More competitors, more vendors, a bigger awards banquet and even more grillers — just about everything about the 17th annual Gaff-n-Go Equipment Operator’s and Lineman’s Rodeo set a record.
Held May 10-11 at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, the rodeo attracted hundreds of co-op friends, family members and spectators who watched more than 150 talented lineworkers from six states ply their trade in a friendly yet competitive environment.
“We’re really proud that this has grown from pretty humble beginnings into one of the largest regional rodeos in the country,” said John C. Lee, CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and chairman of the Rodeo Committee. “We’re also really proud to stage an event where our lineworkers can demonstrate the hard work, the determination, and the mental and physical toughness this profession requires.”
The Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) hosted the event, which was sponsored by TEREX in partnership with NESCO Specialty Rentals.
Friday’s equipment operator’s rodeo tested each three-member team’s ability to maneuver trucks and equipment used in electric distribution systems. While crews maneuvered around obstacles, nearly a dozen grilling teams barbecued pork, chicken and beef in the Gaff-n-Grill event, won by Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s “Blowing Smoke” grillers.
On Saturday, declared Electric Utility Line Workers Day by Governor Ralph Northam, three-member journeyman teams and individual apprentices competed in events that simulate real life.
“It is so impressive to observe these professionals as they work 40 feet above the ground on a course of utility poles while always keeping safe and efficient work practices front and center,” said Richard Johnstone, VMDAEC president and CEO.
Lee noted that the number of competitors has jumped to more than 150 from 119 in 2013. The 2019 field also included two U.S. Army teams from the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power) stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
“These guys work with each other in major storm events in the middle of the night,” Lee said. “I think it’s highly comforting for them to know that the guy on the next pole is someone they met and got to know here at the rodeo.”
The vendor expo featured 51 exhibitors in 2019, compared with 30 in 2013. And 540 tickets were sold for the awards banquet, held Saturday night at the Hilton Richmond Short Pump Hotel, up from 330 in 2013.
Additionally, participants and spectators dug deep in their pockets to help raise nearly $6,000 to support a Dominion Energy worker recently injured in the line of duty.
“The event is just getting bigger and better each year and we look forward to continued growth thanks to our sponsors, our volunteers, our judges and most of all, our lineworkers,” said Johnstone.
Also assisting were Clint Card of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and C.T. Bryant, retired from Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, the co-chairmen of the Rodeo Working Group.
Winning the three-member journeyman category was the Dominion Energy team of Brock Hawthorne, Jason Langhorne and Robert Tuthill with Michael Sims, Jacob Kelley and Anson Perry from Blue Ridge finishing in second place.
The highest co-op team — third overall — was the Delaware Electric squad of Philip Collison, Dave Morgan and Michael Layton. They took the Jimmy Gardner for the highest score among VMD Association teams. Gardner served as one of the first cooperative linemen in Virginia and lived into his 90s to see the early success and growth of the rodeo event. In all, 27 journeyman teams participated in the rodeo.
Top apprentice honors among 61 competitors went to Will Reid of BARC Electric Cooperative, who registered a stellar performance across five events, including first place in a written test and third in the hurt man rescue. T.W Parks of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and Zach Matthews of Dominion placed second and third overall in the apprentice division.