Monday, 23 July 2007 19:00


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Author - "tree"

Submitted By - Dark Night

written by "tree"

It was a dark and stormy night . . . Jim was on call that weekend. His local had to give up the "on call" pay clause during negotiations with the company last summer. Now he only got paid when he went out on a call. It gnawed on him that he had to stay chained to the phone, not being able to go anywhere, for NO PAY. His wife had to take the kids Trick or Treating tonight while he waited . . and waited for a call that didn’t come. This would be the first year that he didn't go with them. They would be out late too. The kids wanted to show their costumes to Grandma and Grandpa over in the next county.

Jim turned the TV on and checked the channels, but nothing seemed interesting. Everyone was showing some kind of horror flick, but he didn’t feel like watching any of them. The Weather Channel showed rain all over the tri-state area as the cold front was slowly moving through. "Looks like I'll be in soup next week while digging that UG trenchline," he though out loud. Jim though back to his apprentice days, back when bucket trucks were rare and everything was done from the pole. He really liked it up there. The smell of the creosote, the feel of the wood under his gloves as he hooked his way up to the primary lines.

Too bad his local phone company hadn’t upgraded the local exchange to allow call waiting yet. It gets old having to tell everyone to keep the calls short during these weekends, just in case. "I really need to get a second line installed , then I could use the computer and ‘surf the net’ while waiting," Jim thought while looking out the window at the trees whipping in the wind, barren of their leaves. "Maybe, just for a few minutes. . . ," he said to himself as he fired up the computer that he bought for the 'kids' with the check from the ice storm work last winter in New England. "I wonder if there is anything new on the Tailboards at Powerlineman.Com." Just as Windows95 was coming onscreen, he heard the UPS beep at him as the lights blinked briefly. He waited . . . but they stayed on. That UPS had saved his 'behind' many times while online, . .not to mention his computer. The single-phase line to his house out in the country always seemed to cut out on him when the reclosers at the substation detected a fault in the line. "I need to check again when they are going to get the tree crew back in the area." His company had been delaying maintenance work on the right-of-way, trying to make the books look good for the next shareholders meeting. "Penny wise and pound foolish," he mused to himself.

Just as he was about to click on the dial-up connection icon, the phone rang. Jim panicked that something had happened to the kids as he picked up the phone. "Hello?" he answered. "Jim, this is Dispatch. We have a 'no-power' call at 13423 County Road 27, Larry Miller's farm. He said that he heard a loud pop and the lights went out about 20 minutes ago. He said that he saw lights at the neighbors, so we think it is isolated to just his area." "Ok, I'll head to the shop and go right out," Jim said into the phone and hung up.

"At least tonight won't be a total waste," he thought as he laced up his lineboots. "Might even get to climb." The rain picked up as he drove the five miles to the service center to pick up the linetruck and what equipment he would need. "I would count how many times I've made this trip in the last 8 years, but I can't count that high," he chuckled to himself as he drove.

The wind chilled him as he unlocked the door to the dark service center. Since they had moved all of the dispatchers to a regional headquarters four years ago, no one stayed at the building after the crews came back after regular work hours on weekdays. Jim checked over the Navistar with the Altec boom on it, making sure that everything that he might need was in it. Spare transformer tap line fuses, secondary wire, etc. He remembered the days when a two-man crew would go out on these calls. They would take a spare transformer back then, just in case. With two men, they could change out the defective transformer and get service restored in under an hour. Now, it meant a call to bring in a second journeyman and having him stop and bring the transformer. This usually meant at least one or two more hours without power for the 'not very happy' customers.

Jim fired up the Diesel engine in the truck and headed out to the farmhouse. The rain had stopped but the wind was still blowing as the cold front went through. Out of habit. he tried to sneak a peak at the lines as he drove, but the dark county road demanded his full attention. He was approaching the farmhouse from the opposite direction of the branch circuit anyway. The area manager would make life miserable (as if he didn't already) if the 'new' 5 year old truck got wrecked. Bill, the manager, was transferred in from accounting last spring. All of the previous managers had had some outside work experience. This was the first 'bean counter' that they had to work directly under. "I bet he couldn't even strap on hooks correctly," Jim grumbled to himself as he pulled up to the old, dark farmhouse. Larry Miller was a retired farmer and had lived on this 160 acre farm all of his life. He had purchased it from his family when his father died in a farming accident and spend the next twenty years paying off the loans for it. He cash-rented the fields out nowadays so that he could depend on a steady meager annual income. "Too old to play the grain markets anymore," he had told Jim at the county fair last year. "To make any money these days, you need at least 1000 acres of cropland and $200,000 worth of equipment. Too rich for my blood," he had said.

Jim parked the truck in the barnyard, found the spotlight and started looking over the area. "So far, so good," he thought as he looked at the lines in the area as he shined the light along them. "No lines down." He went to the transformer and saw that it looked all right also. It's fuse still in place.

He knocked on the door and waited as the wind moaned through the trees. He knocked again, this time louder. It was darker than usual due to the moon being in the 'new moon' phase. "Why do they always show a 'full moon' in all of the Halloween pictures," he mused to himself in the shadows. Finally, a flicker of light in the window caught the corner of his eye. As he turned to look, the door creaked open. Quickly looking back, he saw an elderly figure holding a single candle in the doorway. Jim's pulse went back to normal as he quickly recognized Mr. Miller in the doorway. Jim identified himself to Mr. Miller and asked if he had any information in addition to what the dispatcher had already told him on the phone.

The old farmer went over what had happened. "I was watching the news, when the set went out and I head a loud pop. I kidded my wife if she had forgot to pay the electric bill. Then I realized that we hadn't yet. We were waiting on the check to come in from the young farmer that we had rented the land to. Seems that he was waiting for his check to come from the elevator so that he could pay us so that we could pay you. . . I explained this to the nice young lady on the phone when I called you guys. She said that they didn't disconnect customers after hours.. She had a real nice voice. What does she look like?" he asked.

Jim explained to him that he had no idea what she looked like and that she was located in the regional office two states away. He confirmed that they didn't do disconnects at night but worried to himself if someday they might. He informed them that the lines at the house appeared ok and that the problem may be upline from here. There was a cutout fuse at the crossroads that isolated the line to the farmhouse and that maybe it had blown. The neighbors to the east whose lights that they saw were supplied by a Co-op and the Miller's were connected to a different utility. After confirming that the elderly couple were all right for now, Jim went back to the truck and got back in.

He drove slowly along the road, this time watching the line closely in the dark sky looking for anything that would still be causing a fault. The only other customer on the line was a drainage pump that was only needed when the creek flooded. The pump's transformer also looked 'Ok' and of course was not running, . . or needed to. Though it had been raining, October had been dry here and the creek wasn't in danger of getting that high tonight. He stopped periodically for a closer look where the single phase line ran next to the overgrown woods. Nothing was caught in the lines, for now, but the right-of-way was in desperate need of clearance. It had been at least five years since it had been cleared last. They used to use a three year clearance rotation but the company had decided to extend the interval in their recent cost-cutting measures. Jim didn't mind getting the chainsaw out when they had the opportunity, but those times seemed to be fewer and fewer as more duties had been assigned to fewer journeymen over the years. It had been years since the center had had an apprentice on the crew. The utility had been just eliminating positions on the crews as the old hands retired. Satisfied that the line was clear as he approached the cutout, he looked up at it.

Just as he had thought . . . the door to the fuse was opened, indicating that it had blown. Jim parked the truck near the pole and extended the outriggers in preparation of the ride up. Because of the large ditch along the road between him and the pole, it would mean that he would have to extend the boom far to the side in order to reach the cutout. He uncovered the bucket and assembled the equipment that he would need up top. He hunted though the spare fuses for the common 50T fuse that they used on the rural distribution feeder cutouts. Finding none, he remembered that they had used their last one on Friday on the Greenwich circuit and that they would not get any more until Monday afternoon. He did find an 65K fuse that would fit in the holder, but decided against allowing a higher fault current on the line; especially with the trees that close and winter coming on. Finally selecting a 30T tap line fuse, "This may get them by until we can replace it with the correct one." he thought. "Since the Millers and the drainage pump by the creek are the only customers on this circuit, I think the smaller fuse will hold then until then." Jim said, trying to convince himself of his decision as he climbed the slick steps up to the bucket.

Slowly moving the levers on the bucket, the boom creaked skyward toward the blown fuse. The wind started to pick back up, sneaking through the openings in his raincoat. He heard some 'pings' on his hardhat as a few pellets of sleet hit him. Patches of ice were starting to develop on the now cold surfaces of the bucket. He reached out and grabbed the blown fuse remnants from the housing with his gloved hands and installed the new fuse after rechecking his work. "Now the tricky part," he thought as he moved the bucket away. It took four tries before he has able to hook the fuse door with his 10 foot hotstick; the wind seemed to gust, just when he was about to slip the tip of the stick into the door loop. Finally, he made it and jammed the fuse home, praying that the fault had cleared from the line while preparing for the expulsion of hot metal if it hadn't. . . . . . . . He was relieved when the fuse held and the security light slowly lit up on the Miller's farmstead 3/4 miles away. "At least they can sleep easily tonight." he smiled.

Jim moved the controls, and started to back further away, when a gust of wind came up, rocking the boom wildly in the air. A sleet pellet snuck behind the safety glasses and hit him in the eye. He winced, feeling this sudden pain and his body reflexively jerked the levers. The boom lurched and bucked Jim out of the bucket. He thought, "Oh Sh*%t!" as he fell, but thankful that the harness caught him after a few feet. After everything slowed down, he found himself uninjured, hanging six feet under the bucket but out of reach of the boom. "At least, I was clear of the primaries," he though, thankfully.

Minutes passed as Jim contemplated to himself, thinking of ways that he could get out of this mess, "Since the Miller's had their power back now, they would think that everything was 'Ok'. . . The boom is in a position that I can't reach it, even by swinging. . . Traffic is light in this isolated, rural area and the only few neighbors are older farmers, probably preparing for bed. . . . . The hand-held radio was below him in the ditch, after it had fell out of his pocket during the 'bull ride'. . . . Dispatch won't start looking for me until I miss the next check-in, due in 45 minutes. . . . "

Jim looked around at the dark night, pierced by small points of light from far-off houses and headlights running along the main highway 2 miles away. The wind moaned and hummed in the wires. Their 'language' was almost intelligible to him. The cold was starting to cloud his thoughts as he started to interpret the sounds. "Am I imagining this?" he thought as he listened . . . .

" . . . . ing . . . . . eg . . . . eg . . . . uuu . . . . . .deeee . . . . . .gul l l l . . . . ti . . . . . n n n n n . . . . deeeeee . . . "

" . . . . deee . . . reeegggggg . . . .uuuuuuuuul l l l l l l . . . . . . .aaaaaaat t t t t . . . ionnnnnnnnn . . . . ."

". . .De reg u la tion . . . . . ," the wind moaned.
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