Linework doesn’t take a break for the weather, and neither do lineworker rodeos—even if they take place during one of the hottest summers in Texas history.
Just ask some of the co-op employees attending the 2023 Texas Lineman’s Rodeo last month in Nolte Island Park in Seguin, where temperatures hit 104 degrees.
“I can tell you that before 7 a.m., I checked my phone, and the humidity was 89%,” said Tom Widlowski, an editor at Texas Electric Cooperative in Austin, who was running a TEC booth that day. “I have been to this rodeo multiple times, and it always feels like the hottest day of the year. But people here are used to it, and lineworkers, especially, seem to treat it as just part of the job.”
Careful preparation for the July 15 event paved the way for a mostly smooth day. Judges shut down the apprentices’ final contest when a contestant “was starting to succumb to the heat but did not require medical attention,” said Bobby Christmas, board chairman of the Texas Lineman’s Rodeo Association and senior executive manager of compliance at Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative in Gonzales.
A commitment to a strong safety culture also helped ensure a successful rodeo, said officials at Pedernales Electric Cooperative. The co-op won a record 29 awards, earned by 15 lineworkers and 10 apprentices.
“We stress the importance of taking breaks and staying hydrated, texting safety messages to our employees and sharing those messages with managers and supervisors to emphasize with their teams,” said Eddie Dauterive, chief operating officer at the Johnson City-based co-op. “We also highlight the importance of watching out for one another in the field.”
PEC Journeyman Linemen Darren Donhauser, David Hernandez and Jason Dean took first place among the 54 journeyman teams at the rodeo.
“It was very hot,” Donhauser dead-panned. “But we’re already used to it. Other than hydrating, we use Gatorade, pickle juice, Pedialyte, liquid IV powders, things like that. We definitely are more mindful of those when we’re competing and practicing.”
Organizers took several precautions to prepare for the heat, said Christmas. They started the competition at 6:30 a.m. and wrapped things up around noon to avoid the hottest part of the day. About 700 16-pound bags of ice, four pallets of donated bottled water and at least 14 evaporative coolers provided relief. Electricity hookups at the site allowed the 300-plus competitors and guests to plug in portable fans and fan trailers. Breezes coming off the Guadalupe River also helped cool this year’s crowd of about 2,000, which included 150 judges.
While competitors are judged on speed, technique, agility and safety, less climbing is required on rodeo day than on a normal workday or practice session, “so it’s a lot less strenuous,” Donhauser said. And by mid-July, participants should be battle-ready.
“Just being out there helps us. And, luckily, the rodeo is not at the start of the summer, so we do have a good bit of time to get conditioned to that.”
The competition concluded with a hearty post-rodeo “Bar-B-Q Cook-off.” When asked if anyone managed to work up an appetite in such relentless heat, Christmas said, “Absolutely! I mean, this is south Texas where barbecue is king.”