Two Ameren linemen from Mexico engaged in the spirit of competition in October by participating at the International Lineman's Rodeo in Kansas. Described as the Olympics for workers in the electric utility industry, participants compete in four rounds, with two known ahead of time.
Participating from Mexico were Mike Beardslee, who served as a contest judge, and Justin Myers, who participated in his first competition on the journeyman team of Myers, Kevin Oser of Boonville and Tyler Daniels of Excelsior Springs. Participants are either on journeyman or apprentice teams.
Linemen are the people that keep the lights on, Beardslee said. "We do maintenance, we do new construction, when things fall down we're [first] out.”
Beardslee was a contestant for five years before becoming a judge. Beardslee has participated for 32 of the competitions 36-year history.
"Journeyman do four events and then there are apprentice events," he said. "It's events where you climb and do our skills and crafts that we do every day."
Beardslee reviews competitor safety. Are they perform the assigned tasks quickly but safely. Events are timed and competitors have to follow the criteria set out for each facet of competition. The goal is to get 100 points. Competitors have to make sure they're following work rules and instructions to the letter to reach the 100-point goal.
Myers knew about the speed climbing, and hurt-man rescue events, which he was able to practice with his team. The team members rescue a 180-pound mannequin from a pole. The night before the daylong competition, judges provide details on the mystery events, one of which was a transformer change out and the other was a double dead-end primary pole with a jumper line over the top.
A double dead-end is a power line that has lines that are separated on either side of the pole by a cross bar. The jumper is a grounded line that goes over the top of the pole. While they're not working with fully powered lines, they are simulated as live.
"Part of the details was you had to go up, equipotential ground [the lines], but the big thing this year was brushing all your connections," Myers said.
The speed climb event incorporates an element of risk, not to the competitors, but to what they have to carry with them — an egg. An egg is placed into a small bag, competitors climb the pole, the egg is removed where the competitor then puts it in his or her mouth, dropping the original bag, hanging another empty bag and climbing back down, all while making sure the egg doesn't crack.
"If you break the egg that's a 10-point deduction," Myers said.
When the agricultural economy was in a downturn in 1977, Beardslee decided to start work as a lineman. Myers had a similar reason for choosing a lineman career. He was a factory worker in Mexico in 2008 when the economy went into recession.
"I knew there was something else I wanted to do,” he said. “So I got signed up to go to lineman school. Did that for a year and then got hired on in the trade.”
Prior to starting with Ameren four years ago, Myers served as a contract lineman and with electric cooperatives. He was able to transfer to the Mexico position last year.
Myers was anxious to participate in the competition for the first time. It wasn't fearful anxiety, but the type of excited anxiety of not knowing what to expect. While the competition is held on over one day, the rodeo is three days. The first day is a vendor fair where workers can look at advances in safety gear, equipment and other tools of the trade. The second day is when competitors learn about the mystery events. Competition starts around 6:30 a.m. on the third day and lasted until around 4:30 p.m. There were around 250 journeyman teams and around the same of apprentice teams.
"It's held rain or shine. The only thing that stops us if there is lightning in the area," Beardslee said. "Probably 50% of the time it's done in the rain and mud, just like we do when storms happen."
While Myers' team ultimately did not walk a way with any wins, it has spurred him to improve for the next time he competes, he said.