Lineworkers Call Gaff-n-Go Rodeo a Slog of Mud and Merriment

Adam Weaver of Southside Electric Cooperative performs a cut-out change in a bucket truck during the equipment operators competition at the Gaff-n-Go Rodeo. (Photo By: Steven Johnson)

DOSWELL, Va.—In April, line crews from Virginia were among those helping New Hampshire Electric Cooperative restore power after a brutal snowstorm put tens of thousands of members in the dark.

So when crews from New Hampshire Electric showed up in Virginia amid torrential rains at the Gaff-n-Go Rodeo, there was a suspicion that bad weather had become their calling card.

Not true, said New Hampshire Electric lineworker Nick Tarmey. “If we brought it, it would be coming in the form of snow,” he joked.

Tarmey’s attitude of friendly competition pervaded among the nearly 300 lineworkers at the rodeo, even though rains on May 18 turned the 58-pole layout at Meadow Event Park north of Richmond into a total quagmire.

At his first rodeo, Matt Varin of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative works the ropes as part of a three-member team. (Photo By: Steven Johnson)

“I love days like this because our guys work in the rain. It’s more of an inconvenience for families and spectators,” said Casey Logan, chief operating officer at Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in Chase City, Virginia, and NRECA Virginia director.

“These are brand new poles, which are hard to climb on their own. When they get slick from the rain, it makes climbing that much more difficult. But these guys all work safely, first and foremost,” Logan said.

Participating in his first rodeo, Matt Viner of New Hampshire Electric watched water drench working tarps and his tool bag. Still, “everybody was working in the same conditions, just like real life,” he said.

Some 50 three-member journeyman teams and more than 130 apprentices from 11 states were part of the largest rodeo in the East, organized over two days by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. Lineworkers came from from co-ops, investor-owned utilities and contractors.

Lineworkers are used to working in unfavorable conditions, so the rain and mud at the Gaff-n-Go Rodeo near Richmond, Virginia, was a familiar if slick scene. (Photo By: Steven Johnson)

Now in its 20th incarnation, the rodeo is so popular that organizers moved the awards banquet to a large Richmond hotel to accommodate more than 1,000 ticketholders.

“It just keeps growing and getting better and better,” Brian Mosier, president and CEO of the Virginia statewide, said during opening ceremonies.

Apprentices and journeyman teams competed in five categories ranging from retrieving a simulated injured coworker from the top of a pole to repairing a primary dead-end transfer that took an average of 10 minutes to complete.

The overall team winner came from Choptank Electric Cooperative in Denton, Maryland, with Josh McCafferty, Todd Anderson, Scott Smart and alternate Brandon Thompson taking top honors.

Austin Lambert of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the overall apprentice winner. REC also scored as the team of Thomas Bailey, Alister Pollard, Addison Spicer and alternate Donnie Andrews won the equipment operators competition.

Many of the high finishers will go to the International Lineman’s Rodeo in October in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

New Hampshire Electric’s team traveled the 14-hour route in reverse that about 70 lineworkers from Virginia and Maryland took to help with storm repairs last month. CEO Alyssa Clemsen Roberts met mutual aid lineworkers and some of their CEOs during the rodeo.

“Honestly, the rodeo is fun, but us coming down here, meeting with all the other companies, having a good time and going out to eat as a team just builds more bonds,” said Brian Downing of New Hampshire Electric, a veteran of regional and international rodeos. “The whole trip is fun—not just the rodeo but the whole trip.”

Downing said New Hampshire Electric is more than ready to return to favor if co-ops in the mid-Atlantic or anywhere else need their skills on display at the rodeo.

“A storm is a storm,” he said. “We’re ready to come down here.”

Steven Johnson is a contributing writer for NRECA.

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