(L to R: Chris Schweitzer, John Armstrong, Jeff Tuttle, Troy Stahly, Justin Fry)
It’s one of the most physically challenging jobs in the City of Auburn. It’s also dangerous. And, when people are waiting for their service to be restored, the job can be stressful as well. Yet for men like John Armstrong and Jeff Tuttle, being an Auburn Electric (AE) lineman is exhilarating!
“I love doing linework,” says Armstrong, who has been with AE for nearly 46 years. Tuttle agrees: “I love climbing poles and solving different challenges alongside my ‘brothers.’” And like Armstrong, he’s been doing it for more than four decades.
As the “elder statesmen” at AE, both Armstrong and Tuttle are passing along their passion and wealth of knowledge to the next generation. In fact, what’s to come—with the network and the crewmen—is exciting to them.
“So much has changed since we began. It’s great to see how changes—especially changes with technology—are giving us more visibility and allowing us to respond faster and in a more targeted way,” says Armstrong. “We continue to improve our system and our service to minimize outages and provide the best service possible.”
Both Armstrong and Tuttle are part of AE’s leadership team. Always a journeyman lineman, Armstrong now specifically serves as the operations manager. His primary responsibilities include scoping and coordinating work for the line crews and providing counsel and guidance on virtually all aspects of the utility’s daily system operations. Because he started at AE at age 18 and has experienced practically every job, he can provide a comprehensive perspective to the new recruits.
Likewise, Tuttle is the true renaissance lineman at Auburn Electric. He has seen it all, done it all and helped solve every type of problem—making him a great mentor for the younger generation. As the lead expert on the utility’s substation operations, he’s focused on transferring that knowledge and training crew leads and foreman.
But it’s more than know-how they hope to bestow on the newer linemen.
“My father passed on ideas of dedication and servitude that’s guided me all my life,” Tuttle shares. “John and I take great pride in Auburn’s network—we helped build it—and we believe strongly in serving the people of our customer territory. That’s our pledge—it’s why we get up in the night. The people we serve are our family, neighbors and members of our community.”
More Than a Job
Newly certified journey linemen Justin Fry is soaking up all that Armstrong and Tuttle have to share. “You have one guy very focused on efficiency and another on quality. It’s fun to watch them come together and collaborate,” Fry says. “I try to balance what I’m learning from both of them and apply it to my job. I like being able to contribute to solutions and having them available to ask questions.”
Troy Stahly, another member of the leadership team, falls in between the two generations with his 27 years of experience. As a distribution supervisor, he is focused on the safety, collaboration and productivity of all AE line crews. He knows firsthand how hard it is to get up and gather yourself when it’s dark (and COLD) outside. He trains his team to maintain responsiveness in all conditions. He’s also passionate about helping the public understand that the crews that climb poles, man the substation, dig trenches and other seemingly thankless jobs are master craftsmen who take their jobs seriously.
“Some have been known to come in on the weekends to fix low poles or other things. We do it because we take ownership in what we do,” Stahly explains. “Fixing hazards is part of our job and we want to keep the public—and our crews—safe at all times.”
Mentoring Leads to Success
Communication, trust and accountability are the key components to electrifying this team.
“Chris [Schweitzer, General Manager] has taught us about the importance and impact of good communications,” Tuttle says. “I’ve learned I’ll yield better results as I change my communications approach.”
And for Tuttle, this has sparked another passion: mentoring.
“I understand that my success is based on their success. I’m as excited about mentoring as I’ve been about climbing poles all these years,” he says.
While each of these men offer different areas of expertise, they are all renaissance men—knowing how to do a variety of tasks from the substation to the meter. That’s the beauty of working for a smaller utility. You learn to do everything because you never know where you’ll have to pitch in and help.
And pitch in they do. With 7,770 meter points in AE’s service area, everyone is committed to doing a job of excellence for the city they love.
“We’ve never had anyone without power for more than 24 hours,” Armstrong shares. “Most power restorations happen in an under an hour or two.”
Pretty impressive for a 46-year career! And an exciting legacy to pass on to those who will carry the utility forward for the next several decades.