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Service and sacrifice go hand-in-hand in lineman's job

Staff writer

Stuart Woodruff of Peabody calls himself a journeyman lineman with Westar Energy. That means he is an experienced lineman. He works out of the Newton division.

Woodruff said the worst part of his job is working in the cold.

“I hate cold,” he said.

He frequently works at night, usually because of an outage from a storm or car wreck.

“Sometimes we work at night if we need to have an outage and don’t want to affect businesses’ normal daily routines,” he said. “Night work can be difficult because of the limited visibility and loss of sleep. Also, during the summertime, the insects make it miserable because they want to be around the spotlights.”

Woodruff acknowledged the work can be dangerous. He said the main danger is electrical contact, which can cause severe burns and death. Other dangers include flash fires, falling hazards, and equipment failure.

Woodruff can be called out any time day or night whenever there is an outage in the division or other divisions have trouble finding help.

He said a small number of linemen face the challenge of taking care of a large area of customers. On top of that, they are called upon to help other utilities when their area has been hit by a major storm.

One of Woodruff’s most memorable experiences was time spent in Texas after Hurricane Ike to help with restoration efforts.

“We helped restore power a week earlier than predicted,” he said. “I also was able to see gators in their natural habitat, something I’m glad we don’t have in Kansas.”

Woodruff said people generally are appreciative of linemen’s efforts. When they are working during extended outages, people thank them and tell them they are glad to see them.

“When we help other utilities with their restoration efforts, we get a lot of thumbs-up and waves,” Woodruff said. “People like to ask where we’re from and will say thanks for helping.”

Woodruff was born and raised in Peabody. After high school, he went to Emporia State University for a year but decided college wasn’t for him.

“My father was a line foreman for Kansas Power and Light (now Westar Energy) and we always had a roof over our heads and plenty to eat, so I decided to follow in his footsteps,” he said.

To better his chances of getting an apprenticeship with an electric utility, he went to Manhattan Vocational-Technical School in 1988 and studied electrical power and distribution.

In late 1989, he began an apprenticeship at Wheatland Electric in western Kansas and earned his journeyman classification.

After becoming a journeyman lineman with Westar, Woodruff and his wife Tracy moved back to Peabody five years ago. They have four children: Todd, 19, a Peabody High School graduate; Traylee, 17, a junior; Brandon, 13, a seventh grader; and Katy, 11, a fifth grader.

Woodruff said he likes his job despite the cold.

“I like to be outside, and I like the challenge of doing hot-work (working on energized lines). It’s nice to think I’m one of the few who keep the lights on for many.

“The downside to the job is that I miss a lot of family-time and activities of my kids because I’m working late, got called out, or am gone on a storm.

“I missed my son’s fourth birthday because of a storm and I still feel bad about that nine years later.”

Last modified Dec. 23, 2008

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