In the latest Life on the Line blog series, we invite you to get to know Elgin Wiles, a Jamestown, New York native, who recently moved to South Florida to build power lines. He is a married father of one and when he's not working he enjoys going to the shooting range, the beach, checking out new breweries and restaurants, and of course, sleeping.
Has anyone else in the family been a lineman?
"I didn’t find out until after he passed, but my grandfather was one of the soldiers who was in charge of setting up power and communication lines in Normandy. I was looking through old pictures at my grandfather's house when I saw a picture of my him on a pole. My uncle explained that just after the photo was taken, upon his climb down, my grandfather was shot in his behind while still on the pole."
What are you most proud of about your job? Is there anything you wish you could change about the job?
"I am most proud about having the ability to help people in their time of need and I am equally proud of myself for making this career change when I was 40 years old—it was not easy."
As far as anything he would change about the job, Elgin believes "it would be nice if there was a universal spec that everyone used when building power lines, making things a lot easier for lineman that travel across the country and work on different systems regularly."
How do you manage the crazy schedule and calls where you often have to drop everything?
"I deal with the crazy schedule by rolling with the punches. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up so I can’t complain about it now. My beautiful wife takes care of our life when I’m not home. She is the backbone of my family and without her, nothing about my life would be easy."
What are some things customers or employers have done to show their appreciation for your hard work?
"Customers while on storm work are the best. They do everything from simply giving us water to bringing us homemade meals. There are also customers who insist on giving the crew adult beverages for after work — those are hands down the crew’s favorite customers!"
Tell one of your craziest storm/outage stories.:
"While in New Orleans during Hurricane Ida, we were driving down Canal Street when we noticed a man who was standing on the corner changing his pants but wasn't wearing any underwear, so when he took his pants off he was...well, you get the idea. He was standing 30 feet from a National Guard depot in broad daylight in downtown New Orleans and did not have a care in the world."
What are some of your favorite products by J.L. Matthews? What are your must haves?
"I like all of J.L. Matthews products. The carry all the best names in the business and their customer service is second to none. I buy 90% of my Klein Tools from them and my bucket hooks as well."
What advice would you give to someone who is considering joining the industry?
"Use your ears more than your mouth; you can learn a lot by listening more than you talk. Pay close attention to all things regarding safety. Those rules and guidelines are written in our brothers' blood and must be followed at all times with no exceptions. You will need to learn how to not bring home issues to work. When you’ve got an issue at home on your mind, it’s a major distraction. Major distractions lead to mistakes which lead to you getting hurt or worse.
Finally, check your feelings at the door when you come to work. For the most part, lineman are a rough and tumble group of individuals who love to pick on each other and bust chops. Sometimes you run across someone, like me, who’s life goal is to hurt your feelings no matter what you do. Now don’t take that the wrong way, it’s all in good fun. It’s just how a lot of us show that we care. So please leave your feelings when you come to work and you will be just fine."