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NFEC linemen use a hydraulic tool to tamp the dirt around the recently set pole at the Cudd Pressure Control yard in Elk City.


truck and dons heavy protective gear—rubber gloves and sleeves designed to protect linemen from the high voltage.


“It is very difficult to work in these heavy rubber gloves,” Fairless says. “I imagine this is what it is like to work in a space suit.” The gloves make it hard to hold tools or wire and require extra effort from the linemen. Coupled with the 100-plus degree August temperatures in western Oklahoma, Fairless is soon dripping with sweat as he manhandles the heavy wire and tools necessary to install the new service, all while work- ing within inches of 14,400 volts of potentially deadly electricity. The long strand of twisted alu- minum wire is lifted high into the air and con- nected at the “dead” end on the new service pole. Once everything is ready, Crompton dons his own protective gear and climbs into another buck- et truck, which he soon directs into the middle of the “hot” wires. He and Fairless work together, high in the air, making the final connection of the service to the live power grid. “We place these orange rubber blankets over the hot lines not only as added protection, but so we can see the lines while up in the air with the wind whipping about,” Crompton says.


Surrounded by three, 14,400-volt live electric lines Crompton connects the new service to the existing lines. Fairless works on the opposite side of the pole in another truck, slowly passing the new line to Crompton, careful not to allow the strand to touch one of the hot wires. “We have to be very careful not to allow two phases to touch,” Fairless says. “That would be very bad.”


By noon the pole is up and the service is hot. “We try to bring a new customer online every single day,” Crompton says.


Having completed their primary project for the day, the crew piles into a truck and drives to


nearby Elk City for lunch and a much-needed break from the sweltering August heat. Talk turns to the work completed during the past winter as a way to take their minds off of the blistering sum- mer temperatures. Plenty of calories are consumed as the crew prepares for the afternoon work.


Shifting Gears The next job at hand is removing a no-longer- needed service at a rural home south of Elk City. Maps are not needed to find the property. Like most linemen, the NFEC crew knows the co-op’s service territory like the back of their hand. A dust cloud billows behind the trucks as they plow through the silty Oklahoma sand. Soon they pull into a yard that at one time featured green grass, but because of the extended drought in western Oklahoma is now full of dry brown weeds and glove-piercing stickers. Within minutes the crew positions the trucks in place and begins work. As the sun bears down on the team and turns exposed metal into hot pads, Fairless unlimbers a long “extendo stick” and dis- connects the service from the main power line. This yellow fiberglass stick with a hook at one end is used by nearly every lineman in the world to stand on the ground and safely work on high volt- age lines. Ely and Reed use their truck to discon- nect the wire from the soon-to-be-removed pole, grab the pole with the arm of their boom and quickly pull it out of the ground. The pole is then propped up on a specially designed orange cone so the team can remove the insulators, wire, and meter box. It is stripped of hardware and loaded on the boom truck for transport back to the main yard. While up in the bucket truck at the main service pole, Fairless completes a few minor repairs and ensures the connectors are tight and in proper working order. In less than 90 minutes the team


has completed the work and is ready to move on to another project. Crompton consults with his team about any outstanding maintenance work that needs to be completed. “We could fix that downed neutral line I saw yesterday,” Fairless offers.


After a bit of discussion Crompton decides this is a project that can be completed in the time re- maining. The crews load up the trucks once again and head east toward Elk City as the satisfied homeowner and NFEC member waves them goodbye.


Broken Neutral A broken neutral line will not bring down a service, Fairless explains. Homeowners still have power since their homes and each utility pole are grounded to the earth. “The problem is the hot side can eventually be- come unbalanced,” Fairless says. “Depending on the load, a 120-volt outlet could register a higher voltage, which could cause problems. The neutral wire back to the power grid keeps things in balance.” The downed neutral line is clearly visible from a distance across an open pasture. Once through the gate, the team quickly sets up a bucket truck and makes short work of repairing the downed neutral line. Even though the line is not supposed to have any voltage on it, the linemen still treat it as a “hot” line, using their standard safety equip- ment of rubber gloves and sleeves. The broken line must be spliced, re-hung, and connected back to the power grid.


By now it is a few minutes after 4 p.m. Crompton decides to head back to Sayre and unload the trucks, clean them out and prep for the next day. Rolling back into the NFEC yard, the team quick- ly unloads the trucks, restocks equipment and parts that were used during the day, and ensures


OCTOBER 2014 15


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