Life on the Line: Working with the men of Yampa Valley Electric Association |

Life on the Line: Working with the men of Yampa Valley Electric Association

Working with the men of Yampa Valley Electric Association

Yampa Valley Electric Association lineman Perry Baker checks a street light on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs.

— Despite their bright yellow shirts, Michael VandenBurg, general foreman for Steamboat Springs district of Yampa Valley Electric Association, points out his crews rarely receive much attention, and that's the way he prefers it.

"The only time people really notice us is when their lights will not turn on or they have a power outage," VandenBurg said. "We don't mind. One of the most important things we do is power restoration. We go out in the middle of the night if there is someone without power and they call. We try to problem solve, figure out where the problem is and then fix it as quickly as possible."

But not all issues come in the middle of the night, and the linemen are ready to fix any problem, at any time. Sometimes, problems can arise when they seem to be the most unlikely.

"A lot of people ask, when it's a nice day, 'How can there be any problems? It is such a nice day.' But it's really surprising how birds, raccoons or a rotten tree will just out-of-the-blue fall down and take a line down," VandenBurg said.

During his time in Steamboat, VandenBurg has seen it all and is rarely surprised. Each day, he meets with his crews — which include nine journeyman lineman — at 7 a.m. to lay out the day's work. Just down the road, in Craig, there are seven more men ready to handle the challenges of supplying the public with power.

There are times the crews have to adjust and respond to emergency situations, but on most days, they stay busy taking care of a long list of projects that must be completed. Not all of them are exciting.

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This week, the list includes checking on light poles in downtown Steamboat and repairing a number of issues, ranging from bad bulbs, broken heads and other problems in need of repair now that spring has arrived. Other projects this week include installing new overhead light poles at Big Creek Ranch and hooking up a transformer for a new recycling facility at Milner Landfill.

VandenBurg acknowledged some jobs are more complicated than others, but all need to be completed in quick order, he said. These tasks are part of the job the linemen perform, regardless of the weather or the other challenges they often face in the field.

"It's a really exciting time here at Yampa Valley Electric, because we are moving forward with technology that will kind of tell us what section of line is out so that we can have better response time, VandenBurg said. "Right now, we rely on a member to call in, (or) we would never know there is a power outage."

Throughout the next several years, YVEA will install new technology that will allow linemen to quickly pinpoint where problems are. The association also will replace the existing meters as part of the project.

VandenBurg is aware his crews will be busy and also will have to keep up with the day-to-day tasks.

"The guys on their daily task will construct new lines. If you are building a new home, and you need to get power to the house, our guys will do everything, from digging the trench if you're doing underground lines, install the transformer and run the line right to the house," he said "In more rural areas, our crews will build overhead power lines. That may involve sticking poles in the ground and running the wire. Our guys will climb the poles and tie in the wire and energize it. "

VandenBurg spent years working on crews such as the ones he now leads, adding he enjoys going to work each day.

"It's a real rewarding job," Vandenberg said. "You don't get to see the people, sometimes, because there might be 500 to a 1,000 people without power — and, of course, you don't get to go to everybody's door step and see them — and you know that they were sitting in the dark or the cold in the middle of the night. When the lights come back, it's kind of … self rewarding."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966