Behind the Scenes with Larry McClay
Ice storms are by far the worst conditions I've faced in my 37 years as a lineman. Unlike a thunderstorm that blows through and is over, the ice that brings down branches and trees into power lines is still there while you make repairs. You can be climbing icy poles in subzero weather and you have to come down because trees and limbs are falling down from the weight of the ice. Then you go home and your own lights are still out. It's just part of the job.
One of the most memorable parts of my career was helping restore power after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For 20 days we lived in tents in New Orleans and St. Charles restoring service after back-to- back storms. We took showers with garden hoses. New Orleans was like a punch bowl after the storms; the water just collected there. There's an understanding, though, among utilities. You help one another after massive storms. You leave your family to help other families.
That same understanding exists among lineman. It's like a brotherhood. You may disagree about some things, but when you're out there working, you put everything aside, and you've got each other's back. You don't want to get hurt, and you don't want anyone else to get hurt. Safety is always your priority because an error can be deadly.
Linemen have their own lingo, too. You yell "headache" when something is coming off a pole and you're telling the guys down below to look out for it. A grip we use on a wire is nicknamed a "bulldog." "Pork chop" or "chickenfoot" are types of clamps called "dead end shoes" we use to attach a wire to a pole when the wire ends there.
After years of climbing poles and working in all kinds of weather, the job can take a physical toll. I have to admit that I've always been somewhat afraid of heights. That may be a little surprising to hear from a lineman, but I've learned to face it and overcome it. My kids still make fun of me, though. I'll climb a 40 foot pole, but avoid the top floors of a hotel.
I learned after I started this job that my great uncle Max McClay was a lineman for the company. I imagine he felt like I do that this is a good job. It's rewarding to know you're providing an important service to the community.
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