By Nicole Cormier
For Huskie Tools
In the world of lineman, there has been a long list of people who have shaped the industry from the ground up. From Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Michael Faraday who pioneered how we use electricity, to people like Elvis Presley, who at one point had a stint working as a Crown Electric driver in Memphis, many important people have been a part of the evolution of electrical work.
But it’s the people who are on the line every day that have truly influenced linework and how things are done today. Many of these tales of heroism and innovation are documented at the International Lineman Museum, but some stand out more than others. Here are some of the lineworkers who, through their high-impact careers, have made a difference in the industry.
Write What You Know
William Wister Haines got his start working the night shift as an electric lineman to pay his way through his classes at the University of Pennsylvania. Spending seven years as a lineman, Haines used his experiences to shape his first two novels, “Slim” and “High Tension,” along with other work. “Slim” became a motion picture in 1937, with Henry Fonda starring as Slim the Lineman.
Pioneering the Tools of the Trade
Lineman tools are an important part of linework, and Chester “Chet” Coon designed and created many that are still used today. Working as a lineman, the intuitive inventor first created the hot stick. Today, the insulated pole is often fashioned from fiberglass, but when Chet designed it, he worked with a blacksmith to innovate this essential tool. Beyond hot stick, over his 28-year career Chet went on to create more than 400 tools, many invaluable to the industry.
Opening the Lines of Communication
After years working as a lineman in Colorado, Byron Dunn took the business online. In 1997, he started powerlineman.com, a website where lineworkers can network, find work, sell tools and more. In an attempt to help lineworkers tell their stories, Dunn created, “Powerlineman Magazine,” an editorial accompaniment to the website where he documents the unique voices of those in the industry. “Built By Linemen, For Linemen,” the site and magazine have been going strong for over 20 years.
Ensuring Education is an Option
Using a combination of experience and ingenuity, Aaron Howell leveraged three decades as a lineman to help educate the future of the industry. Along with two partners, fellow linemen, Shane Porter and Gerald McKie, Howell founded Northwest Lineman College in 1993. The first class had just 23 students, but over the years the college has since grown to four campuses in Florida, Idaho, Texas and California. Focusing on teaching linework in various fields and upholding a set of core values including passion, integrity and excellence.
A Collection Worth Sharing
From the beginning of his career as a lineman, George Hayden began salvaging tools and insulators before they were discarded. Over the years his collection grew and showcased the evolution of the industry he was so passionate about. When he was ready to showcase his collection, he established The Hayden Family Project, a mini-museum housed in a 38-foot trailer. The collection is now on loan at the Lineman’s Museum, coined the Mobile Museum.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
It’s unclear who the first woman to enter what was mostly male dominated field was, but Rosa “Rosie” Maria Vasquez was one of the earliest to get out on the line. The single mother attended Lineman School to learn the tricks of the trade and retired in 2008 after thirty years in the industry.
Not Your Average Rodeo
Linework is a job that takes nerves of steel, raw strength and quick thinking. But even though it’s serious work, that doesn’t mean there is no time for play. Tom White, Dale Warman and Charlie Young, wanted to showcase the precision skills that lineworkers develop on the job while also focusing on maintaining safe practices and having a little fun. The International Lineman’s Rodeo attracts lineman from all over the world to compete in a series of tasks that replicate the lineman experience.
A Hero’s Work Captured
J.D. Thompson was settled into his career as a lineman when his training was put to the test. On July 17, 1967 Thompson and his colleague Randall Champion were both on adjacent poles when Champion was electrocuted. Thompson climbed to him and started CPR on the unconscious man, and in turn saved his life, while being documented in the iconic photograph, “The Kiss of Life.” The Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Rocco Morabito serves as a striking reminder of the dangers of the field, and the quick wit of those that choose a lineman’s career.
The work of lineman is equal parts impactful and inspiring, and workers continue to make a difference through their impassioned work and dedication.
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