Locals shine in ‘Lineman Rodeo’ competition

This unique event, held on the edge of outer East Portland, is where electric power line workers show their skills, while raising funds for a good cause …

It’s an all-day party – as well as a serious competition – when electric linemen gather at the 26th annual “Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo”, just east of the Centennial Community Association neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Every year, crews from all over the Pacific Northwest – those who install and maintain electric utility lines – gather for a friendly competition at the eastern edge of outer East Portland.

This year, the 26th annual “Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo” took place at the Portland General Electric (PGE) outdoor training facility on SE Powell Boulevard, on Saturday, July 27.

Raising money by selling commutative wear are retired Pacific Power volunteer Debbie Guerra, and Journeyman Apprentice Training Committee-affiliated volunteer Jennifer Reed.

Chair of the Pacific Northwest Lineman’s Rodeo, lineman Joel Wallace, grabs his “tool wagon” to join his team competing in yet another challenge.

“This year, nine electric utilities from Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, and Utah have sent 350 journeyman linemen and apprentices to the competition,” announced event chair Joel Wallace, a PGE lineman stationed in Salem.

“The judges are all volunteers, linemen in the trade, from all over the Pacific Northwest,” Wallace told East Portland News. “In the various challenges, they judge safety, precision, and the technique used to complete the tasks, as set out in the competition rulebook.”

Brooklyn neighborhood PGE lineman, Colten Hevern competes in the “Insulator Change-out” challenge.

Colten Hevern, a competitor who works out of PGE’s inner Southeast Portland facility on SE 17th Avenue, finished a challenge in record time; and, with his partner, scored highly in both safety and sequence categories.

“I’ve been doing this for about three years now,” Hevern confided after climbing down the pole. “I decided to do this because my dad told me ‘Do something that not every man can do, and you’ll always have a job’.”

Performing both common and unusual electric maintenance and repair tasks, competitors are judged on the safety, precision, and technique they demonstrate, all while working high in the air.

The work isn’t for everyone, Hevern opined. “If you’re to do this, go into it wholeheartedly; don’t do it partway, just for the paycheck.

“It’s not always easy; it’s seldom glamorous; but it’s worth it in the end. It’s a very prideful job,” Hevern grinned. “We love doing what we’re doing. I really enjoy the camaraderie; the brotherhood aspect of it – so, for me, it’s a great occupational choice.”

By the way, along with linemen Cody Bell and Hank Williams, Hevern’s “Team #118” ranked #2 overall, out of 20 teams that day.

It’s not only linemen who compete at this “rodeo”; here, Sean Cunningham from Asplundh, a tree-trimming contractor for electric utility companies, takes on the “Donkey Kong challenge”, climbing up one side of the structure, “walking the beam”, and again climbing – and finishing it all safely in the record time of one minute, 23 seconds.

Tommy Jensen, Safety and Environmental Manager for Clark Public Utilities, shows us one pan of the 265 pounds of pulled pork, 80 pounds of beef brisket, and 40 pounds of chicken that was cooked for the “Linemans Café”.

Beyond titles, trophies, and bragging rights, all proceeds from the Lineman Rodeo go to support the Legacy Oregon Burn Center – this year, they were expecting to raise $30,000 – including sales from the “Lineman’s Café”, which was run by volunteers from IBEW Local 125.

All day long, up and down the utility poles went the competitors, demonstrating the speed, safety, skill and strength they use every day to keep our lights on, and our laptops charging.

© 2019 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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