The best lineworkers from around the world see how they stack up against one another
By Sarah Kuta
For Huskie Tools
Unless you’re in the industry, you’ve likely never been to a rodeo like this before.
Instead of what you might imagine — horses, cowboy hats and boots, cows and lassos — picture, instead, a group of highly skilled men and women climbing up utility poles at record speeds, making repairs and practicing rescues from death-defying heights.
Welcome to the world of lineman rodeos, a series of competitive events held throughout the year to test the skills of the best linemen and women from around the world. These rodeos also give the talented men and women who keep our lights turned on a chance to show off what they do every day in front of their family and friends.
Wondering how these competitions got their start? One of the biggest (and oldest) lineman rodeos in the country is the International Lineman’s Rodeo, held each fall in Overland Park, Kansas (this year, it’s Oct. 16-19).
“This is the Super Bowl of linemen,” according to Jason McKinney, who coached a team from Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative. “This is the biggest event in this country, probably the biggest in the world.”
Now in its 36th year, the International Lineman’s Rodeo brings the best of the best to Kansas each fall. In addition to the competition, there’s also an expo so you can check out the newest lineman tools and products and services on the market. Rodeo events include hurtman rescue, pole climb, a written test and two mystery events to really test your skills.
“Many of the skills required in the competition are less frequently used currently but still critical line skills like climbing, working off a pole and task work using hot sticks rather than gloves,” according to the rodeo organizers. “These opportunities for linemen enhance their skills and keep them fresh make them more productive all while keeping safety during the competition at the forefront.”
The event got its start in 1984, when a group of lineworkers, executives and vendors got together and organized the first national rodeo for linemen. Their goal was to raise awareness about the incredible technical skills of linemen and women, as well as to shine a light on safety and safe work practices within the profession.
It was also designed to allow lineworkers to meet and socialize with their peers from around the nation, which continues to be a huge draw for the linemen and women competing today.
“You go out here, people are yelling and hollering at each other to do good,” said Greg John, a lineman for Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative. “You’re going to compete during the day, then at night you’re all going to sit down and drink beer together like you’re best friends.”
Volunteers have always played a large role in lineman rodeos, tackling everything from judging to directing traffic to scoring the events.
In the rodeo’s first year, just 12 journeyman teams from four companies competed. It has since grown to hundreds of teams and companies. In 1987, the rodeo added an apprentice division and in 1993, the rodeo opened up the competition to international teams. Today, teams from as far away as Jamaica, Ireland, the Phillippines, England and Canada come to Kansas to compete.
Last year, the No. 1 team at the International Lineman’s Rodeo was from Pacific Gas & Electric, a power company serving the Bay Area in California. Not far behind were two teams from Jackson EMC, a power company based in Georgia.
Curious about lineman rodeos near you? Here are a few of our favorite competitions held across the country each year.
Tennessee Valley Lineman Rodeo
Lenoir City, Tennessee
Linemen can show off their talents to family and friends at the Tennessee Valley Lineman Rodeo, which aims to create a sense of pride among linemen and help bring their loved ones into the fold, too. In addition to traditional lineman events, there’s also a golf tournament and a motorcycle ride. There’s also a dedicated kids area at this competition, complete with a slide and bouncy house, so be sure to bring the little ones, too.
NSUJL Lineman’s Rodeo
The NSUJL Lineman’s Rodeo has a particularly noble purpose: to raise money for the families of lineworkers who are hurt on the job. This nonprofit provides immediate and long-term assistance to families, as well as college scholarships to the children of fallen lineworkers. In fact, 100 percent of the proceeds from the rodeo go directly to supporting these families, who can get physical, emotional and financial support after an accident.
Texas Lineman’s Rodeo
The weather conditions at the annual Texas Lineman’s Rodeo mirror what lineworkers often have to deal with on the job — high temperatures and blazing-hot sun. There’s a BBQ competition, a golf tournament, a team pole climb, a hurtman rescue, an individual pole climb and two mystery events.
Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo, hosted by Kentucky Electric Cooperatives
For 15 years, some of the top linemen around have been competing at the Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo hosted by Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. At this competition, you’ll be tested on traditional lineman tasks and skills, all while competing against more than 200 teams and 250 apprentices. Be sure to read the rules when you register, because you’ll need to bring a handful of tools with you to compete — things like work gloves, hard hats and fall arrest devices.
Los Angeles Lineman’s Rodeo
TBD, April or May 2020
Sun Valley, California
Hosted by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and IBEW Local 18, this family-friendly event has attracted the top linemen and women from the western United States since 1991. The Los Angeles Lineman’s Rodeo events highlight the types of challenges and obstacles the lineworkers encounter while ensuring power reaches the 4 million people who live in Los Angeles. Plus, roughly 4,000 spectators each year spend the day watching the events and learning more about this important trade.
Check out more lineman rodeo dates here.