High Voltage Commando, please share your story with us. Why/how did you get into linework?
Ever since I could remember I wanted to join the military, specifically the Navy to fly jets off of aircraft carriers. In high school my path got diverted and that was no longer going to be an option. After bumming around for a few years, I started in the trade as an electrician’s helper in the summer of 2000. I had some buddies that attended line school and ended up working for an outfit in the oilfields building powerlines. I was rehabbing a broken foot and was not able to climb. They told me to come out on the wiring side of things until I was fully healed up. After about 6 months I was fully healed and a spot opened on the line side. I seized the opportunity and never looked back. I built lines out in the oilfields for the better part of 5 years, with a short stint of being a groundman out of Local 1245. My wife knew that I wanted something better and one day she filled out a couple of online applications for me at PG&E and Southern California Edison. I tested and interviewed for both companies between 2002-03. SCE offered me a transmission groundman position in December of 2004, and I hired on in January of 2005. I worked as a groundman until August of 2005 when I was awarded my apprenticeship bid, and received my Journeyman Ticket in August of 2008. I spent about 4 years on the transmission heavy crew as a lineman, lead lineman, and upgrade foreman. My kids were getting older so I decided to take a job as a lineman on patrol in the same grid. This gave me a little more stability and allowed me to be home more. In September of 2017 I interviewed for a job as a Senior Patrolman, which is basically a transmission troubleman, and was awarded the job. That is the role that I am still currently in.
Back to the desire to serve in the military. By the time I got things sorted out and could enlist, I had a family and had found an awesome career and a strong brotherhood. But I still felt like there was something I could do. I noticed that there were a lot of guys in the trade that had also served in the military. After speaking to some that I knew, I began to recognize some of the similarities between the two. Rank, duty, risk, service, brotherhood, etc. I also read a lot of military history. Another thing that I noticed is that most lineman apparel companies tend to represent the distribution side of the trade. I wanted to do something that represented our service members and the transmission side of the trade. While the dangers are different, there are a lot of similarities. Helicopters, long-lining, increased risk, tight knit brotherhood, etc. Thus, High Voltage Commando was born. We officially started our company in February 2019. We are an online apparel company that offers lineman apparel with a military influence.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story -- has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were some of the challenges you had to overcome along the way?
It has been quite a journey. I went from a crew lead in the oilfields, to the new grunt on the transmission crew. It was a humbling experience. I had struggled with being a cocky young punk when I was in the oilfields. That got me into some hot water a time or two. When I started over at SCE, I tried hard to be humble and respectful. I was in with the big boys now. I did my best to soak up any and every bit of knowledge that I could. The first six months were a real eye opener as I had never done transmission work before. One of the struggles was the toll that it took on my family. I had a wife, a 2 year old son, and a brand new baby girl at home when I started with SCE. I was used to working a set schedule with little overtime, being home every day at the exact time, and no weekend work. My wife basically became a single mother, my son would be in tears when I had to go out of town, and my daughter didn’t even know who I was for the first 3-4 years of her life. Missing family get togethers, getting called out in the middle of the night, going out of town for school or storm. It was definitely rough. I would like to say that it has gotten better, and it has to an extent, but being a lineman is a demanding job and while it does provide a nice life, there is a cost.
As far as advice for guys/gals looking to get in the trade or just starting out, make sure you and your family know exactly what you are signing up for. I get a lot of messages through my IG account asking for advice on how to get in the trade, what to expect, what to do to be successful, etc. I always try to find out what their end goal is and give the best advice I can based on their goals and my own personal experience. The most consistent piece of advice I can give them is this, bust your ass, outwork your competition, and have a positive attitude. Do anything that you are asked/told to do as long as it does not sidestep safety, and do it to the best of your ability. Don’t try to bullshit anybody because it won’t work. If you don’t know, ask! And lastly, always say thank you, never say I know. If someone is going to take the time to invest in you, respect that.
On the business side of things, there have been some struggles. We wanted to do things our way, on our terms, and with our own money. No loans, no debt, no investors. We wanted to be free and clear if this thing fell on its face, but also self-made should it be successful. So this made the startup process kind of slow. The first thing we did was pay for all of the legal stuff and to have a friend design some logos for us. We wanted to make sure that we were doing stuff the right way and nothing could come back and bite us in the ass. I am a hat guy, as are most lineman, so naturally our first product was a hat. I had some money set aside in the safe to purchase a new gun, but decided that it would be better spent bringing HVC to life. So I called a buddy of mine that had a graphics shop and ordered 2 dozen hats, and had some stickers made. Then we had some shirts printed by a local shop. Once we got all of the goods in, we launched our website and the rest is history. It has been difficult to really grow the brand for a few different reasons. I am still in the tools and always working, my wife has a full time job, and we have 2 teenage children. This makes it hard to dedicate the necessary time to grow our brand. I am also not very artistic. I can come up with an idea, but capturing it is another thing. We had planned on hitting the rodeo circuit this year to get our brand out there, but Covid had other plans. All of that aside, we are extremely blown away and grateful for the support we have gotten. I have also gained some great brothers in the trade that I may not have made otherwise. Also the support of other brands has been amazing. We all love the trade and want to represent it with pride. If I had to shut my business down today, I would still consider it a success because of the friends I have made, the money we have been able to donate through the business, and knowing that we represented the trade the right way.
We’d love to learn more about you and what do you specialize in?
I am a Senior Patrolman in the San Joaquin Transmission Grid for Southern California Edison. I am responsible for the inspection and maintenance of the transmission circuits in my area. This includes annual patrols of the circuits, insulator change outs, hot washing insulators, bent steel replacement, programming line outages for contracts and overseeing their work, trouble shooting, and a variety of documentation of right of way issues. I also have to preserve the company’s rights of access to our structures and try to keep good relations with the landowners. It is also my responsibility to respond to any relays or lockouts of the circuits in my area, document the cause, and make repairs if necessary. Probably one of the coolest things that I have gotten to do is HEC/Long line work. We have a top notch program here at SCE and I am fortunate to be one of the trainers for it. We have created a new department within transmission, Helicopter Assisted Line Operations, HALO, with the intent to expand what work can be done utilizing and maximizing the helicopter work methods. It is my desire to join that organization and help it grow. I was fortunate to come up on a crew that did both transmission and distribution work, as it helped me to become a well rounded lineman. But my heart and my career will always be in transmission.
I have always believed in giving back to the trade and supporting my brothers/sisters. This belief has opened up some awesome opportunities for me. I am currently a union steward for my grid, and also sit on the Union Safety Board for our Craft Driven Safety Program. I have also served as an adjunct instructor for our apprenticeship, sat on our Joint Apprentice Lineman Committee, and helped to develop our apprenticeship program here in transmission. Probably the one work related individual accomplishment I am most proud of aside from making Journeyman, was getting SPRAT certified so that I could become an HEC/Tower Rescue trainer. That was the single hardest week of my life. I was not going to quit, but I didn’t think I was going to make it.
Tell us a little bit about your company High Voltage Commando?
A little bit about our company, High Voltage Commando. We are fully self-funded and family operated. We use as much American and union made products as possible. The only products that we use that are not made in America are our hats. Our embroidered patches on our hats are made in America though. There is just not a great fitting, good looking American made hat. As I mentioned before, I am a hat guy, so our hats have to be on point. If someone were to figure this out they would be billionaires. We also like to support our local economy by using local vendors for our products when we can. A local print shop, embroidery shop, etc. Another thing we do is try to support veteran owned companies to source some products from. We offer a couple of products that are made by veteran owned and operated companies, and are always looking for more opportunities. We donate a portion of all of our sales to various charities that support veterans, as well as others that support fallen\injured lineman and their families. This is the way that I have figured out to fulfill my desire to serve.
What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to linemen, in the industry or generally?
I think there are only a few, but they are big. One is pride and ego. There is a certain sense of healthy pride that comes with what we do. It is when our pride gets in our way that it causes problems. Also there is no room for ego in what we do. Even as journeyman lineman, there are things that we don’t know or can’t do for whatever reason. We have to be ok with that, recognize it, and take the necessary steps to gain that knowledge or skill set, not just fake our way through it for the sake of being the baddest swinging dick in the yard.
This leads me to another barrier, lack of quality training once you make journeyman. I feel that our industry does a great job in investing in our apprentices, but that is where it stops. We can never receive too much knowledge or have too many skills. I think as an industry we need to continue to invest in our journeyman, and not only when a new tool or piece of equipment shows up.
I also think that social media, when not used correctly, can lead to some serious issues for our trade. I see some pretty stupid shit come through my IG of guys doing stupid shit just to look cool or get likes. What we do every day is already dangerous at best when everything is well planned and put into practice. Why add unnecessary risk for a few more likes.
Lastly, I think the bottom line causes guys to take risks to get the job done quicker, so the company can make the most money, and move along to the next job. Don’t get me wrong, we need to be productive, but we need to be safe. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. One wrong move to save 5 minutes could potentially shut a job down for weeks at best, or possibly alter someone’s life forever.
What is the craziest thing that has happened to you while working the line?
Nothing too crazy, at least nothing I would want published…haha.
Check us out at www.highvoltagecommando.com
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