By Kathleen Mascareñas
When you think of linemen, you likely envision burly football players on the gridiron.
And a rodeo probably brings to mind cowboys wearing chaps, boots and hats.
The International Linemen’s Rodeo has neither.
The rodeo grounds are dotted with 40-foot wooden power poles as far as the eye can see. It’s a spot in the middle of Kansas where more than 900 utility-company linemen from around the world–in fire-resistant jeans, hard hats and 30-pound tool belts–come to shine.
For 40-year-old Gunner Hubbard, a 12-year SRP journeyman lineman from Gilbert, competing on this international stage was part of his personal comeback story.
“In 2011, I fell 15 feet onto asphalt and crushed my right ankle,” Hubbard said. “My surgeon told me I’d never do line work again, and that’s all I’ve ever done since high school. I’ve had five surgeries on my ankle and finally had to have it fused. They told me I wouldn’t do this again, but I told them I would.”
Hubbard was among seven journeyman linemen, six apprentice linemen and seven judges sent by SRP to represent the company and IBEW Local 266 in the 33rd International Linemen’s Rodeo this month. Five of them, including Hubbard, are from Gilbert.
Ten SRP linemen – including Hubbard and fellow Gilbert residents Tom Jeffers and Justin Kropp – brought home awards in five categories.
For Hubbard, it was affirmation that he’s excelling in the trade he loves – and doing what doctors said he would never do.
“I was really proud of us. We’ve been doing this for a long time and it was nice to have a day come together where our practice, experience and commitment came together,” Hubbard said. “Our apprentices worked hard, too, and it shows what a good program SRP has developed for training young linemen.”
They trained for weeks, for nearly 40 hours on their own time, before and after work.
“We practiced all summer. We would get up at 3 a.m. on Saturday and practice after working all day. We didn’t look forward to it, but our teams are committed,” Hubbard said.
For more than three decades, seasoned and rookie linemen have trekked to Bonner Springs, Kansas, to test their skills, athleticism and ability to remain safe under life-threatening, physically-demanding circumstances in the international competition.
Linemen performed tasks such as safely and quickly racing up a 40-foot power pole to retrieve an egg harnessed on top and while being smooth enough not to crack it as they descended. In the “hurtman rescue,” the lineman must rescue a 200-pound dummy and lower it to safety. Journeymen duplicate other real-life line work, like replacing a 100-pound transformer that is manually guided and hoisted.
“The rodeo shows how seriously we take safety and craftsmanship,” said Tom Jeffers of Gilbert, an SRP section supervisor of the Line Apprenticeship Program. “I’m so proud of the guys. They were so professional, and the results show how our guys really keep their attention to detail at work.”