12/17/13 Power in Your Hands

All you can do with elecrtricity, really, is make it stop and go, but that is deceptively simple.

From massive concrete and steel containment vessels surging with the energy of fissile materials splitting their atoms in a controlled manner, from turbines spun by gravity’s force upon water held back by dams that are marvels of engineering and construction, from natural gas and diesel fired combustion turbines and coal-fired simple cycle and combined cycle boilers using the pressure of exhaust gasses and the force of steam against the turbines to spin generators, from airfoils set high atop towers that harness the power of Earth’s rotation and the energy of sunlight which causes the wind to move against them so that they spin with tremendous power, to solar panel arrays that collect the sun’s energy through photo-voltaic reactions with its millions of cells each sending just a little bit of the transformed energy into devices that make it useable for other purposes: and from that point, converted through huge hulking marvels of core steel, iron, copper, porcelain, and insulating oil called transformers, through switching devices and transmitted onto long aluminum wires with cores of steel held aloft by massive towers and poles that span the length of a continent and more,  to other places where transformers again work their magic by doing just what they are called, again through switching devices and out along the roads and highways on aluminum wires, most held in the air by wooden poles, but some by poles of steel or concrete, and some run underground, again to those marvelous transformers, then onto different wires of aluminum or copper, through devices which measure it’s rate of flow and into safety devices designed to not let more of it pass than the wire can handle, since energy is heat and too much energy might mean more heat than devices can safely handle, then along copper wires through the walls and ceilings of your home, to the wall outlet your computer is plugged in, to another type of transformer that brings the copper wire to your laptop on which you type, passing through it, stopping, going, stopping, recording bits and pieces of information as ones (go) and zeroes (stop), all the way to the little icon at the bottom of your screen showing that you are connected to power and your battery is being charged, electricity and the processes it passes through on its endless quest to return to the earth is a sheer wonder of human engineering and capability.

To most of us, electricity is simply there when we flip the switch. Many never wonder how it gets there to begin with, nor wonder how many people, processes, devices, and entire systems are involved to produce and deliver it, safely and reliably, right to the point of where you need it…when you need it. We pay for it because every month the power company sends us a bill, and we think that it is there simply because we send them a check. Granted, without the check, they’ll not be delivering too much more of their product right to the point where you need it, but neither will Pizza Hut. Remarkably, we are more than pleased when the pizza delivery comes quickly, the pizza still hot and fresh and not stewed in the insulated delivery bag turning the crust into a soggy but tough mess that is a mere facsimile of a pizza fresh out of the oven. Some pizza companies even brag in the advertising about delivery in twenty minutes or less.

Walk over to your wall, flip the switch, then start the countdown…twenty minutes or less until the light comes on…twenty minutes or less until the coffee starts brewing…twenty minutes of less until the TV comes on. We wouldn’t like it if electricity delivery was as efficient as pizza delivery. A twenty minute wait for a pizza is fine. A twenty minute wait for electricity is out of the question. We want our electricity now. We want it when we want it. We want it every time we want it. And we want as much of it as we want, no matter what quantity it is that we may require. We want it at the speed of light. Remarkably, nearly 100% of the time, this is exactly how we get our electricity, noticing it only when the bill comes or when we flip the switch and nothing happens. Few things are as disheartening or make folks angrier than when the din and hum of everyday life are brought to an instant stop by a power outage. Electricity is the glue that holds modern cities together; stop it long enough and the glue begins to break down…civilization as we know it begins to unravel, because the work that it does for us cannot be measured… well, it really can be measured and is measured by every meter through which it passes, but it’s measurement as an impact on human life can only be measured through its withdrawal. They don’t make meters for that. There would be no time to waste trying to measure that; there would only be time to try and grub a living by whatever means possible. Humans would return to the earth, having descended from lofty places simply because a flip of a switch did nothing, because no one could make the electricity stop and go, or make it go on and off, or make it be ones and zeroes, they could only make it stop; they could only make it off; they could only make it zero. A dark thought.

Every phase of the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity has the most dedicated and talented people, nearly all of them highly skilled, nearly all of them well paid for their skills. While the entire system is a huge juggling act, requiring each and every person in each and every segment to keep all the balls in the air, should one get out of place they are all likely to come crashing down to the ground. Of all these people, the most magical, the most dedicated, and the ones who work under the most restrictive of skilled circumstances are linemen, the ones who put their very personal hands onto very energized power lines and do things with the lines energized that others would not dare do. Many of the things that linemen do are difficult when the lines are de-energized. They are extremely difficult when the lines are still hot, sending electricity to the place you demand it when you demand it, since for your convenience, they don’t just take power lines out when they need to do maintenance. Sometimes they must take them out, for safety’s sake, but every possible way to do it under energized conditions has been exhausted, and there is no other way. Linemen are not so foolish as to be generally careless of their lives and limbs. While being a lineman involves working under hazardous conditions, it is more unforgiving than it is hazardous. A mistake, the failure of a piece of equipment designed to support or restrict, anything happening outside the norms represents a hazard and can put one in the area of great danger, the danger developing much slower that its manifestation, which is always at the speed of light, which is too fast for a human to react since we move quite a bit slower than that.

To be a lineman, or a trained substation maintenance operator, is to be in the places where the rubber meets the road. It is the place where all the action happens, and sometimes the action is un-plan-able or unpardonable since no lineman up on a pole can govern or foresee the failure of a driver to maintain control of their vehicle five blocks away who strikes a power pole and causes a chain reaction of failures affecting the very pole of which he has climbed to the top. One cannot stop traffic everywhere because one has to work somewhere. The work must go on. All we can do is exercise our best judgment in mitigating the hazards lest they become dangers. This is what a lineman does every day.

Casey could see all of this from the job he held prior to attending the basic lineworker’s school at Scooba-Tech. He wanted to be a lineman. He enrolled the year before last as a non-typical student, being 26 years old, and attended the one-semester class. He was there the semester before my own son attended the class. What they teach young people there are the most valuable skills, because they teach them to belong to an elite group, those who hold the power the moves the world in their hands. I think the Marines are an elite group. So are linemen.

Casey worked hard in the school, so his instructors who are very competent friends of mine told me. I am on the advisory committee for the school since I represent those very important to linemen, or any job skill training center, since I am an employer. We have hired many of the students who come out of Scooba-Tech’s program. They are not linemen when they come out of the school. All of us employers know that. So do the students. Those who come out of the school thinking they are linemen did not learn a thing and will likely not stay employed by us very long since our real linemen do not want to work with them, saying they do not want to watch them get killed, nor do they want to get killed by them, either. Those don’t stay anywhere very long, and if they survive their first fright, they usually leave line work altogether. The true linemen don’t…they learn to carry on their work methodically, safely, and according to the rules. Accidents can still happen, and the remarkable thing about accidents is, as my bride tells me, that they tend to occur right where you are. Ain’t that the truth!!!

Casey had worked for us for the better part of a year, and as our foreman tells us, was absorbing everything he could, learning daily about the work as he was in the process of doing it. Casey loved to put his hands on the energized lines, feeling the coursing of power through them, much as we can feel our life coursing through our arteries in our pulse beat. I know that feeling. It is addictive. It is adrenaline producing. It is never mundane. A lineman must be able to focus. He cannot be scatterbrained. He can never forget what it is that he is doing, nor forget where he is at. It is not that the work is not safe, it is that distractions can be fatal since the work is very unforgiving. Flying an airplane is not unsafe, but if you violate safe practices or have an equipment failure, it is very unforgiving. So it goes with linemen.

I watched Casey grow as an apprentice lineman. Before working with us, he had done a stint with another contractor out in west Texas. That was rather too far to try and come home every weekend, and he indicated that the contractor had him doing some unsupervised things that only journeyman lineman should be doing. Casey was smart enough to know that he was not yet a journeyman lineman. He also wanted to be working closer to home, where he had a wife and two small children.

Thus we found each other. We needed a trained person and he needed a job close to home. It was a good match for us both. Casey indicated several times that he was learning much from our foreman, who is as skilled a veteran lineman as there is a lineman anywhere, and he had become a top apprentice, always working under supervision, but becoming more and more competent, enjoying his work, immersed in his work, and well on his way towards holding the title of those most-skilled of all workers, that of lineman.

Sometimes, though, other forces come in to play. A lineman who works around hazards every day never thinks of all the other things that can occur. This past Monday morning, December 16, 2013, Casey had an auto accident on the way to the job he loved. Having worked with certain death only inches from a careless hand, he perhaps never thought that he would met his earthly demise in something so ordinary as a car wreck, but even a lineman knows that the car that wrecks five spans down from the pole he is perched on top of with hooks and belt can kill you just as dead as the person in the car that hit the pole.

He leaves behind him his wife, the two small children previously mentioned and a brand new two-month old that he was so proud of. He was a husband, father, and student:  a welcome co-worker to all who worked along-side with him, welcomed on any and every crew that we have, welcomed by any foreman we have, and admired and respected by his teachers and his friends. He was well on his way to being a lineman, since those who are lineman wanted him to work with them on their crew, him having earned their trust by hard work, persistence, and paying attention to the work at hand. This is a tremendous endorsement.

Whether you are holding power in your hands through an energized power line with enough energy to run half-a town, or power in your hands through the steering wheel of a car carrying you to the work you love so much, you must pay attention to the task at hand with power in your hands. You must not allow distractions with power in your hands. Sometimes, though, nothing helps when you have power in your hands. Accidents happen, equipment fails, and every plan and device we have put in place to mitigate such occurrences are out the window and we are brought to the sudden realization that the laws of physics are in complete control…they always were…they always will be. When we find ourselves outside of them, the hazards have passed beyond being hazards to extreme danger, and then only luck and chance will serve us, or not, as the case may be. Such is the proximity to power, and power’s greatest proximity is when it is in our hands.

All of our hearts are heavy beyond heavy. We mourn for ourselves for this loss of our friend and co-worker. We mourn for his family who lost a son, a father, and a husband. Maybe the next time you flip the switch and nothing happens, you too might think of Casey. He was just 28. His funeral is this Friday, December 20, 2013, a particularly hard time of the year, if there is an easier time, to lose such a close family member. Our prayers are with his young wife and children.

If you are around one of our crews, you might not choose to refer to Casey as an Apprentice Lineman, or a Lineman Trainee. Around our crews, Casey will be forever known as a LINEMAN. He earned that title from his peers and co-workers, who all know that the wisdom to be a true lineman comes from knowing when you had best proceed with caution and call some folks to come over and help you. Casey knew that.

He will be sorely missed.

CASEY PAGE
(February 1, 1985 – December 16, 2013)

SERVICES: FRIDAY,
DECEMBER 20, 2013
1:00 P. M.
MCCLAIN-HAYS CHAPEL

VISITATION: THURSDAY,
DECEMBER 19, 2013
5:00 – 8:00 P. M.

INTERMENT: MT. OLIVE CEMETERY
HOUSE COMMUNITY

OFFICIATING: PRESIDENT HERB BOYLES
REV. MIKE PILGRIM

Mr. Page, 28, died Monday, December 16, 2013, in Winston County.

He was a former resident of Arkansas and Mesa, Arizona and had lived in Philadelphia for the past two years. He was employed by McElroy Electric Co. Mr. Page was Mormon by faith.

Survivors include his wife, Christian Page; daughters, Georgia Claire Page and Lola Kate Page; and son, Max Page, all of Philadelphia; mother, Gayla Page of Mesa, Arizona; sisters, Mandy Page of Mesa, Arizona, Chrystal Lee of Philadelphia, Tonya Page of Mesa, Arizona, Serena Gordan of Mesa, Arizona, and Melody Taylor of Mesa, Arizona; brothers, Kevin Taylor of Columbia, Missouri and Joel Taylor of Mesa, Arizona; paternal grandparents, Jimmie and Frances Page of Philadelphia; maternal grandmother, Roberla Taylor of Mesa, Arizona; and several nieces and nephews.

Mr. Page was preceded in death by his father, Mickey Page and maternal grandfather, Ray Taylor.

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