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An unappreciated occupation
We all want electricity but who are the people behind the delivery? One such person behind the scenes is retired lineman, and foreman, Billy Smith who was inducted into the International Lineman’s Museum in Shelby, N.C. in 2010.
“It’s quite an honor to be in the same hall of fame as Thomas Edison, Ezra Cornell and George Westinghouse,” said Smith, who added that the museum houses all sorts of electrical items that were used in years past including insulators, tools and meters.
Smith, who now lives in Porterville, spent 32 years working with electricity for Southern California Edison. He worked with transformers and high voltage lines of anywhere from 2,000 to 33,000 volts.
“This trade is the most unrecognized, unappreciated trade out there. People don’t realize the lineman’s sacrifice,” said Smith who wanted to shed some light on his trade. During his career, he has been threatened with a gun, has dealt with irate customers, fended off dog attacks, rattlesnakes and has been shocked.
He spent 15 years as a foreman, trained for three years to become a journeyman lineman, and the rest as a lineman.
As a lineman he set poles, hung transformers and did reconducting work.
“Everyday you work with high voltage,” added Smith, who pointed out that during one job replacing poles after a fire in Malibu, a pole on the wench came loose and headed straight for him. He ducked down but was hit and had to be taken to the hospital as he had splinters.
Some of his friends weren’t so fortunate.
“I lost four co-workers and friends who got killed on the job,” explained Smith, adding that one man was killed in Santa Monica when a transformer blew up and another was killed near Success Lake. He has also seen some fatalities including those where cars hit poles and a third party has contact with those poles. For those that hit poles he recommends waiting for two or three minutes and checking for any downed wires before exiting the vehicle. When exiting the vehicle, he urges people to be cautious.
“Open the door and jump clear of the vehicle, don’t step out in case there’s a wire. If there’s a wire and you’re stepping on it you’re creating a path,” added Smith.
Of all the first-hand experiences he has had over the years one incident that really upset him was when a 17 year was killed.
“He was in a cotton picker and was reaching in there to get cotton. It had contacted a 1,200 volt line and he was electrocuted. That was pretty sad,” stated Smith.
He has also worked in all kinds of different weather, including; lightning.
“When it’s raining, wind, and snow you earn every damn penny you get. In nice weather it’s a fun, enjoyable job,” said Smith.
In 1972 he became a foreman.
“It was a challenge to be able to troubleshoot lines overhead and underground,” added Smith, who also installed meters, patrolled the lines and did general maintenance work.
Despite the hazards, Smith looks on his career with fondness.
“I loved it. It was a good job,” he said.
He advises current lineman to take their time.
“Never rush and never get in a hurry. If you’re working on a pole troubleshooting and you get in a hurry you make mistakes,” stated Smith.
To learn more about the lineman museum visit www.linemanmuseum.com.