Linemen Tell What it Takes
To Be Everyday Heroes
When the lights go out, they answer the call. Whatever the weather, they brave it to find a way to bring back the power and restore modern civilization.
Unless looking up high, most people may even miss the hard workers who keep the more than 11,000 miles of United’s above-ground and 1,000 miles of underground power lines operating at peak performance. Their creed is safety first, and this band of brothers takes nothing more seriously as this as they literally hold each other’s lives in their hands on a day-to-day basis.
On April 13, cooperatives across the nation, including United, will pay homage to these workers for National Lineman Appreciation Day.
We thought we would introduce United members to three of our finest–all at different stages in their careers–to find out what it takes, why they do it and what they want the membership to know about their chosen profession.
Rico Ramirez—Apprentice Lineman I in Burleson
The wind howled outside United’s Cleburne office on Feb. 26, causing the wind generators there to spin furiously and leafless tree limbs to clatter together in an empty applause to no one.
It made a baleful moan through the lines on the practice field beside the supply yard as about 10 new linemen came out to a protective grounding class.
Rico Ramirez, joined his classmates donning heavy coveralls, a lineman’s jacket and a hoodie tucked under his hard hat to keep the wind out of his ears. Mother Nature, it seemed, would be part of the day’s test.
Only a few months out from graduating the Electrical Lineworking Technology Program at Texas State Technical College in Waco, Ramirez said he feels he’s found his calling in life.
“Working for a co-op was actually what I was aiming for,” he said. “I know they told us about working for contractors and investor-owned utilities in school, but I really just wanted to work for a co-op. I know contractors can get a lot of money, but I know they do many dangerous kinds of jobs. The co-op is more of a family-based kind of field. When I was trying to figure out a career, I wanted to get up and enjoy my career and enjoy who I’m working with.”
Though only a few months on the job, Ramirez said he’s already experienced a fairly large outage after high winds during a possibly tornadic January storm in Burleson took down lines and created his first professional restoration scenario.
“We were out there until 5 in the morning,” he recalled. “It was an all-day type thing. It was a lot of work, but it was rewarding. What got to me was getting out there and seeing the linemen taking control. You could just see that it was a big family out there. Everybody got along working for one goal, and that was to get everybody’s power back on. It’s one of first positive things I heard about being a lineman was how much of a brotherhood the line community was. I’m a big family person. I love that environment. I really wanted that in my career. Here, I definitely get that.
“I just thank God for where I am in life right now.”
Carlos Martinez—Journeyman Lineman in Granbury
He doesn’t remember saying it.
Carlos Martinez doesn’t remember the storm that swept through Cleburne when he was a young child, either, but he said his mother does. The wind had torn down lines and poles, and he, just a toddler at the time, watched out the window for hours as bucket trucks full of linemen emptied out by his home and put back what the storm had taken away.
“My mom said that, as I looked at them, I told her I was going to be one of those guys one day,” he said.
The tears that came to his mother’s eyes in October 2005 weren’t only because he’d gotten his job as an apprentice helper at United, but also because the words he’d spoken as a child had come true, he said.
In high school, Martinez wired houses with an electrician in Granbury. He remembered watching linemen from United building a line across the street from his shop one day and wondered about their careers. A month later, while working for an electrical contractor, he learned of an opening at United that might lead to a lineman’s position.
“There was an opening and my boss said ‘If you don’t apply for it, I’m firing you. It’s a great place to work.’ At the time, I was oblivious to thoughts of insurance or retirement. So, I interviewed, got the job and this is where I’m at today.”
While he doesn’t mind the weather, the climbing or the long hours, leaving his wife and two daughters behind during a storm has never come easy, Martinez said. However, the best part of his job, even in the worst weather, is to help his fellow neighbors–and members–to restore their power and their lives back to normal.
“I really honestly enjoy helping people when I can,” he said. “I’m a people person. My whole life we had everything we needed, but not everything we wanted, and people helped us out. Now, I can help people in the same way people helped me. I can pay it forward for the good Lord. I remember one time we were helping in East Texas. We were sent down there after a hurricane. I remember we came down this alley, and these people had been out of power for two weeks--maybe longer. Instead of being frustrated, they were giving us food, clapping and screaming that we were there. The kids were bringing us cookies. Being able to help people like that—the enthusiastic feeling they had was the same I had to be there and be able to help.
“Neighbors helping each other. That’s what this country should be about honestly, but not everybody sees it that way.”
Scot Sampley—Journeyman Lineman in Stephenville
April 1981 seems a long way off in time and technology for seasoned journeyman lineman Scot Sampley.
That’s when the seasoned journeyman lineman began his career as a lineman working for a contractor who built line to feed the oil fields near Wichita Falls.
Growing up, Sampley’s father also was a lineman for Texas Electric in his nearby hometown of Holliday, and while Sampley saw the hard work his father did, he also experienced the good living it could provide, he said.
After starting his own career, he saw how hard the hard work could be, Sampley said. Dangerous, too. Not much thought was given to the idea of “Safety First.” Most hard jobs were done by muscle while climbing.
Thankfully, machine assistance and plenty of safety equipment have changed the lineman landscape for the better, he said.
As the oil fields dried up, Sampley said he needed to find another outlet. He began his career at United (then Erath County Electric Cooperative) in January 1990.
“I’m proud to be a lineman,” he said. “It’s a job that not everyone can do. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have done it for so many years. It’s just part of my identity as a person. Not everyone understands what a lineman is. I had to explain to my girlfriend, when I’m on call, what that means. At first, she didn’t understand why I have to go out even when there’s not a thunderstorm. Well, there’s all kinds of stuff that knocks the electricity out when it’s not storming. It’s not always fun to go, but that’s the job.”
While he’s seen linemen come and go, he’s tried to teach each what it takes to be good at their job. That includes always being willing to learn, he said, no matter how much experience one might have.
“You never learn it all,” he said. “I’ve run into a few that think they don’t need to learn anything. But you never know it all. There’s so much changing. That’s really the biggest part of my job is training the young guys. And, I try to teach them what I know.
“I hope the knowledge I gave to the guys will help them for the rest of their careers, and that it will help them do their job and do it safely.”