I completed my first apprenticeship as an inside wireman in 2005. Working my way out of the tools into upper management where I knew I didn’t want to be long term, I knew a change was needed. The change came in 2011 with the passing of my older brother, who was four years older and my best friend. An Iraq combat veteran and one of the “22 a day”. His suicide made me realize life was too short not to follow my dreams.
Being a lineman was something I’d wanted since I was a kid. After talking to some friends and doing some research online, I found myself an indentured 1st step apprentice in the Northwest Outside Line JATC in September of 2011. Four years and three days later with the ink still wet on my golden ticket, I was bound for California as a green-horn Journeyman Lineman.
I was told that I would learn more my first year as a lineman then my entire apprenticeship. Let me tell you I did. After seeing a bit of the countryside dragging a fifth-wheel up and down the West Coast, earning my right of passage as so many do, I settled back in the Northwest where I belonged. Once home, I stepped into being an activist in the labor movement through volunteering and leadership.
Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way? Any advice for other men, particularly young men who are just starting their journey?
I get asked a lot by individuals about the trade and how to go about getting into it. My answer is usually this.
I think my background in the electrical industry definitely helped me with my acceptance into the apprenticeship. The confidence of already being a Journeyman in a trade went a long way in my interview, so I had an advantage in that aspect. For the younger men and women coming up in construction, either fresh in the trade or looking hard at it is this -DON’T GIVE UP!
First, build your confidence level through experience. Work as a groundman as long as it takes. I didn’t go to line school, but without prior experience I would highly recommend it. Be ready to travel and live out of your trailer, suitcase, truck bed, or whatever. Be comfortable with not being comfortable. Attitude is everything.
Second, you’re going to meet a lot of really skilled experienced hands - learn from them and then pay it forward. Work your ass off, like you have something to prove. If you don’t, there are 100 more eager hungry kids right behind you ready to take your spot. Keep an open mind, and retain, retain, retain. There’s 1000 ways to skin a cat, learn 100 different ways and use 10. Stay hungry and always stay humble. Teach those coming up behind you, which is your duty as a Journeyman.
Third, it’s a classification earned through blood, sweat, and sometimes tears, so take pride in you craft. Exhibit behavior like everyone is watching, because with technology, someone is always watching. Always be your brother’s keeper, give back, donate, and volunteer when you can.
We’d love to learn more about your work. What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of as a brand, organization or service provider? What sets you apart from others?
Being an active union member in my home local 125 as a unit chair, E-board member, delegate, and volunteer is one of the things I would say I’m known for most. I strive to be the leader that the Brotherhood teaches us to be. Our unions are what we make it, so I put the work in to make sure my brothers are taken care of.
Also, attitude is everything! Your attitude can determine so much and have a huge impact on everything around you at work and in life. No matter the circumstance, although difficult at times, maintaining that ability and leading by example are always ongoing for me.
I think what sets my brand apart from other brands is not only a vision of giving and promoting unity and brotherhood throughout the industry, but to design and distribute a clothing line with 100% of the profits being donated. The Oregon Burn Center does incredible work and is paramount on the West Coast for electrical burn victims. The IBEW Death Benefit Fund, NSUJL, Line Life Foundation, Del Marth with Brother’s Keeper Apparel, and supporting military families would be the main areas of focus for me once I begin producing apparel.
What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to linemen, in the industry or generally?
Accountability! The trade is ever changing, I think now more than ever. Safety has taken a turn in the last 10 years in a direction that has frustrated many of the old-school hands, but is absolutely necessary in training the new generation of lineman. With the old mantra of the ‘screamer’ slowly fading, along with it is accountability, craftsmanship, and pride. There is a fine line between demeaning and degrading an apprentice or groundman verses teaching, understanding, and patience. Having the ability to teach a person how to take criticism and turn it into performance while leading by example are key components to training an industry that is expanding at a rapid rate. With the increase of work comes the increase of accidents. Practices and policies that offer a blanket solution to safety, I believe can create complacency. Having the right training from competent professionals that have the old-school wisdom passed down coupled with today’s best practices is a good receipt to produce the safest, most efficient lineman in the world.
What is the craziest thing that has happened to you on the job?
I’ve been pretty fortunate up to this point in my career with avoiding serious injury or accident. Although, I see it happen around me and hear about it all over the nation.
I’ve been lucky enough not to have anything too crazy happen to me. If I had to choose one event it would be as a 4th step apprentice lineman working a big transmission job in the mountains of Tillamook County Oregon.
I was driving a DT-80 digger derrick, pulling a backhoe on a trailer up some old logging roads. To turn around I had to back around a corner across an old bridge that spanned a creek with a 20’-30’drop on either side. Completing the maneuver, unloading the machine and pulling away safely, it was decided I should park the digger derrick on the side of the road with the trailer attached out of the way enough for other equipment to get by.
While doing so I felt I could get another foot or two off the road giving the other rigs more room to pass. Well that ended up being a foot too much. Using a spotter to back up, as we always do, even he couldn’t see the hidden danger of lose un-packed soil that my rear passenger dually had found.
I remember watching his signal to pull straight back, not having any doubt in my mind about what we were doing and having complete confidence in myself and his direction. Once he gave me the stop and all clear signal, I shifted into neutral, pulled the parking brake and killed the engine. As I was removing my seatbelt and leaning toward the door to open it up and jump out, I felt a small almost unnoticeable jolt from the rear passenger side. Not having a moment to consider what it was, I felt gravity pulling me into the passenger seat and blue sky was all I could see. After what seemed like a five-minute slow-motion movie of my certain death plunging into the creek bottom that was waiting 30’ below me, there was silence.
Every pebble of dirt, leather glove, water bottle, and every other lose object had blanketed me as I was balled up like a grub worm in the fetal position on the passenger door that was now facing straight down at the creek. I remember trying to get up and pushing everything off me like I had just been buried by a tsunami of paper work dirty laundry and hard hats. By the time I climbed up through the cab, opened the driver side door and bailed out to safety, there was my crew running to meet me in astonishment. Nobody could believe that the only thing that kept the truck from going all the way down was a tree snag that caught up between the side view mirror and the cab.
After a short three-day unpaid vacation and with the investigation completed, I was welcomed back to work with a variety of nicknames that thankfully never stuck. That would be the first and last experience rolling a 40k pound piece of equipment damn near off a mountain.