I was a Journeyman Lineman in a town of 35,000 during the winter of 1980. I had gone into the Service department that year and the four of us were the first called whenever the power went off. That night, the T.V. warned of an approaching storm and I gathered my blizzard gear, knowing it would be a long night.
Two pair of socks and my insulated Lineman boots. Two sets of insulated thermal long underwear, ski mask and insulated neck/face/hood. Company pants, shirt, jacket and insulated bib coveralls. My brand new leather insulated gloves were added to the pile. My wife made a fresh pot of coffee filled our large thermos and added a scarf to my pile of clothes. At 9pm, the snow started, by 9:30 the wind gusts started pounding the house like hammer blows. A little before 10, the phone rang and then it was get dressed and into the night.
As the pickup warmed up, I checked with the dispatcher and already had four locations of lights out, One of our Service men was days away from retirement so he stayed home. Another Service man was on vacation so it was Sonny and me against the blizzard.
I found out later the wind chill factor was 30 below zero, which explained why the hydraulics on the small bucket truck the service department used would not work. So, in this blizzard, it was the old fashion way, climb and hope your training would keep you safe. The heavy gusts were causing the secondary to bump together, blowing the transformer fuses. The General Foreman decided to keep the Line Crew in reserve in case of a major problem. Sonny headed for one end of town and I took the west side of town.
First location, strip off the coveralls because you can’t safely climb with them on. Gaffs, tool belt, hard hat, finger stick, spare fuses and climb. Between gusts, retrieve the cutout door, refuse it and close it in—eight customers back on. Safety down to the telephone level, remove gloves, shove your hands into your armpits to warm them enough to unsafety and descend. Then put coveralls back on, radio in and head to the next location.
It was 2 in the morning when I got back to the pickup after putting my 35th transformer back in power. I did not have the heater on in the pickup, best not to warm up and cool off repeatedly, best to just stay cold. I was about to put the pickup in gear to head down the alley when I heard a tapping on the driver’s window. In that terrible blizzard, at 2 in the morning, standing in two feet of snow and ice was a little old man holding a bowl and smiling at me.
I rolled down my window, thinking he had other problems with his power and he said: “I watched you climb and put our power back on, you need this bowl of soup.” I thanked him and told him to get back inside but he said he would not leave until I eat the soup. I told him to get in the pickup but he just smiled and said he was fine and offered me a cracker as I drank the chicken noodle soup. When I finished the soup, he took the bowl, told me to be careful and made his way back into his yard. I watched to make sure he made it to his back door and went on to the next location.
By 5am, the storm had passed and no more calls were coming for the Service Department. As I got into bed, my wife tried to cuddle with me but recoiled away from my cold body. She covered me with an extra blanket and said she loved me. Since I had been relieved of duty before 6am, I had to report for work at 8 and a day of repairing storm damage followed.
There were many blizzards in my career as a Lineman and thousands of poles climbed in the middle of the night and some of those are for another time and another telling. What I regret about that night is that I never got his name and since I was in the alley, in the middle of a blizzard, I could not recall which transformer station his house was on. I never got to thank him.
I am now about the same age as he was that night. And I like to think that if I see a Lineman climbing a pole when the rest of us are huddled in our homes, I will take him a bowl of soup.
Grand gestures make a difference in this world, saving people in a flood or feeding the hungry in a far off land. People will be cussing and discussing the political events of the day on Thursday, talking about what has happened to this country and who are these “snowflakes” anyway. I will listen and put in my two cents worth but when we bow our heads to pray, on this Thanksgiving Day, I will say a prayer and be thankful for a little old man and a bowl of soup.
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