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Sights on Powerline

sights on powerline1/23/12
Jackson Campus
Wayne Brown was just curious when he hit the brakes in his car after seeing an Xcel Energy service truck on the side of the road and its crew busy working on power lines northwest of Minneapolis.

But Wayne Brown was serious when he later steered a road trip to Jackson for the express purpose of signing up for classes in Minnesota West Community & Technical College’s powerline program.
Even though he had invested in a house in his hometown of Big Lake, Brown’s five-year tenure at a furniture warehouse there started to hit the skids when the company took away a guarantee of five hours per week of overtime as a supervisor.

So he found a part-time job an hour away at a Peterbilt truck company. As a result, he soon found himself laboring six days every week, typically 7 a.m. to 11 and then 11 to 8 p.m. “I didn’t have any time to enjoy my house,” he said.

Then, while talking to one of the furniture delivery truck drivers he had become friends with, he heard about a power lineman who worked pretty good hours and got paid well.That conversation was on Brown’s mind one day when his commute was interrupted by the sight of a lineman on the side of the road.

“I wanted to see what powerline was all about,” Brown said. “He had been working 30 years with Xcel and said it can be very rough on family life. I’ve got no family, no kids, so I’m on board.”

Brown quit his part-time job a month before school started last fall and put his last day in at his full-time job just two weeks ahead.

“I was at a point in my life where I was making decent money, $40,000, but I was working six days a week,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m 32 years old; I’d better get my stuff together and do it now. My body will not be able to do this stuff when I’m older.’”

Besides the $20 to $30 per hour and an industry-wide reputation for generous retirement packages, Brown was attracted to the profession by the nature of the work and the good he can do through it - he saw on a school’s website an image of a couple waiting to get their power on and excited for the arrival of a lineman.

“It’s being able to help people,” he said. “I like hard work. I lived on a farm for a few years when I was younger, and I learned a lot. It truly made me appreciate hard work and the rewards you get for a good, hard day’s work. … I’ve been in construction all my life, working in the elements. I enjoy working outside, and I get satisfaction from starting with a slab of cement and getting to a full house or a pole barn.”

He was attracted to Jackson by Minnesota West’s no-wait admission. “Everybody had a two-year waiting list except Jackson,” he said, “so I came right down and got signed up.”

School hasn’t been a breeze, though. Brown sold his motorcycle to pay tuition, got in without a GED by passing an Ability to Benefit exam and has worked to within one test of earning a GED.

“He’s a nice guy. He’s got a good attitude on life and wants to learn,” said powerline and substation technician instructor Don Craig.

And Brown is making the most of his opportunity. He joined the student senate. “Everybody around here has been great,” he said. “They’re available to help and go above and beyond to help.

The community is a really nice community too.” When he’s not studying, he sometimes mans the counters at Ace Hardware.

Brown is scheduled to complete the one-year program in May, when he’ll look to jump into a position as a first-year apprentice. He would like to stay in Minnesota, but said he has no idea where a job will dictate he go.

It will then take five years of experience to obtain journeyman status, having put in 7,000 to 8,000 hours.

Courtesty of Ryan Brinks, Jackson County Pilot.