The beginning of April found me at APPA’s Public Power Lineworkers Rodeo. 2016 was the 16th year for the Rodeo, but it was the first time it was held in Minnesota. The Rodeo hosts were the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association and Shakopee Public Utilities, a public power system serving a fast-growing suburb of Minneapolis. They truly outdid themselves. The event was held at a racetrack, Canterbury Park, in Shakopee, and preparations started last year — the poles were set in the ground in the fall, before the ground had a chance to freeze!
Public power utilities from around the country send apprentices — who have less than 4 years of experience — and journeymen, who have more than 4 years of experience —to the Rodeo to compete in a series of events. Apprentices compete solo, and journeymen compete in teams.
Apprentices also take a 25-question, timed, written multiple-choice exam the day before the Rodeo. As time taken to complete the test is used as a factor in grading, every apprentice taking the exam needs an individual proctor. So I found myself on the day prior to the Rodeo in a silent ballroom at the Hyatt in Minneapolis, timing an apprentice as he took his exam, along with 128 other proctors and apprentices. You could cut the tension with a knife! There was a collective sigh of relief in the room when time was finally called.
Saturday, the action shifted to the rodeo grounds. The Rodeo starts every year with a flag-raising and opening ceremony, which is always inspiring to see. But this year I did not get to see it, because MMUA had made me an offer I could not refuse — they arranged to have a vintage B-25 bomber do a flyover during the ceremony, and asked me if I would like to ride along. Being an Air Force brat, I immediately said yes.
So predawn on Saturday morning found me, David Blaylock from APPA, and Bob Jagusch and Greg Oxley of MMUA, in a hangar at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, being checked out by members of the Commemorative Air Force on the safety features of the “Miss Mitchell,” their lovingly restored B-25 . Suffice it to say, no gold cup will descend from a panel over your seat. After our safety briefing, we climbed into the B-25, David and I crammed in the cockpit along with the pilot and co-pilot, and Bob and Greg in the tail section. After one aborted attempt, we attained the necessary oil pressure in both engines, and we were off!
We flew from the airfield to the Rodeo grounds through wind and snow flurries, interspersed with blue sky. It was very loud and bumpy and extremely cold, but man it was fun! David and I were able to shimmy one by one into the nosecone, so when we flew over the Rodeo grounds, we had a birds-eye view of the field, the tent, flags, and the participants. Truly, it was a sight to behold! After we went by, we looped back for a second pass at the grounds, and then returned to Fleming Field.
Being up there gave me just a small taste of what it must have been like for the pilots and crews in World War II — flying an unforgiving airplane in cramped and cold conditions, and encountering and having to fight off enemy fire to carry out your mission and make it back to base. I wished then that I had had the presence of mind to thank my own dad for his sacrifice in WWI while he was alive — he was a P-47 pilot, and flew many missions in the European Theater.
By the time we made it to the Rodeo grounds, the various events were well underway. Competitors, judges, and volunteers were carrying on in the teeth of high winds and very cold temperatures, but everyone did their jobs, and we had a very successful Rodeo.
There was always something to watch. Events like the 4kV Crossarm Change Out, the Transformer Change Out, and the Hurtman Rescue gave the journeyman teams the chance to show their stuff. Apprentices had to do events such as an Obstacle Course (showing skills on the ground and on the pole), the Pole Top Pin Insulator Change Out, and the Hurtman Rescue.
Watching the lineworkers compete in these events gives you a real sense of the pride they take in their work, and the ever-present need to follow proper safety procedures. One slip-up can have horrible consequences. So lineworkers working in crews have to be able to rely on each other and to put safety first at all times.
Finally, after all the events were completed, everyone went back to the hotel to clean up and warm up. We then went over to the Rodeo Banquet in the convention center, where a whopping 1,100 of us — competitors, judges, family members, volunteers, and staff — celebrated the achievements of the day, awarding trophies to apprentices and journeyman teams from around the country, and inducting the 2016 class of honorees into the International Lineman’s Museum and Hall of Fame.
We also recognized Jack Kegel of MMUA and his staff, John Crooks of Shakopee Public Utilities and his employees — especially Marv Athmann, who delayed his retirement from SPU for a year just so he could spearhead the Rodeo prep. It was a great evening, and really reminded me of the pride that goes into public power’s provision of reliable and safe electric service. We need to remember that every day.
And I would be remiss in ending without recognizing the many members of APPA’s own staff, who put on the Rodeo and the Engineering and Operations Conference that followed. Many folks pitched in — we had folks from virtually every department there. Putting on the Rodeo is no small feat, but we pulled it off again this year!