Last Saturday afternoon we were in the kitchen, trying to stay warm near to our gas oven, when we heard a loud crash and thump. Arlo's head shot up from the old sneaker he was destroying with a worried look.

Ice had been accumulating slowly all day, like layers of clear fingernail polish on trees, grass, cars, rooftops, lawn ornaments, etc. I ran and looked out the south window to where the commotion had come from.

The ice had bent the pine out by the alley until a large branch snapped, dropped onto another and both had fallen on the electric line between the transformer and our house.

The combined weight of the branches and the clear-coated and overburdened line had ripped the electric meter and riser from the house, taking with them a couple of boards of wood siding.

We were already without power on our block (we'd been hearing the crash of falling branches and mortar round thump of exploding transformers the past couple of hours) so nothing changed there, but now repairs by a carpenter and an electrician would be needed.


I did a little online research and found out that ice can increase the weight of branches by 30 times and 1/2" accumulation of ice on a power line can add 500 pounds of extra weight. As for transformers, apparently the insulators and fuses get compromised because of the ice and sagging wires, which causes them short out and explode.

Linda and I made the outage into something of a date. Thanks to our old Cadillac of a gas stove, we were able to bake a potato and fry steak tips, onions and mushrooms by flashlight for supper. We ate them by candlelight.

Afterward, I dug out the old GE transistor radio and we snuggled on the couch listening to blues, jazz, gospel, soul, old-time country, rockabilly, Cajun and zydeco on American Routes out of New Orleans.

At four o'clock Sunday morning we discovered, when the Christmas tree lit up, that, even though our line was down it was still connected at the pole … and we still had power.

The next morning, everything was encased — molded ands sculpted by ice. It was like walking around inside a glass ornament. But a treacherous glass ornament. The trees creaked under the weight of the ice and branches were still falling.

I've been to only one Jewish wedding in my life, but I recalled the temple in Chicago where it took place and the groom crushing a glass with his foot as I crunched across the grass Sunday morning.

The temperature got colder over the next couple of days so the ice palace remained. When the thaw started on Christmas Eve and continued Christmas day, first came dripping and then crashing crystals, as the trees, lines and rooftops thawed.

The day after Christmas, a Westar lineman came and disconnected our power so Sean Hall (B & R Electric) could coordinate with Steve Arthur (Steve's Carpentry) to get my siding repaired and reattach my meter and riser. When they'd finished, the lineman returned and reconnected us — which is why I'm able to tap this column out on my desktop computer.

At one point in excess of 4,000 of Westar's 23,000 Crawford County customers were without power. Every one returned to service within 30 hours.

Most of us don't think much about our electric power until it goes out. People talk a lot about how brave police officers or fire fighters are, and for good reason. But we tend to overlook the fact that linemen make their living at one of the most vital, dangerous and underappreciated trades out there.

They're working with electricity every day. And we aren't talking about a wall socket here. Depending on the line, they could be handling upwards of 14,000 volts.

Make no doubt about it, it takes a certain kind of person (and a certain kind of spouse and family) to live the lineman's life, where you may not be home for dinner and repeatedly gone nights and weekends — or even weeks at a time if working a disaster in some other state.

To be sure, these guys are cut from different cloth. They dedicate their lives to getting the customer back on line no matter what the difficulty. In fact, by most accounts, the bigger the challenge, the more focused and dedicated they become.

They're also known as a group slow to let newcomers in. And for good reason, one wrong move by them or a coworker and someone could get crushed by a pole or decked by a cross arm — or lit up by a hot wire.

They work grueling hours in the worst weather. Likely as not they will get arthritis in their joints, and muscle spasms and cramps in their hands from their tools and extreme weather conditions.

So next time your power goes out and you catch yourself bitching and moaning because it's been an hour or two (or even twelve or fourteen), think about the lineman who just got out of bed at some ungodly hour to risk his life for your electric conveniences.

And then whisper a little prayer that he makes it home safely to his wife and family once the power's back on.

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or