Day in the life of Roseville Electric journeymen

Public utility provider celebrating centennial
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Before any of the real work can be done on a new power pole in Roseville, the “grunts” prepare the site — and that sometimes includes cleaning up after dogs when working in residential backyards.

So on a brisk and sunny November morning, Will Baker and Bryan Salo each grab a shovel and remove the mess as a black boxer peeks out at them from the screen door, a worried look on the dog’s face.

These men start their shift at 6 a.m. and usually get done by 3:30 p.m. On this day, the Roseville Electric crew will finish installing a new power pole in the backyard of a house in the Cirby Oaks neighborhood. But there is no “typical day” for the men, said Rory Low, a line crew foreman with Roseville Electric, which celebrates its centennial this year.

“I liked construction work and being outside and doing this kind of stuff, so this is what I ended up doing,” says Low, who has spent 10 of his last 26 years with the utility as a foreman.

The week before, a crew dug a hole and stuck a new 40-foot-tall pole into the ground. Every few years, they test the poles — which need to be replaced every 30 to 40 years. The crews will replace about 50 in the next few months and then will be done for awhile.

Each project takes a different length of time, depending on variables such as if they have to remove a fence (and put it back up). They go door-to-door in the neighborhoods to notify residents about upcoming power outages to give people time to prepare. But inevitably, once the power’s off, they get asked: How do I open my garage door?

“You’d be surprised how many times we get asked that question,” Low says.

‘Certain type of person’

Roseville Electric began in 1912 serving 150 customers. Now, the public utility provides power to more than 54,000 customers. But many residents may not recognize all the labor that happens behind the scenes at the hands of Roseville Electric journeymen, also known as linemen.

On the recent morning, the six-man crew prepared to transfer wire from an old power pole to a new one, which meant shutting down the 12,000-volt lines for the whole block.

“They put a lot of time into learning this craft,” says Vonette McCauley, who does public relations for the utility. “It’s not something you test drive and go, uh, maybe not.”

Will Baker has been a pre-apprentice for the past 13 months. He previously worked as an electrical contractor and did several interviews before landing a spot with Roseville Electric.

“It took me seven years to get into this industry,” Baker said. “This is a career choice. I was doing wiring in commercial, residential and industrial and I wanted to get into the high-voltage side and distribution.”

He said the stability, pay, health benefits and pension make the job attractive and allow him to support his family. The annual salary for a Roseville Electric pre-apprentice is $47,615 to $66,999. The annual lineman salary is $72,101 to $101,455. The job itself is also appealing, Baker.

“It takes a certain type of person to be a lineman,” Baker said. “You kind of have to be an adrenaline junkie because you work with energized stuff and heights and have to be mindful and keep a cool head.”

Pre-apprentice is an entry-level position and requires at least one year of on-the-ground training. In December, Baker and two fellow pre-apprentices will start an apprenticeship program, which involves class once a week and a three-year commitment before the chance to become a journeyman who gets to climb poles.

Not for the faint of heart

Two journeymen, Jeff Beaubier and Kyle Giesser, put on their gear and scale a pole to cut power. While the day is sunny, the journeymen must sometimes deal with inclement weather or assignments at night — conditions aren’t always ideal, or predictable.

After cutting the wires, Beaubier and Giesser return to the ground, walk across the backyard to the new pole, which they ascend. As they work on attaching power lines to the new pole, they continually yell down instructions — in linemen jargon — to the pre-apprentices below who send up tools via rope and retrieve the ones coming back down.

Low remains on the ground to serve as a qualified observer. The pole sways, unstable without wires attached, as the journeymen work. At one point, Giesser holds up a 25-pound beam as he’s tethered to a pole some 35 feet above ground.

This work isn’t for the faint of heart, Low says. Some apprentices fall and lose their nerve to go back up again.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s when you’re going to fall,” he says.

Roseville Electric has no records of anyone dying from a fall, according to McCauley. As for Low, he’s experienced fires and explosions while at the top of a pole, and he’s slid down once. The linemen can’t control everything that happens up there.

“After a while, you don’t even think about being up there,” Low says, shrugging his shoulders. “You just do your job.”