Mason Tolbert is quick to answer when asked why he likes being a Walton EMC lineman.
“Not one day since I’ve worked here have I woken up and thought, ‘Oh man, I have to go to work today.’ It’s a fun job!” the 20-year-old said. “I found something that I truly love to do.”
Tolbert is one of the new generation of line technicians that is stepping up to fill the boots of Walton EMC veterans who are nearing retirement. A part of the co-op’s team of 63 linemen, they are responsible for repairing and maintaining Walton EMC’s more than 7,000 miles of power lines.
April 18 is National Lineman Appreciation Day
In recognition of National Lineman Appreciation Day on April 18, we talked to four of the newest Walton EMC linemen about what attracted them to a career dedicated to keeping the lights on in our communities.
The right stuff
At Walton EMC, new linemen recruits sign on for a seven-year apprenticeship that combines classroom instruction, independent study and on-the-job experience. Trainees must demonstrate a mastery of skills at multiple levels before becoming a full-fledged journeyman lineman.
Walton EMC linemen work in rain, snow, darkness, extreme cold and heat to continue the co-op’s legacy of delivering reliable electricity. The variety of the work is what attracted 29-year-old Harry Ruiz to the job 18 months ago.
“I like having a challenge every single day.”
“Every day I’m doing something different and working with my hands,” he said. “I like having a challenge every single day.”
The ideal candidates for linemen are those who possess a good work ethic and a willingness to learn, Mendoza and Ruiz agree.
“The training never stops. You’re always learning,” Mendoza said.
A successful lineman is a “go-getter,” Ruiz said. “You need to have a mechanical aptitude – be able to work with your hands, understand moving parts, and know how to put the puzzle together,” he said.
A commitment to safety is another essential trait for every Walton EMC lineman, Mendoza added.
“You don’t want to take anything for granted and then get hurt out there,” he said. “We have to be safe to do our jobs – and to go home to our families each night.”
Choosing a co-op career
Pickett began working at Walton EMC just a few weeks after high school graduation. Friends who were co-op employees encouraged him to apply to be a lineman, a job he describes as “the answer to my prayers.”
“…the answer to my prayers.”
“When I got hired here, I knew nothing about being a lineman,” the 21-year-old confessed. What appealed to him most was the opportunity to work outside in locations and situations that vary daily.
Mendoza, who immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager, says a neighbor who was a Walton EMC lineman inspired him to apply at the co-op. Now, he counts the day he was hired as one of the most memorable of his life.
“It was the day that I knew I could better myself as a person,” he said. “I could make a career for myself and better provide for my family.”
Tolbert had never known anyone who was a lineman when he registered for an 18-week lineman training program at North Georgia Technical College. He began work at Walton EMC in March 2020. Now, he counts the camaraderie among line crewmembers as what he values most about his chosen career.
“Their positive attitude is contagious,” he said about his Walton EMC co-workers. He’s especially thankful for the way his team uplifts each other during challenging situations, such as restoring power after a storm.
“You work long hours. You’re tired. You’re hungry. Then you look over and the guy next to you is smiling the whole time — he’s really loving it,” he said.
Ruiz held nine jobs before joining Walton EMC. He believes this career move will be permanent because it gives him the opportunity to provide an essential service to family and neighbors. He recalls an instance when he was called out to restore power to the neighborhood where he grew up and his parents still live.
“Being able to get the power back on for the entire neighborhood … was a great feeling.”
“Being able to get the power back on for the entire neighborhood – people I’ve known my entire life – was a great feeling,” he said.
Though the paths they took to becoming a Walton EMC lineman differ, all agree it was the right career choice.
“It’s changed my life for the better,” said Tolbert.
“It’s changed my life for the better.”
Mendoza echoed the sentiment. “I never thought I’d get to be a lineman, but now that I am one, I’m grateful to be a part of Walton EMC,” he said.
The work is difficult but also satisfying, said Ruiz.
“It’s tough getting up in the middle of the night. It’s tough working in the rain. It’s tough working in the snow, and it’s tough working in the heat. But this is my job, and I wouldn’t pick anything else,” he said.
Pickett summed up the group’s feelings, saying: “I love what I do. I could see myself doing this for a very long time.”