Linemen enjoy helping others

Published 9:43 am Monday, April 18, 2016

David Goree and Andrew Yates spend a good portion of their day with their feet off the ground.

Goree and Yates are linemen for Entergy Mississippi’s branch in Vicksburg. Goree has been a linemen for 35 years; 28 of those with Entergy. Yates has been a lineman for four years; one with Entergy.

And when the power goes out during thunderstorms or tornadoes or at any other time power somewhere, somehow fails, they’re among the crews who go out, locate the problem and fix it to return an area’s darkness to light.

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For Goree, becoming a lineman was like joining a family business.

“My father-in-law was a lineman,” he said. “I got started because of my father-in-law. You could say I’m a fifth-generation linemen on my father-in-law’s side. My son-in-law is a lineman in Clinton.”

Yates joined the trade after being at East Mississippi Community College, which has a utility line worker technology course that teaches the fundamentals of electricity and the other skills required to work as a utility lineman.

He worked for a private contractor before joining Entergy, adding the utility compnay “had better benefits and retirement; they take care of you a little more over here.”

Goree received his training through the Mountain States Line Constructors apprenticeship program after moving to the western U.S.

“I was working in construction, and there wasn’t a whole lot of construction work in Mississippi,” he said. “So my wife and I went west.”

He joined Entergy in 1987 after returning to Mississippi.

“We’d lived out west for 14 years and our kids were 6 and 2, and we decided we wanted to get closer to family so they could know their grandparents and cousins. There was a job opening in Vicksburg. I got the job here, and been here ever since,” he said.

“I cant think of another trade that’s even close (to being a lineman),” Goree said when he describes his work. “Some days are a pretty normal day, and then some days, the phone’s ringing all hours of the day and night. Storms come in.”

“It used to scare me when the phone began ringing in the middle of the night,” he said. “The first thing that pops through your head is your parents or a loved one is sick or got killed. Now, it doesn’t really scare me. I just figure it’s work; someone’s out of lights.”

And this spring, with its consistent passage of storms has had its share of callouts, they said.

“This has been an unusual spring as far as the rain,” Goree said. “We’ve been called out two times a week, at least.”

“I think four or five times a week,” Yates said.

“In springtime, the callouts pickup, and then late spring, early summer, they slack off a little bit,” Goree said.

Yates said being a lineman “Is not like any other job I’ve ever done. You don’t know what you’re going to get into. It’s a different job everyday — it’s the same work, but a different job. You’re on call.”

Goree said regular day for him and Yates would be 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. one week and 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the next week, and they are constantly on the move.

“If we’re at the same job location for two days, that’s a very big job,” he said. “We’re liable to be in Claiborne County in the morning and out in Flowers in the afternoon. We cover an area that includes all of Warren Counthy Port Gibson and parts of Claiborne County. A lot of it’s really rural.”

Yates said he enjoys working in the rural areas because the he doesn’t have to worry about traffic like he would if he were working in town.”

The toughest aspect of their work, the men say is the late night hours and working in the middle of storms to fix outages. But there are other problems.

“Some of the toughest work is you get out there and find a tree lodged in a power pole,” Yates said. “You’ve got to figure a way to get it cut it without tearing anything else up.

“You’ve got to figure out which way the tree’s going to fall; if you cut this limb, is the tree going to roll on you, or roll the other way and tear other stuff down” Goree said.

There are calls that stick in their memories.

Goree recalled the night he was called to an outage on Grange Hall Road where a car struck and utlitiy pole and the driver died in the crash.

“It was just working around there and just knowing a few minutes earlier, somebody had lost their life hitting that poll and you have to change it out. Knowing that in the back of my mind and knowing that what I do, it can kill me pretty quick, too.”

Yates said he has had the same experience, “and it stays in the back of your mind.

And there are the calls to go out of town and assist other utility systems. Both Goree and Yates were called to the East Coast after Super Storm Sandy. They have also responded to calls in Texas, Florida and West Virginia. Yates was in New York for Sandy, while Goree went to New Jersey.

Goree said the utility workers in that area handled calls very differently than the crews in the south work on lines.

“They work with a different voltage and they didn’t like to de-energize (cut off power) anything to work on it,” he said. “It was all tree wire, mostly. It would be laying up in people’s back yard and they’d leave it hot. That was different from the way we were taught.”

Here, he said, linemen have voltage detectors to tell them it a line is energized or “hot.” If they locate a downed hot line, they call to have the energy turned off so they can work on it.

“We know what’s hot and what’s not,” he said. “We have voltage detectors, and if it’s de-energized we put grounds on it to work, but if it’s hot, we cover all the hot phases up with guts and blankets (rubberized insulated coverings), plus our rubber gloves.”

“We also have rubber sleeves and protective clothing,” Yates said.

And when they work a power outage, the linemen draw an audience.

“People come out in their yards and want to talk to us,” Goree said. “They’re curious. What we’re doing, how we’re doing. Most of the time, they’re friendly. Sometimes, they’re aggravated, like it was your fault the tree fell.”

Despite the tough times and the occasional criticism from a disgruntled customer, both men say they enjoy their work.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction,” Goree said. “I’ve been here in Vicksburg for 28 years, and I know a lot of people. You develop a sense of pride, knowing if people are in a bind you can help them.”

“There’s nothing else I’d rather do,” Yates said. “I fell in love with it from day one. I like helping people, and this is my calling to do that. When their lights go out, I get to go help them. I’ve had good people like Davis and others who taught me how to do it right so I can go home every night.”


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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