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MTI's 'talented students' show off skills at lineman rodeo

Landon Laible, a Mitchell Technical Institute lineman student from Howard, competes in the obstacle climb during the 12th Annual College Lineman’s Rodeo at MTI Friday in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

No, this isn't your typical rodeo.

On Friday at Mitchell Technical Institute's 12th Annual College Lineman Rodeo, there was nobody on a horse or anyone looking to hold on for 8 seconds.

Instead, it was some of the region's best power line maintenance students simulating their future profession's work, replacing power line equipment. All while 35 feet in the air.

"It's certainly a very unique event for our region," said Doug Greenway, the director for Corporate Education at MTI.

The event, held in the school's Energy Training Center, is equivalent to what students will be doing when they graduate and find a profession in the field. For MTI student Landon Laible, he'll be doing it for real in just a few weeks.

He'll wrap up his power line technology courses on May 9 and will then start a 1,000-hour job with Central Electric Cooperative in Mitchell to gain more experience before looking for full-time work.

"We have great facilities and teachers," Laible said. "Once you come through the program, you know what you're doing."

The Howard native said the format of the rodeo -- which is something the students do once per year -- is more fun than anything else.

"I'm always a competitive guy, so getting to participate and go against some of my friends is just really cool," Laible said.

Laible, 19, said his brother took the program a few years ago and knew it was something he wanted to do since he was a junior in high school.

MTI had four teams of students and one alternate, totaling 17 students. But 73 students are in the school's power line program, so getting to compete in the rodeo is an accomplishment in itself.

"These are talented students for sure," Greenway said. "We feel fortunate to be able to put on something like this."

MTI students can complete the power line program in just nine months. For Judd Rosenboom, of Little Rock, Iowa, he will complete his two-year associate's degree this spring. He studied natural gas technologies last year before moving to the power line construction and maintenance program.

Competitors worked in four disciplines, including three physical tasks on Friday after a written exam was held Thursday night.

Most of the events involved the cross-arm, which is the piece of wood that sits near the top of pole and holds the power lines running between poles. The cross-arm changeout event involved a journeyman replacing the cross-arm and lowering it to ground level via a pulley, and then installing a new cross-arm being sent up by the apprentice on the ground. The obstacle climb includes two cross-arms at different heights and replacing equipment on each.

Another event involved framing up the cross-arm structure and its insulators while working on the ground. The insulators are the point where power lines run through the pole. All three are timed events, and were assessed against the competitors for not following proper procedures and safety requirements.

Rosenboom said he likes the cross-arm event the most, for no reason other than that he says it's the easiest. He was on MTI's top team, along with Jake Bialas and Derek Wolf, both of Parkston, and Jake Stromseth, of Watertown.

Ninety-nine linemen from nine schools, including teams from Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri and Nebraska, competed. The two teams of four students each from Alpena Community College in Alpena, Mich., traveled more than 1,000 miles to come to Mitchell and compete.

Friday's event also included bucket truck rides and a safety demonstration from local companies on being safe near power equipment.

Greenway said that while power companies attempt to use bucket trucks as much as possible, climbing the poles is still part of the job.

"We don't have the power lines hooked up today, but this is pretty close to the real thing," he said.