Jackson County REMC team wins lineman rodeo

Competing in his second lineman rodeo, Travis Mull wasn’t about to let dropping a roll of tape keep him from winning again.

That deduction in his first rodeo eight years ago in Scottsburg was still on his mind as he prepared to compete in the Indiana Electric Cooperative Lineman Rodeo on Aug. 24 and 25 at the Hendricks County Fairgrounds in Danville.

Mull, who has been a lineman for Jackson County REMC for 26 years, served as a judge for the Indiana Electric Cooperatives’ first competition last year and decided to ask for permission to put a team together this year.

Of the 20 linemen at Jackson County REMC, Mull chose to have Jarren Brown, a 10-year lineman, and Ethan Stidham, a lineman apprentice, on his three-man team.

During the two-day competition, they competed in four events worth 100 points each. They were among three finishing with 398 out of 400 and were awarded first place based on time. They were 7 minutes faster than the second-place team.

“I had given no consideration to us winning,” Mull said. “I didn’t even think our times would be that good, but when they called our name, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was ecstatic. It was retribution for me because eight years ago, I should have won one and had a small drop of tape.”

Brown was equally surprised to hear their names called.

“I think that goes back to we were consistent throughout all of the events,” he said. “Some teams stand back watching did wonderful, wonderful time, perfect score on one event and may have struggled a little more on others, so I think that’s where it shows the importance of consistency.”

Stidham said they worked together.

“I think our team was very strong,” he said. “Communication was a big thing, letting each other know the next step, what to grab, what to send up to the pole, and that’s what all of the judges also said, our communication was unreal. Everything was just smooth.”

The competition showcases the skills and safety training of electric cooperative lineworkers in team and individual aspects and recognizes and rewards excellence in safety, skill and knowledge in the lineworker field.

In total, there were 28 teams and 102 individuals from 24 Indiana electric cooperatives competing.

On the first day, Mull, Brown and Stidham started with changing out a transformer on top of a 40-foot pole.

“Jarren went up and did work on the pole, and Ethan and I were on the ground,” Mull said. “Jarren hung a set of ropes and pulleys, and we used that to let one (transformer) down and pull another back up. That’s something that we would do out here if we couldn’t get a truck to the pole. We do that from time to time.”

The goal was to keep the transformer from touching the pole.

“Honestly, I think it went very smooth. We were very efficient,” Stidham said. “It wasn’t necessarily about the speed, but doing it as smooth as it went, that’s how we got our speed.”

They started off with a perfect 100.

“In the moment, you’re trying to do as best as you can, get good time. In my mind at least, it felt like this event took forever,” Brown said. “We had a clean score, no deductions, had a really good time on that event. We felt really good after that.”

The second event involved two poles — one with hardware and wire on it and the other bare. Brown was on the existing pole, Stidham was on the new one and Mull was on the ground.

“We set all of the hardware down off one pole and put back up another one,” Mull said. “It was to simulate changing out a pole you couldn’t get a truck to, if a lineman had to climb it.”

Since this event gave them the most trouble in practice, Mull said he was most concerned about it during the competition. They wound up being deducted two points for going over the mean time by 55 seconds.

“We knew that a lot of people were having trouble with time on that one, so we were disappointed, but it wasn’t a letdown. We felt really good about where we were at,” Mull said.

On the second day, their first event was simulating getting a hurt man off of a pole and giving him CPR, which Mull said is something they practice fairly often.

“Ethan was our climber for that one,” Mull said. “He hung our ropes and pulley system, cut the dummy loose. Jarren was on the rope letting him down. I led him down. Jarren pulled him off the rope and simulated CPR.”

They were back to a perfect 100 score on that event.

The final event, a mystery event, was new to the competition. It simulated wire torn down between two poles and the linemen had to make it safe to work on.

“It’s something we do regularly. When storms come through, it’s normal procedure for us,” Brown said.

Since the other two had done all of the climbing to that point, as the team captain, Mull stepped up to do the climbing on this event. He had to climb up and simulate de-energizing the line, testing it to make sure it was off and putting protective grounds on it.

Again, they earned a perfect 100.

During the awards program after lunch that day, the results were announced. The Jackson County REMC team received two trophies — one made by a local guy they will get to keep in-house and another one that’s a traveling trophy they will keep for the next year and then pass on to the 2024 winner.

Their winning efforts were celebrated Aug. 30 with cake and ice cream at the company’s headquarters in Brownstown.

“I could say as the CEO of Jackson County REMC, I’d put our men up against anybody in the state of Indiana, maybe even across the country,” Mark McKinney said. “I think these three represent the core values and the core work ethic that we have at this co-op. I think that’s what makes us different from others.”

McKinney traveled to Danville to watch the first day of competition and said he was impressed with the camaraderie of the trio, especially given the temperature was nearly 100 degrees.

“Even though none of them won an individual event, it shows the power of a team, and I think that’s a great example of what these three were able to accomplish as a team that really no one could accomplish individually in the work that they do,” he said. “It was just a unique, diverse group of these three men covering the whole spectrum of lineman experience that made it happen.”

Brown and Stidham competed in three individual events Aug. 24. They were hurt man rescue, changing a bad insulator and changing a security light.

Mull said the competition was beneficial because there’s a lot of camaraderie in the electric cooperative family in Indiana, and they got to see people they’ve worked with on mutual storm aid or trained with over the years.

“It’s also good for us as linemen,” he said. “It helps us build our skills, and our skill set is better now, I think, because of doing that, the hours that we put into practice. It makes us more effective, more efficient employees and definitely safer employees, and that’s a win-win for us.”

He said they appreciate management for allowing them to enter the competition and Brownstown Electric Supply Co. Inc. for allowing REMC to build a training facility behind their business and donating material and labor so the linemen could practice.

So what about going back next year?

“Hopefully, with management’s blessing, we’ll try to defend our title,” Mull said.