Linemen: All in the family

Jake Wells and Frank Wells

Electric cooperatives are often thought of as “family” — after all, they share common principles and a commitment to their communities that make for relationships that go deeper than just another business or utility.

Sometimes, though, “family” is literal. Line work, especially, is a profession that often sees fathers and sons or brothers, perhaps, follow in each other’s footsteps on the job. Here are some of their stories.

Frank Wells and Jake Wells

Between the two of them, brothers Frank and Jake Wells have more than half a century of service working on co-op lines. Jake is a crew foreman at Washington Electric Cooperative, based in Marietta, while Frank, the younger of the two, is a journeyman lineman with Guernsey-Muskingum Electric Cooperative, based in New Concord.

Frank got into the business first, citing the compensation and chance to work outdoors as incentives. He didn’t waste time in sharing those attributes with his brother.

“I tried everything else first — all sorts of different jobs,” Jake says, “but Frank kept trying to talk me into working with him as a lineman. At first I said ‘no way.’ I was scared to death to climb those poles. Not because I was afraid of heights, but because of the hazards of working with electricity.”

He soon came around. “Back then, you just had to be brave enough to try it,” he says. While most line crews primarily use bucket trucks to maintain lines these days, Jake says he still climbs regularly. “We’re currently replacing 150 poles. I’m getting my hooks out and helping pave the way for the contractors.”

The brothers grew up together on the family farm — where Jake still lives — north of Marietta. He cares for about a dozen head of cattle on his 60 acres and raised show pigs for a long time. Frank, on the other hand, calls his acreage a “hobby farm,” with some horses and a couple of pigs and “just enough land to keep me busy.”

The brothers also enjoy caring for their co-op members. “You meet all kinds of different people, and I like that aspect of my job,” Jake says. “At the end of the day, when you get 400 to 500 people’s power back on when it’s five below zero, you feel pretty darn good.”

Jake Klima and Mike Klima

Mike Klima and Jake Klima

Mike Klima, a journeyman lineman for 22 years at Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative in Paulding, says he thinks he inspired his son, Jake, to follow in his career footsteps. “He saw that I liked my job and enjoyed the work,” Mike says. “We have a lot in common — working outside and doing things with our hands — so the job seemed like a good fit. I’m very proud of him.”

Jake, a journeyman lineman at Union Rural Electric Cooperative, based in Marysville, is proud of his dad, too. “As a boy, it was normal for Dad to leave family functions and holidays when he was on call,” he remembers. “We kids understood that. It made us proud that he was helping people and restoring their electricity. I learned from him at an early age what the co-op was all about — we put our members’ needs first — so, when I was a senior in high school, I made my decision to be a lineman, too.”

Getting to know the co-op members is central to the job, Mike says. “It’s a very rewarding career, especially as you get to know the customers. We always talk to people before we work on their property. We explain what we’ll be doing. They’re so appreciative of us working out there in all kinds of weather — rain or snow or 10 below zero.”

Father and son also enjoy hunting and fishing together, whether angling on the waters of Lake Erie or dropping a hook in a pond near Jake’s house.

The best thing, they both say, is swapping stories. “We can talk shop, share information, and compare how we do our jobs. Usually, I give Jake a call early in the morning to see how his day’s going to go,” says Mike. Adds Jake: “It’s fun to discuss different ways to get the job done.”

Dana Springer, Ernie Springer, and Tyler Springer

Dana Springer, Ernie Springer, and Tyler Springer

When Dana Springer was a youngster, he and his siblings could hear electric company dispatches come through on a scratchy radio at home when his dad, Ernie, was on call. Ernie, now retired, worked as a lineman and line supervisor for 35 years for Licking Rural Electric Cooperative, now The Energy Cooperative, based in Newark. “We could hear that old radio all night long. But we didn’t mind,” Dana says.

In fact, it probably inspired him. Dana went to college for a couple of years and then worked on the family’s 1,000-acre farm in eastern Ohio, where they grew corn and soybeans and raised cows and pigs. “Farming wasn’t very profitable in the 1980s, so I sent an application to the co-ops and started as an apprentice lineman at Union Rural. Now, I’ve been on the line crew for almost 34 years.”

His dad, however, hasn’t completely given up the farm. Now retired from the co-op for more than three decades, Ernie still farms about 80 acres, and Dana still helps out during harvest time.

The two enjoy hunting and fishing together, and they also like to talk shop. “We get together and talk about how things are done,” says Dana. “He still looks at the lines when we’re driving down the road; it’s hard to get it out of your system.”

Dana’s son, Tyler, has followed in his dad’s and grandpa’s footsteps, too, and works as a transmission operations reliability supervisor for AEP; his team is responsible 24/7 for the regional AEP transmission system, monitoring power flows and voltages.

Dana says he’s always appreciated his job’s challenges. “I like working outside and doing something different every day, no matter what’s happening. A couple of weeks ago, we had two car wrecks that damaged poles and a windstorm that made a tree come down and break a pole.”

Through the challenges, Dana always keeps some longtime advice in mind. “Dad’s always said, ‘Keep your mind on the job, keep your eyes on what you’re doing, make sure you get home at night. Be safe.'”