In a world easily upended—whether by storm or silent virus—reliability has always been the hallmark of electric cooperatives.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of this reliability than two co-op veterans in Oklahoma: one, a general manager, is celebrating a half-century of service; the other, an operations manager, is watching his two sons follow his lead to become lineworkers.
“It’s been a short 50 years,” says Rick Davis, general manager of
Indian Electric Cooperative in Cleveland, Oklahoma.
Looking back this spring, just days after his co-op dedicated a training facility in his name, Davis says the value of reliability has always guided him. Since the beginning, he wanted to be the guy at the co-op that others could count on, part of the crews whose work ensured the lights would come on when the members hit the switch.
“Nothing gave me more satisfaction,” he says. “I loved it. Still do.”
His first day on the job was in mid-1970, days after graduating high school. The co-op hired him for the summer to clear trees and brush in rights-of-way.
About an hour northwest of Tulsa, Indian Electric was founded in 1939 to serve the region’s oil fields, ranches, and burgeoning suburbs. It’s always been a solid and respected place to work, and Davis, 18 at the time, was glad to get on.
He worried the Vietnam War draft would cut his time at the co-op short, but a high draft number kept him from being called up. So he soldiered through the months hacking vegetation in central Oklahoma’s punishing heat and humidity. Along the way, he discovered something he loved about the work he was doing.
“I remember telling one of our older linemen that I actually felt like I was helping members out there,” Davis recalls.
When the job ended, he went to the superintendent and asked to be kept on. He wanted to train to be a lineman.
“The thing I loved most—and still do more than anything else, I suppose—is chasing outages.”
His dedication and dependability quickly opened opportunities for him. He was promoted to crew foreman, then superintendent, and later manager of the operations department. About three years ago, he became general manager of the co-op, which serves 14,000 members over 3,500 miles of line.
One of his first changes as GM was a reliability upgrade, traceable to that sweltering summer of 1970: He increased the right-of-way corridors from 30 to 50 feet.
“Keeps the outages down and the power on.”
Through the decades, Davis and Indian Electric have seen booms and busts, often tied to the oil and gas industry but lately to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet he is ever optimistic.
“Perseverance is also a part of reliability,” Davis says. “It’s part of who we are in Oklahoma and what we are as co-ops. You can count on us.”
‘You could see how much it mattered’
Northfork Electric Cooperative in Sayre, Oklahoma, near the state’s western edge, a deep-seated commitment to reliability is quite literally a family value for Shawn Sawyer.
Sawyer started at Northfork Electric in 2004 as a journeyman lineman and now manages the 3,200-member co-op’s advanced metering system (AMS).
In the early years, his sons, Landon and Logan, were thrilled to see their dad coming home driving a big bucket truck. They quickly learned that the truck symbolized dedication. It often meant their dad missed birthday parties or holiday gatherings to work storms and other outages. But that commitment seeped in.
Sawyer says he never really talked about his work or steered the boys’ career choices. He just wanted to set a good example.
“He never pushed us to be linemen, but you could see how much it mattered,” says Landon Sawyer, 25. Landon has worked on Northfork Electric’s construction crew since 2016. In June, he earned his four-year journeyman certificate from Northwest Lineman College.
Logan, 20, studies at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, learning to work safely in high-voltage environments. Though he has had to put training on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his plan is to seek internships at utilities and finish his studies. He has his sights set on a co-op job too.
The elder Sawyer worked other jobs, including being a policeman, before coming to Northfork, but he says it had always been his goal to work at the co-op.
He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he describes his co-op job, the pride in his voice is loud and clear.
“I make sure every meter in our system works properly and is monitoring on an hourly basis. We are small, but we have one of the best systems anywhere.”
It’s modern technology with an age-old co-op purpose: reliability.
Landon says he’s starting to understand how his dad must have felt on those days when he missed parties and gatherings to take care of Northfork’s members.
“Turning power back on is so rewarding, it’s hard to describe,” he says. “That’s what I love about the job. It’s like doing something for your own family.”
Know someone RE Magazine could profile for our “Front Lines” column? We’re looking for co-op operations and member services staffers, from meter readers to lineworkers to engineers, who make things work at electric co-ops nationwide. Contact us at
email@example.com, or you can reach writer George Stuteville directly at