The best lineworkers from around the world aim to compete in 2020
By Sarah Kuta
For Huskie Tools
Trade those cowboy boots for work boots. Swap the cowboy hat for a hard hat. Ditch the tight jeans and the huge belt buckles. This isn’t your average rodeo.
Lineman’s rodeos bring together the best lineworkers from around the region and the world, giving them a chance to compete against each other while also demonstrating their unique skillsets, expertise with lineman tools and sheer bravery to their friends and family members.
During rodeos, these talented men and women who keep the lights on practice rescuing each other from dangerous situations, climbing utility poles as quickly as possible and making tricky repairs. It’s what they do every day on the job, but on a much bigger stage and with a much bigger audience.
Lineworkers everywhere are proud of the work they do, and the rodeo offers them a chance to show off their love for the profession.
“It’s about the honor and duty of going out there and getting the lights back on, knowing that in every dark home, there is a family counting on them to make life better,” according to John Lee, president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric. “They’re at the rodeo because they are confident in their skills, but at the same time are open to learning from their peers and improving, and mostly because they take tremendous pride in their work.”
The lineman rodeo tradition dates back to the mid-1980s, when the first National Lineman’s Rodeo was held in Manhattan, Kansas. At the time, organizers hoped this new event would build camaraderie among lineworkers across the country while at the same time showcasing their various technical skills to the community.
That very first rodeo featured 12 teams from four companies. The event snowballed and grew, eventually adding an apprentice division and inviting international teams to compete in what is now known as the International Lineman’s Rodeo. It’s often referred to as the “lineman Olympics” or the “Super Bowl of linemen.”
Today, lineworkers from across the globe — including England, Canada, the Phillippines and Jamaica — descend upon Bonner Springs, Kansas, for this popular annual affair. This year, it’s scheduled for Oct. 14-17.
The rodeo has both team events and apprentice events, including hurt man rescue, pole climb, a written test and two mystery events that are revealed when the competition begins. There’s also an annual expo so lineworkers can learn about the coolest new lineman gadgets and gear hitting the market.
Lineworkers agree that it’s one of the biggest and best lineman rodeos in the country. More than 200 teams and 300 apprentices gather to test their mettle each year. Last year, a team from Southern California Edison/IBEW Local 47 racked up enough points to earn the rodeo’s top spot and be crowned the “best of the best.”
Of course, these rodeos wouldn’t be possible without the hundreds of volunteers who dedicate their time to making them happen. Line supervisors and experienced linemen serve as volunteer judges, while administrative volunteers help keep things running smoothly before, during and after the event.
Want to check out lineman rodeos near you? Below, you’ll find a sampling of our favorite competitions held every year along with some past and present videos.
Florida Lineman Competition
March 13, 2020
The 20th Annual Florida Lineman Competition kicks off the season with journeyman and apprentices “competing for professional recognition, attending training courses and practicing essential skills in a safe environment.”
Georgia Lineman’s Rodeo
May 2, 2020
Fort Valley, Georgia
Competitors in the 27th annual Georgia Lineman’s Rodeo will test their skills with a hurt man rescue, an 8-foot wooden crossarm changeout, a switch relocation and several mystery events. Two electric utilities within the state of Georgia put on the event: the Georgia Electric Membership Corporation and the Electric Cities of Georgia.
Gaff-n-Go Lineworker’s Rodeo
May 15-16, 2020
For 18 years, linemen and women have been competing in the annual Gaff-n-Go Lineworker’s Rodeo. The weekend includes an expo, a BBQ dinner, a safety speaker and tons of competition events, including a primary insulator change out, a transformer and streetlight change, a hurt man rescue, climbing skills, a bell insulator change and a 600 amp vertical switch change.
Tennessee Valley Lineman Rodeo
June 25-27, 2020
The Tennessee Valley Lineman Rodeo originally began in 1998. Today, it’s a three-day celebration featuring rodeo events for apprentices, teams of journeymen, individual linemen and seniors. It’s a family-friendly event that’s free and open to the public. Plus, the rodeo includes a golf tournament, a motorcycle ride and a vendor expo.
NSUJL Lineman’s Rodeo
June 19-20, 2020
The NSUJL Lineman’s Rodeo helps support the families of fallen or injured linemen, groundmen and operators by raising money and awareness. Before the competition events on Saturday, the rodeo holds a moving ceremony on Friday night to honor the linemen who died during the previous year.
“The ceremony takes place at dusk and is a tribute that cannot be described in words – but by the chills and tears on the faces of our fellow brothers and sisters,” according to the rodeo’s organizers. “A lantern is raised with each fallen brother’s name etched on it, as a brother climbs the pole to hang it and light the candle within. A moment of silence then takes place in the honoree’s memory.”
Texas Lineman’s Rodeo
July 18, 2020
The annual Texas Lineman’s Rodeo has many goals: to continue the education of lineworkers, to build relationships, to promote teamwork, to encourage efficiency and to bring innovation to the industry, just to name a few. The rodeo incorporates a BBQ cookoff, a golf tournament, an expo, a fish fry dinner, a pole climb, a hurt man rescue and several mystery events. The rodeo also awards scholarships to the children of lineworkers and festival participants.
International Lineman's Rodeo
October 14-127, 2020
Bonner Springs & Overland, Kansas
This one is the granddaddy of them all with over over 200 teams and 300 apprentices from all over the world including England, Canada, the Phillippines and Jamaica.
More Lineman Rodeos!
You can view more lineman rodeo dates here.