Craft Competitions: Power Line Workers Reach High at Rodeo
Launched 33 years ago, the International Lineman’s Rodeo is based on the concept of a traditional ranchers’ rodeo. “In a traditional rodeo, cowboys would bring their families in for the day, and the cowboys would show off the skills they use everyday,” says Dale Warman, co-chairman of the International Lineman’s Rodeo Association Board. “The cowboys would practice for the rodeos, so ranchers realized they would have a lot more skilled cowboys out there and have a better working relationship between themselves and their cowboys. That’s what we’re doing for linemen.”
This year, the lineman rodeo hosted 206 teams—each consisting of two journeymen and one ground man—representing companies in the U.S. and Canada. Events include the speed pole climb, which challenges participants to climb up and down a pole without breaking an egg in their mouth, and the “hurt man” rescue, in which participants race to lower a dummy safely to the ground from the top of a pole.
The International Lineman’s Rodeo also includes two mystery events that aren’t announced until the day before the rodeo. “Some teams are given all kinds of time to practice, and some aren’t,” Warman says. “The mystery events put things on a more level playing field.”
There’s no prize money on the line, but awards—provided by sponsors—are presented to the overall winners. This year, Buckingham gave to the winners safety belts adorned with gold plaques. “It’s not about the money for these guys,” Warman says. “You talk to them about why they come back year after year, and they will tell you ‘One day, I’d like to stand on that stage.’”
Participation in the rodeo has steadily increased over the years, although it can fluctuate, especially when linemen are called away to respond to major storms. “We’re not trying to grow,” Warman says. “If the numbers stay the same, that would be fine. We’ll continue to provide this service regardless.”
After coming in second in 2002, Brumelow, along with lineman Dwayne Cole and ground man Keith Lee, won the international rodeo in both 2003 and 2004. The team decided to take a break in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, Brumelow returned with Cole and a former Cobb coworker, Willie Nelson, to reclaim the title. Brumelow took another long hiatus from the event, not returning until 2015. He, Cole and ground man Keith McCart went on to win the senior division—a feat they repeated this year.
ENR: What challenges does the rodeo offer you?
Brumelow: We work so much in the city that we don’t climb poles that much anymore—we use bucket trucks. To prepare for the rodeo, we climb poles all year. Competing in the rodeo is a great training tool. It helps you improve skills that you don’t use on a daily basis but still need to know.
How do you prepare?
We used to shoot a lot of video of our routines. We would go back and talk about what we could do differently and find ways to pick up some time. You’d be surprised: You think you‘re busy, and then you watch yourself on video and there are times you’re sitting up there doing nothing. A coach pushes you to stay busy and helps you come up with a routine of how to do things better.
What are your career goals?
I hope to move up to lineman supervisor or possibly become a training instructor. If I go that route, it would make sense [to become a rodeo coach].
What has your career meant to you?
There are not as many people these days who want to work outside and work with their hands. This job has been good to me and made me a good living. When the weather is beautiful, it’s the best job in the world.