Do you have a Lineman at your company that is considered a legend? We had a guy, he was a great Lineman and by far the best climber I ever saw. He loved to antagonize the bosses. He destroyed more equipment than any 5 Lineman. But no matter what he did, he always seemed to talk his way out of it. We used to ask him, “how do you always come out smelling like a rose?” Let me tell you about my buddy Herb.
Good evening brother lineman
I Met Herb back in the early 80’s. He worked at one of the
other 4 baseyards in the city I worked in.
We had a storm in our area and the other yards sent some crews to help us. I was a new apprentice and Herb had probably been there about 10 years before me. My first impression was Herb was cocky as hell, he was about 6’2 and had some Popeye forearms and big hands. Since I knew my service area they put me with Herb and his groundman to be able to find things easier.
The first job that we
were on was a bad lightning arrestor, it needed to be changed so we could heat
a transformer back up. As sometimes happens we couldn’t get a bucket to the
pole and it needed to be climbed.
Since I couldn’t work around primary Herb piped up “easy
job, I got this one.” When I saw Herb climb up that pole I could tell he had
that something that good climbers have. Nice and rhythmic and smooth with every
move flowing into the next one. Herb took off the tip clamp and proceeded to
change the arrestor.
He rotated around that pole with no hesitation like only the
most confident climbers can do. When he finished up and started down, his
Groundman hollered out, “skin it back Herb.” Herb did what was called
“coasting” where you cutout on purpose and only put your hooks in about every 5
feet. Within seconds he was on the ground. Since this was back in the free
climbing days, any mistake he made would mean falling off the pole. Being a
young impressionable apprentice, I had no words for what I had just seen, it
was unbelievable how good he could climb. I had heard about coasting, but never
seen it. I had never tried it because if you messed it up you would fall off
We proceeded to finish up some more scattered trouble and
Herb and his groundman headed back to their yard across town. Every now and
then I would see Herb. Usually when we went to other yards to help with trouble
or we were on a storm restoration on a different utilities territory. When I
would see other Lineman from other areas I would ask about Herb, I learned that
Herb had been a door gunner on Huey helicopter in Vietnam, he had been wounded
by some shrapnel and was sent home.
They also told me, “don’t mess with Herb, Herb don’t take no
crap from anyone. They said he had been involved in a few scuffles at work. In
those days everyone kept their mouths shut and we kept it between ourselves.
Today, you would be out of here. Many years passed and I made Lineman, one day
I heard that Herb was transferring to the yard I worked out of. He had bought a
house in the area and asked to be transferred so he could work closer to home.
Once he transferred, I got to work on the same crew with
Herb on many occasions, Herb was a damn good Lineman and he didn’t back up from
any type job. I saw Herb do some mind-blowing things, I once saw him cut steel
guy wire with a pair of cutting pliers, it was only 3#9 guy wire but everyone
else had to use bolt cutters. He grabbed that wire and using those big hands
and forearms cut that wire like it was nothing. When no one else was around I
secretly tried to cut some 3#9, there was no way. I even put the pliers on the
ground and tried to step on them to cut it, no way it was happening.
Another day I was with Herb and we were installing an UG
service, we got in some new 4/0 UG wire that had some very tough insulation on
it. Lineman were complaining to management about how hard it was to skin. I was
fighting to skin this wire and Herb grabbed it out of my hand, “you pussy”. He
proceeded to take his hawkbill and ring cut it with one hand. I just stood
The more I worked with Herb the crazier things got. One day he was in charge because my regular foreman was off. It was me, an apprentice and Herb. We were installing several transformers banks for a shrimp farm, the banks powered aerators that kept the oxygen in the water so the shrimp could live. Herb sent the apprentice up in the bucket to wire up the bank because the apprentice was just learning to wire banks at our apprentice school. Carlos the apprentice wasn’t sure of himself and he really didn’t know how to wire a bank properly. Herb wouldn’t help him, “you should know this by now.” Carlos would make a connection and ask, “is this right?” Carlos tried to ask me was it right, Herb told me, “don’t you dare tell him.” “Herb, is it right?” Carlos asked again. Herb said,” try it and see how it does.” Herb told me to send up the shotgun and let him close it in. I was thinking this is not going to be good because I could see the bank was wired wrong. The first time Carlos closed it the bank blew 2 fuses, Herb calmly said, “well I guess you have it wired wrong.” Herb still wouldn’t tell him. Carlos changed a few things, refused the cutouts and closed it again. It held but when he checked the voltage it was wrong. Carlos opened the bank back up and changed something else. When he closed it this time it was right. It scared the hell out of me, but it didn’t bother Herb. One thing about it Carlos would never wire another bank wrong again in the future.
None of the things I talked about earlier could top some of the damages he made to bucket and line trucks. We had a 2 bay warehouse where the buckets were backed in every day. There was just enough room that our big bucket would fit and there would be about 2 foot to walk behind the truck. There were wooden stairs that led up to a mezzanine where we stored stuff. At the start od the shift one day I walked in the warehouse and noticed the stairs had been hit by something and pushed back about a foot. The stairs could not be used until they were repaired. It was obvious what hit it, someone had backed the bucket into it. Herb had been the guy who backed the truck in the day before. So once the supervisor saw it he started to question Herb. With no emotion on his face Herb said, “I didn’t back into the stairs.” As much as the supervisor pressed him he never would admit it. Since there was no proof who did it, nothing happened.
About 6 months later at the start of my shift my buddy Rusty
asked me, “Did you see the bucket truck?” I asked, “What are you talking
about?” Rusty said, “go look at it.” I walked into the warehouse and could not
believe my eyes. The bucket itself was sitting on the bed of the truck with
only some hydraulic lines still attached. Rusty, “what the hell happened?”
Rusty replied, “Herb drove under a large Live oak branch and it ripped the
bucket off the boom.”
In my mind I knew this was trouble for Herb, the company didn’t take destroying equipment lightly. The company held the investigation. We never got to talk to Herb until the next morning. “What’s up Herb? Man, I thought you might get some time off for the bucket thing. “No way,” said Herb. I got no punishment. “What! I couldn’t believe it, how is that possible.” Well, I was on a county road and the branch was low, since the county didn’t trim the tree the panel decided it wasn’t my fault.” We all laughed, you are one lucky SOB.
A couple of years went by, I moved up to the Service Truck. One sunny afternoon I hear the company radio go off. It was my old Foreman Ronald, “I want to declare an emergency, we have a truck that just flipped over on Hwy 174, please notify police & Fire.” I had just past Ronald and the crew going in the opposite direction about 5 minutes before I heard the call. I immediately did a U-turn and headed back down Hwy 174 towards where the crew was. It only took me a couple of minutes to get to the scene of the accident. There was a lot of cars backed up and a school bus near the front of the traffic.
When I pulled up I was shocked, there was our 4-wheel drive Line truck nicknamed “Bigfoot” laying on it’s side in the middle of the Highway. There had been a trailer attached to the truck and it too was on its side and had spilled out hundreds of bolts, washers. The trailer was used to haul material, it was a twisted wreck now. I jumped out of my truck and ran over to Ronald, “is everyone OK.” “Yes, no one is hurt. “Who was in the truck I asked?” “Only Herb, and he is fine,” said Ronald. I ran over to Herb, “what happened?” He told me the school bus had stopped in front of him and when he tried to stop the brakes failed on the line truck, he had to go around the school bus to keep from hitting it and he lost control and turned it over.
I had had many hours driving that truck and was the first
operator when that truck was new. I had driven hundreds of hours in that truck
and never had any kind of problems with it. Even though it looked like to me
that Herb wasn’t paying attention and almost ran into the back of the school
bus I wasn’t going to dispute Herb account of what happened.
It took us hours to clean up the mess caused by that truck turning over, besides all of the hardware on the road there were 2 transformers that had flown off the truck and dumped oil down in a ditch on the side of the road. It was a mess.
When the wrecker tried to right the truck it actually did
even more damage to the truck. When the loaded it up on a flatbed I knew we
would never see that truck again, it was totaled.
The investigation came up and Herb insisted right from the beginning that the brakes failed. Herb almost made it sound like he saved those kids on that bus by turning the truck over instead of hitting it. The company had taken the truck to our garage and did a test on the braking system to see it was operating properly. The result showed everything was working properly. However, due to Herb sticking to his story, the panel found him not at fault. No discipline again. Herb had a horseshoe up his ass.
In Herb’s last couple of years with the company, we had a new manager. In every meeting with the new guy, Herb would be so disrespectful and mess with this guy. It was almost embarrassing what Herb would say to him. Every yard has the guy who always messes with the boss, tries to antagonize him just to see their reaction, right in front of everyone. That guy was Herb.
A couple of years later the company came out with an early retirement package for people who had a lot of years. The final approval had to come from this same young manager. Herb put in his request; it was approved. We all used to say that the manager signed Herb’s retirement papers as soon as they hit his desk so he wouldn’t have to listen to Herb’s mouth again. Just as suddenly as I had met him, Herb was gone.
I saw Herb a couple of years after he had left the company. He was doing handyman work just to have something to do. It was almost a waste, one of the best Lineman I ever saw just doing odd jobs. I thought back to the day that I first saw Herb climb that pole to change out that lightning arrestor. Man, I wanted to be like him. I wished I could climb like he did. Herb had a lot of faults, but even with all his faults, I always looked up to Herb. So that is what a Lineman Legend looks like. The guy who did some crazy things, but always came out smelling like a rose.
“Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not
express the views or opinions of my employer.”