Winter hydro line maintenance

As with all of Ontario Hydro’s lines running through the wilderness of Northwestern Ontario, right-of-way maintenance was a major concern. Deadfalls, hangovers, washouts and other problems had to be discovered and repaired. Discovery was done by the line patrol observer. Repair was accomplished by the ground crews.

Most of the rights-of-way were easily accessible by vehicles of one sort or another, especially in winter. The line running east of Marathon was a special case, located as it was overtop some of the most inhospitable, remote and inaccessible terrain on the north shore of Lake Superior. Vehicles wouldn’t work well there, if at all.

Working out of Marathon, the crew would spend the day searching for trees and other hazards that could damage the line. Overhanging trees would be cut down. I flew the crew out to various locations along the line where they would walk it to a pre-arranged pickup point. That wasn’t a big deal, until they started doing it in the winter while wearing show shoes.

Time spent doing something that can be done by air is a complete and utter waste of time. In this case, almost the entire project could have been done by using the helicopter to walk the line. After the first week was over, I sat down with the crew and their foreman and detailed how we could safely accomplish the same thing by actually flying under the line for most of its length.

By using the crew as observers while I flew and hovered under the line searching for problems, I explained that we could land, shut down and have the crew cutting down the trees while I remained on-site. When they were finished, we could continue on to the next location that needed work.

I explained

  • the cost savings on meals and hotels;
  • crew availability for other work (as it existed this was currently a three-week or longer job);
  • the fact that the crew could be home to their families much sooner than if they spent the time actually walking the line on foot;
  • there were still some areas that would need foot patrols, but that could be incorporated into the flying line-walk on an as-needed basis.

When the crew returned on Monday, it was obvious that they had been told to go ahead and and evaluate whether it could be done safely. The foreman and one lineman climbed aboard and I flew them out to let them see for themselves. Convinced that it could be done, I returned and picked up the remainder of the crew with their saws, axes and lunches, and away we went. We were finished in a week.

Eventually, the line walking was completed in the fall of the year, before the snow arrived. It went even faster then. And so it went, from then on, until I left in 1981.

The line crews that worked the north shore were a great bunch of guys to work with. They were professional, safe, easy to get along with and the enjoyed a good joke too. I wonder where they all are now.

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