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Great Advice

Early in my apprenticeship, I was lucky to be around very good journeymen and some great projects.

One of those projects was a 230 KV double circuit that was in an urban environment and ran for 30 miles. Assembly and erection of lattice style towers that averaged 265 feet high. At the end of the project were davit style towers. The linemen and foremen were some of the best-known linemen and foremen in those days. I looked up to them and hustled my ass to learn as much as I could. I quietly listened and asked questions when it was the right time, to glean as much as possible. One of the head gorillas was named Ivan and he was a monster of a man but had a very quiet demeanor. He took me under his wing and told me many gems to make life easier and safer. 

One of things young people need to realize is that linemen will only share hard earned knowledge if they trust you to listen. Positioning while catching and pinning steel under super cranes is a science. Ivan knew just how the tower pieces or picks were going to be placed and how the inside or outside makes would be rigged. Using jacks, slings, and rope slings to stand on to be safe to catch the 15,000-pound lifts was crucial to spudding and bolting the steel. Ivan told me all kinds of things to be able to keep up with the other journeymen who had not much more experience than me. Placing the crane off on a corner angle helped the operator see all four legs at once. Of course, the terrain and dunnage under the outriggers were crucial. 

Ivan told me to watch out when the crane was coming down if you are in a far position because if an outrigger sinks it is scary. Sure enough, while catching an angle tower upper body piece an outrigger sunk. The steel had been pinned already on the inside, but the far piece came down two extra feet. Nobody caught a sheared off bolt shot through them, but it took some jacking to pull the weight off the crane. Lesson learned. 

I had worked with quite a few linemen during erection and stringing on this construction project. There were some that took time to teach a young apprentice and some just wanted to get things done. One day, we were beginning to run a sock line through the travellers, to pull in the hard line. While not under tension, the rope had pulled off the side of the four-bundle traveller. Ivan and I cleared up the problem quickly but while we were coming back in on the wing of the tower, he stopped me. Ivan said whenever we were pulling wire to never stand out on the wing in case something let’s go. Ivan said inside the leg cage you are likely fine but not so out on the wing. I listened carefully. 

There was an incident while we were pulling rope in and threading towers. In one section, the ropes would sag down on the rider poles and be low enough in a field that kids could touch. Well, the boys were having a ball hanging on and dragging through the grass field. Suddenly, one boy got scared and rode the rope right up to the rider pole cross bar, about 65 feet off the ground. We got a call from the fire department to rescue the boy with a bucket truck. His hands were all rope burned up and he was clinging like a cat. One lucky kid, for sure. After that, we placed flag control at all locations that were by roads. 

It came to the day when we were going to make the five mile pull for the four bundle with the hardline in place. The hard line was on a powerful puller and was like airplane wire only bigger. I was told the wire could pull fifty tons. At the end of the line was the board and it was wide enough to hold all four conductors. The board had lead weights hanging down the middle like a scuba divers’ belt to keep it balanced level. The tensioner at the wire end could adjust the wires to keep them flying even or angled if need be. I remember the new swivel being pulled out of the crate and attached to the board and hardline. It was rated at 35 tons (or 70,000 pounds) so I asked to find out what our tension was, while pulling. The answer varied from when and where the board was until the final soft sag finishing position. 

Of course, pulling was awesome and splicing reels to make the five-mile pull meant lots of work, as well. Grounding and controlling the electrical hazards of induction on the twin corridor was great to learn. I felt like a real lineman, getting to get right in the middle of the work and getting my questions answered by professional journeymen. 

Getting to the final tower, the tensioner was being loaded up to soft sag the wire. It was at 25 tons when all hell broke loose, and the wire took off back down the right of way! It sounded like a shotgun and a fierce wind, and the board got hung up on the first tower. It bent the wing of the tower and stopped running back so the wire was still above the roads and rider poles. If it had not gotten hung up then, there would have been circuits tripped and running grounds blown up. Ivan’s advice was coming true, and I remembered. 

The aftermath was that we had to use a welder to cut off the wire that was gnarled up on the puller and rebuild the puller line. Could have been worse, no one hurt, lessons learned. The problem was the brand-new swivel broke in half, right at the board at 25,000 pounds. It was flawed and the engineers believed it had been frozen for some time during its handling. 

The rest of the project went smoothly, and I got to be there long enough to do every aspect of the project.

The apprenticeship in BC was all inclusive of every aspect of linework from 500 KV to distribution overhead and underground. It makes for a well-rounded lineman but the real-life experiences of journeymen like big Ivan are what made it special. I listened, learned and now I am sharing great advice! 

Bruce Masse – Trouble Technician



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