the linemen who keep electricity flowing to show how well they know their trade, under all kinds of conditions, says PGE spokesman Stan Sittser.

The local power utility continues to host the rodeo, which takes place at their Linneman Substation in the far corner of Southwest Gresham. PGE spokesman Stan Sittser said the company chose that site because the property is also home to the outdoor training facility where linemen and apprentices can safely practice the high pole skills they need.

This annual competition is primarily a “rodeo in the sky” – linemen are tested on their speed, safety, skill, and strength, including “hurt-man rescues”, and pole climbs with a raw egg in the mouth!

Taking a break from the rigors of competition at the Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo is SE Portland-based PGE lineman Eric Wells.

Taking a break was one of the competitors, lineman Eric Wells, who works out of the PGE Service Center on SE 17th Avenue near Holgate Boulevard, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of east Portland.

“I’ve been in the rodeo for five years now, and it’s quite an honor to compete,” Wells told East Portland News.

Working high above the ground, these linemen skillfully demonstrate how to quickly and safely do a “Bell Changeout” – that’s replacing a distribution line insulator atop a power pole.

Often, linemen work in solitude near the top of a power pole, as they fix a transformer lead, or reattach a downed line – which, in fact, are two of the tasks tested and timed during the rodeo.

“The camaraderie here is just great,” Wells smiled. “You get to know people from many locations. I’m working with people from the Washington, Spokane, and California. It’s a great job for me, because I like working outdoors – and the physical nature of the work means I don’t have to go to the gym!

After rescuing an “unconscious”, heavy, full-size dummy in the “Hurt-man Rescue”, this lineman lowers the “victim” down to the ground.

“As we lineman show off our finely-honed skills, judges monitor the action to ensure the right tools are used in the correct manner; and, part of the rating comes in how safely we’re working,” explained Sittser. “A safety infraction can wipe out all our points for doing an excellent line repair demonstration, for example.”

Many people travel to watch these competitions, Sittser commented, since the general public is usually kept far away from dangerous lines or equipment. “But here at the Lineman Rodeo, one can be close enough to see and appreciate the work, the tremendous athleticism, and the skill that’s on display.”

Teams and individual linemen stand by, ready to climb poles and demonstrate their skills.

In addition to this amazing aerial ballet, open free to the public, the Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo is also a fundraiser, with money raised to support the Legacy Oregon Burn Center and the construction of the new Emanuel Family House.

© 2018 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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