More competitors, more vendors, a bigger awards banquet and even more grillers — just about everything about the 17th annual Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s and Equipment Operator’s Rodeo set a record.
Held May 10-11 at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, the rodeo attracted hundreds of electric cooperative friends, family members and spectators who watched Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative line workers and more than 150 other talented workers 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 Jr., president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and chairman of the rodeo committee. “We’re also really proud to stage an event where our line workers can demonstrate the hard work, the determination and the mental and physical toughness this profession requires.”
The Virginia, Maryland and 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. Mecklenburg’s team of Brad Clark, Mitch DeJarnette and Paul Underwood placed second in the double dead end insulator change out event. While crews maneuvered around obstacles, Mecklenburg’s grill masters--Ray DeJarnette, B. J. Seamans and Brian Woods--joined nearly a dozen grilling teams competing in the Gaff-n-Grill event.
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. Among 61 competitors, apprentice T.W. Parks was awarded in two events—second place overall in the apprentice division and third place in the written test. He also placed fourth in the CPR and first aid event. Apprentice Rob Clary was awarded second place in the written test and placed fourth overall in the apprentice division.
Lee said, “MEC had two other apprentices to participate this year, B. J. Hensley and J. P. Sweitzer. These guys made a fine showing and performed their skills well. All of our guys had a lot of support from family members and friends, and we just couldn’t be prouder.”
“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.
“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 annual event was planned by a working group of cooperative operations and safety professionals headed by C. T. Bryant, a retired Central Virginia Electric Cooperative employee, and Clint Card of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative who was also master judge.
MEC’s Matt Shaw was event set-up coordinator. MEC employees who served as head judges were Joe Hostetter and Blake Hutcherson with Craig Phelps and Brian Woods serving as judges. Sally Hutcherson assisted with tabulating the scores, and Priscilla Whirley coordinated the design of MEC’s shirts for the T-shirt contest.
Dustin Francis served as MEC photographer at the event and provided periodic updates on MEC’s Facebook page throughout the day of the event.
Lee said 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.
Every portion of this exciting event is growing from year to year. 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 line workers,” said Johnstone.
For complete results and photos from this year’s event, visit www.gaff-n-go.com.