It was big news in the extended family when Jimmy Dull signed on as a groundman with Trico Electric Cooperative in Marana, Ariz., a little more than a year ago.
His father, Lonnie Dull, was a field inspector for Trico Electric and had been with the co-op for nearly 10 years. And in late 2014, thanks to a recent change in personnel policy at the co-op, Jimmy was able to join his father on the payroll.
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Jimmy, then 34, had 16 years in as a commercial electrician with a Tucson electrical contractor. He’d risen to crew leader, about as far as he’d ever be able to go with the company. Meanwhile, his dad kept describing all the advantages in wages, benefits, safety and training, and secure employment that a job at the co-op could offer.
So the younger Dull felt pretty good about his prospects when he landed the job at Trico, a co-op of about 42,000 meters. But it was his grandmother who iced the cake during a family gathering: Jimmy’s new job meant three generations of Dulls had worked at Trico Electric.
“After I had gotten hired, my grandma said, ‘Oh, yeah, your grandpa was a lineman at Trico,’” Jimmy says. “I had no idea. That was very surprising to me. It was pretty exciting to know my grandfather had been a part of the company over 50 years ago that now me and my dad are at. It was like, maybe this was something I was destined for, maybe something we as Dulls were meant to do.”
Nobody on the staff at Trico today was around back when Leonard Dull left the copper mines to work on the co-op’s lines. Lonnie himself was just a youngster in the late 1950s and early ’60s when his dad was at Trico Electric. Leonard moved on after divorcing Lonnie’s mother in 1965, and Lonnie was only 10 when his father died in an accident in 1967.
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But a grainy, blurry old photo in the dustiest co-op files shows a wiry Leonard Dull in a ragged work shirt, sleeves torn off at the shoulders, leaning back against the belt strapped around a pole. A tool belt hangs at his waist, but that’s about the only sign that he belongs up there at the poletop.
“He’s up there without a hardhat or any safety equipment,” Lonnie says with a shake of his head. “There were a lot of accidents back then. The last time I saw him, he had a cast on because he rode a pole to the ground and broke his leg.”
Lonnie, now 57, went on to work in the mines too, and he spent a few years on the drag racing circuit (“I was a world champion driver in 1988,” he says). But he was happy to join Trico Electric in 2005.
“I’ve been with Fortune 500 companies, and you’re just a number there,” he says. “Trico is awesome. They take care of you here. They bend over backward to let you know they appreciate you and what you do for the company.”
That’s why he kept talking to his son about Trico Electric through the fall of 2014, after the co-op tweaked its hiring policies. Well, that and the fact that he knew Jimmy would fit right in on the line crews.
“He’d gone as far as he could go where he was at, and he liked listening to me talking about Trico and how good it is,” Lonnie says. “And as far as mechanical ability, that’s the way our brains are made. My son and I are both mechanically inclined. We can build anything.”
For Jimmy, the move meant a small cut in pay while he spent a year on the ground learning the basics before moving into a lineman apprenticeship. But his house was nearly paid for, he says, and he didn’t see much of a future in the contracting business.
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“It wasn’t really a no-brainer, but it wasn’t that big of a deal either,” he says. “In the long run, the benefits they give you, the fact that they take care of you, they appreciate you, it’s been well worth it. And in the long run, it’s going to work out better for me and my family.”
He also likes the response he gets from coop members. He’s been out on a few nighttime trouble calls, and the members are always welcoming. “Many times, they’re coming out, thanking us, telling us their story, appreciating that we’re there any time of day or night,” Jimmy says. “And we’re a smaller co-op, so it seems like it’s a little more personable. People appreciate you in the field.”
And then there’s that added family benefit: getting to see his dad on the job site from time to time.
“There’s only been a couple of times when we’ve actually worked directly together,” Jimmy says. “But it’s a pleasure, getting to work with your dad. When you’re younger, you don’t appreciate it that much. But we’re both getting older, and it’s nice to spend that time.”
Both he and his dad are now wondering about the possibility of a fourth-generation Dull working at Trico Electric, although that prospect is still a long way off. Jimmy and his wife, Ashley, have three daughters: Bailey, 7; Taylor, 5; and Makenna, who arrived just last summer.
Jimmy says Taylor shows some promise.
“We call her our wild child,” he says. “She’s a lot like me, fearless, and she goes for it. She’s not afraid. She could be a fourth-generation linewoman, or something like that. You never know.”
The thought of one of his daughters finding a future at the same place her long-gone great-grandfather worked half a century ago gives Jimmy Dull a sense of pride.
“Definitely, a whole bunch of pride,” he says. “I want to pass on that legacy, keep it rolling.”