Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bad Omens: Part 2 of When Limbs Break a Tree Calls on It's Roots for Strength.

After being moved from Denver, I began to pray for three major things besides safety. The first was that my employer would let me go to my family reunion in Samoa. Second, my mother seemed closer and closer to dying so I prayed to be home when she passed. Lastly, because of all the moving around i hadn't been able to serve in my church so I prayed that I would be provided a job that would facilitate me serving my church. In fact I pretty much prayed that I would become financially independent that way I could spend all my time serving the lord.

Kremmling is a small town that lies in the mountains of Colorado, along the upper Colorado River. According to the 2000 census the population was 1,578. I can't imagine it has grown that much since then. The town has one super market, one hardware store, and a couple of gas stations.

Fortunately for me, one of my best line buddies, Keith, made friends with the owner of the hardware store's daughter. She rented me a room for $400 a month. The deal included all the small town hospitality I could imagine, so I was getting a pretty good deal.

As per normal (new man on the linecrew) procedure, I met the crew at the "show up". The "show up" was a place that is designated for crews to meet before the start of work. Usually line building material is stored there. This "show up" was actually located at the power company.

My foreman smoked a lot and talked slow and slurred but was very smart when it came to linework. He would say his opinion on how the work should be done but ultimately let the workers have the last say. His way usually was the better way and he would let you know through his mumbling, though from the bucket, the mumbling couldn't be heard. It seemed his method was to let the those in the air learn by doing. The only time he resorted to screaming was when something was going to put you in danger. Disappointment was expressed a simple shaking of the head.

The lineman on the crew was from southern Colorado. He talked frequently about leaving the crew, dragging up, to take a job closer to his wife because his relationship was on the rocks. For a lineman he was very patient and often would take the blame for my mistakes. Never once do I remember him blaming anyone for a mistake.

We had another hot apprentice, an apprentice qualified to work on energized lines. He was from Montana and engaged to be married and talked about his fiancé a lot. The other thing he talked about was his fifth wheel, or camper.

Everyone on the crew besides the foreman had at least one thing in common, we all wanted to get out of that town. Frequently they mentioned the other two linemen that left. One went back to Denver so he could spend more time with his kids and the other 'drug up' to take another job. The foreman couldn't work in Denver because he had been banned from Excel's, the power company in Denver, property.

The whole crew would leave town for their homes every weekend except the other apprentice who lived so far away that the expenses would outweigh the benefits. My linebuddy Keith would often ask when I would stay and fish with him on the weekend. The desire to play basketball at home in West Valley, Utah every weekend was addicting though and my desire to fish was nonexistent. I was at the peak of my game and the joy I found from being able to control a game was unmatched by anything at the time. In the back of my mind was a fear of never being able to play again.

Winter began to set in. Soon the lineman 'drug up' leaving us with a crew of three, one foreman and two hot apprentices. There were several incidents that could have been seen as signs from a higher power to quit the trade. I was enjoying life so much that I didn't think anything of them.

Besides this ever present fear way in the back of the mind of never being able basketball again, there was the knife incident.

On low voltage wire (120v-480v), there are three legs or wires. One of the legs is the neutral and the two other legs are energized. Each of the energized legs is coated with an insulating plastic. If the two legs touch it completes a circuit and electricity flows but there may be heat, melting metal and a numerous amount of things that happened when this flow is not controlled. At times it becomes necessary to strip the wire and connect new circuits.

This particular day, it was necessary to connect a circuit. The other apprentice and I were up about twenty five feet in the bucket. I was stripping one of the wires, with my blade stripping away from the body, when suddenly there was a loud bang, light, heat and smoke. My blade had went into the insulation of both legs at the same time. A chunk of the blade melted and because it was my foreman's knife, I owed my foreman a new knife.

There were the several highway slide-off incidents. The fastest and shortest route from Salt Lake to Kremmling is US Route 40. On that road, just after a town called Steamboat Springs, lies Rabbit Ears Pass. At an elevation of 9426 feet, it receives a lot of snow and can be closed at times.
Rabbit Ears Pass on one of my trips.
In fact I remember once approaching the pass in the dark of night. Snow was coming down sideways. I drove right by the tire chain-up area, thinking to myself, "I should put the chains on." Then I thought, "Nah it's too cold and wet outside." I remember looking at the dark road and thinking I had just began a journey on the Pass of Caradhras, from the movie and book The Lord of the Rings. My grip on the wheel tightened, knuckles white as the snow and palms sweating. 

There are two summits on the pass. I had made it over both of them and was headed down hill. My patience grew thin from driving 20 mph and I began a gradual let down of my guard. I coasted a little faster and pushed the brakes less. My speed increased to about 25 mph but a truck was riding my tail. I made the decision to pull to one side and let him pass. While slightly pulling to the right, I lost control of the car and slammed into the embankment.

I started to rock the car by putting it reverse and forward repeatedly. No dice, my car was stuck. I got a crazy idea that I could throw the tire chains on the tires while the car was in gear and hopefully it would get traction and move. With the car in reverse and the tires spinning, I jumped out and closed the door behind me. Unfortunately for me, the car door automatically locks when the car is in gear and the door is closed. 

There I stood, with snow flakes hitting my face, in a hooded sweatshirt, staring at this amazingly unfortunate scene. Suddenly, news stories of people burried in snow storms flashed through my mind. Adrenaline kicked in as I became irrationally delusional that this could be a life or death situation, when in fact it was highly unlikely that I would have died. I looked at the small triangle window, called the rear quarter glass (I had to google the name), and began to formulate a plan of action that included kicking in the quarter glass. Fully believing and visualizing the quarter glass breaking, I backed up and took two steps and kicked as hard as I could. 


The window remained in tact. My sweatshirt was beginning to become moist and cold. I slowed down and became rational. My mind reflected on the many times I had broke into my own car. I needed a long piece of wire. My eyes focused on the antenna and my mind thought of an old tv show called McGyver.

In McGyver the protagonist always comes up with a nifty way, usually involving chewing gum, to escape a near death and capture the antagonist. A plow came and stopped, the driver got out the truck and told me he was going to call the police and a tow truck to help. He stood there for a while, watching me trying to McGyver the truck. Unlike the tv show, this process must have been boring because the plow driver told me that he was going to go sit in his truck.

Eventually, I got that door opened and got pulled out of the jam. There were a couple more slide offs and other near misses but after each experience my resolve became greater and greater to become a lineman. Perhaps it was me being hard-headed. In fact, I know it was me being hard-headed as I remember my cousin from Hawaii urging me to quit the line trade and me insisting that a Matagi (my family name) is not a quitter!

Looking back at all those experiences, I laugh ,literally, out loud. As a child, we learned to laugh a lot after good times and bad. The important thing, I think, is not to laugh during the bad times but after, open that big Ol' bottle of laughter because like they say it's the best medicine.

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