Linemen compete for top spot in annual rodeo
Glen Campbell wasn't at the 25th annual International Lineman's Rodeo this weekend. But there was at least one Wichita lineman.
Jesse Kent, Wichita, who works for Westar Energy, was one of about 900 linemen competing in the event Saturday at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame.
The competition revolved around timed events simulating those a lineman can encounter on the job installing and repairing electrical power lines. Participants are scored according to the quality of their work and their application of safety procedures, and a mistake in either area adds time to their score, Kent said.
For the apprentice linemen like Kent, the competition consisted of a written test, a CPR event, a hurt-man rescue involving a mannequin, a speed climb and a "mystery event."
Kent, who competed in the rodeo for the first time this weekend, said the mystery event was the hardest. It's called that because the linemen didn't know what it would be until Saturday.
The apprentice mystery event this year was a complicated maneuver requiring the linemen to move their equipment from one side to the other of two crosswise beams on a pole.
Kent said he enjoyed the mystery event the best, and that it was the most challenging.
"I was looking forward to it," he said. "I did so-so. It wasn't good."
As for the Campbell song, "Wichita Lineman," Kent said, "when it comes on the radio, I key up the mic."
Because of the rain the previous day and that morning, the grounds of the Ag Hall where the rodeo takes place - with about 100 practice utility poles on a space about the size of a football field - as well as the shoes and pants below the knees of spectators and participants, were covered in mud.
The mud affected the competition, said Patrick Roehrman, another apprentice lineman, who works in Nevada. Mo., for Kansas City Power & Light.
"You've got to be a lot more cautious," Roehrman said, "because things are slick."
The wet conditions were appropriate, he said, because usually "everybody's concentrating on speed. You have to slow it down, be safe," just like on the job.
Kent alluded to the issue of safety as well, saying there had been a number of linemen getting shocked on the job, though not at Westar.
"People forget what they're doing," he said.
There are no tricks to the trade, Kent said. "You've just got to be smooth and safe."
Everybody's times are gonna be slower," Roehrman said, because of the moisture on the poles and equipment.
Roehrman said the trickiest event for him was the speed-climb, in which competing linemen had to carry an egg up in a basket held in their mouth, then take the egg out, put it in their mouth, and climb down as quickly as they can.
The record was 18 seconds last year, Roehrman said.
For the journeyman competitors, the events included a pole climb and the mystery event was a simulated insulator change-out, which requires placing specialized plastic covers of different components on the power line and pole. The covers serve to prevent shocks on real jobs.
Jan Zimmers, spokeswoman for KCPL, one of the host utilities for this year's rodeo, said there were about 200 teams from about 100 companies competing Saturday, including utilities in England, Australia, Canada and Aruba. Teams usually have three people on them, she said.
Some of the teams that had been registered for the rodeo didn't make it, she said because they were responding to storms from the afternoon and night before, and some of the ones there Saturday would likely be making their way south to help out after Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast the previous night.
Roehrman said he thought he did "pretty well." He finished in 52nd place overall, compared to a year ago when he came in 67th. Kent, the Wichita lineman, finished 205th. The top finisher was Jeff Sutton of Jackson Electrical Membership Corp., in Georgia.