A day in the life of a lineman


Donnie Medack, a journeyman line technician, on a job near Giddings. Using a yellow telescoping stick (known as a ‘long,’ ‘shotgun’ or ‘hot’ stick to linemen), he removes a fuse barrel and replaces the blown fuse inside it. (Sarah Beal photo)

Tagging along on a Bluebonnet lineman’s typical day is a lesson in efficiency

Ed Crowell

On a Tuesday last fall, a dozen or so brief outages made for an average day for Bluebonnet’s control center, as well as for the crews who went  to restore power. For an outside observer, it was a lesson in efficiency.

Donnie Medack, a journeyman line tech with 25 years of experience, got going at 7 that morning from his home in Lexington. He had a list of work orders on the laptop computer mounted in his Bluebonnet truck cab. 

By afternoon, he had driven to Dime Box to check on a meter that was registering very low voltage consumption. “The office just wanted to know why,” he said. Sometimes a member might go away for months or move out without asking to be disconnected. Or it could be a faulty meter.

Before Medack could figure it out, he got called away by the control center to go check on a pole alongside County Road 226 in Giddings. Someone with a petroleum services company had called Bluebonnet to report the loss of power at a natural gas rig. 

After Medack pulled up to the suspect pole shown on his laptop’s map and got out of his truck, he noted a fine-print readout on the pole-mounted meter. It shows whether voltage is going through each of three transformers on this line. One was off.

Looking straight up at least 30 feet, Medack saw the release mechanism was open on that transformer’s foot-long fuse barrel. Time for his long stick, sometimes called a shotgun stick.

“Probably knocked out by lightning from that thunderstorm around here yesterday,” said the veteran of thousands of repair calls. Medack points the yellow telescoping stick skyward and hooks the release mechanism’s eyelet. In about a minute, he’s got the tube-like fuse barrel down on a fender of his truck to make the repair.

Removing the old fuse and wiring a new one into the barrel takes another couple minutes. Then it’s back to the stick and the assembly is raised to reconnect it to the transformer.

There were no wind gusts that sometimes make it hard to steady his stick on this day, nor did he have to look directly into the blinding sun, as sometimes happens on noonday calls.

But mostly Medack was relieved he didn’t have to endure a deafening boom.

That’s what happens about half the time when a fuse is blown and unknowingly the transformer has been fried inside by lightning. The new fuse is put in place and — sometimes — “Boom!” The new fuse can blow because of a transformer problem.

“I don’t like that,” Medack said. “It’s like being close to a shotgun blast. You’d better be ready for it. I kind of cross my fingers that it doesn’t happen.”

If it does, Medack is ready, always carrying a new transformer on his truck. He can replace the damaged one in about an hour with the help of another lineman and a bucket truck.

Back at the control center, the computer “outage ticket” for that job showed the call came in at 1:58 p.m. and the repair completed at 3:26 p.m.

Not bad for Medack — just under an hour and a half, including driving time, and the power is back on at the rig.


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