By Sarah Heggen
For some people, working outside in the elements is a dream come true. But when the temps dip below freezing, loyalty to the job is put to the test. After all, there is still work to be done, and we count on our linemen to do it.
Guthrie County REC Line Superintendent Elden Wolfe and the line crew are preparing for winter’s fury. Elden says this time of year he is visually inspecting lines across the service territory and taking note of problem areas. Back at the co-op, crews are making sure the tires on all vehicles are good, repairing any tire chains that may be needed, and swapping out the fuel for winter diesel fuel.
“It’s just part of our regular routine about this time of year,” Elden says. “The more we can prepare now, the less time we’ll need to spend on repairs later.”
Journeyman Lineman Darwin Marean said the winter months can be challenging in this line of work. Cold, snow and biting winds can be relentless against power lines, as well as the linemen entrusted to their care.
“We encourage the crew to dress for the weather, meaning plenty of layers to fight the cold,” Darwin says. “We also tell them to keep extra dry clothes in their vehicles and to take breaks to warm up as needed.”
In addition to the nearly 50 pounds of regular linemen gear, workers will add insulated boots, long underwear, one or two sweatshirts, heavy weight bibs and stocking caps to battle the cold. Their hands, however, must remain bare – only fire-rated, safety approved rubber gloves can be used.
“The wires themselves are no more difficult to handle,” Darwin says. “But your cold hands and fingers definitely make using the tools more difficult. The required rubber gloves aren’t much help.”
Rural roads can be dicey when trying to get to an area during or after a snowstorm, Darwin adds. If needed, co-ops like Guthrie County REC can sometimes call on their county maintenance crews to come plow the road. Otherwise, linemen walk in to the section they’re trying to get to, then wade or crawl through snow filled ditches to reach the poles.
It’s all part of the job to take the heat with the cold, the beautiful days with the ugliest winter battle. Darwin’s final advice to linemen working in cold temperatures? “Grow a beard,” he says, smiling.
Sarah Heggen, CCC, is a communications & member relations specialist with Central Iowa Power Cooperative.