Wally climbs a utility pole; no injuries reported

News-DemocratOctober 4, 2013 

Ameren Illinois just opened the Ameren Illinois Metro East Training Center in Belleville. Friday they held the grand opening and tour, giving guests the opportunity to climb a pole. Belleville News-Democrat reporter Wally Spiers took them up on the offer.

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The view from 72 feet up in an Ameren Illinois bucket truck at the Ameren Illinois Metro East Training Center is spectacular.

The same view from six feet up a utility pole at the same center isn't that inspiring, but it is a lot harder to achieve.

I rode a bucket up Friday as Ameren Illinois showed off its new training center. It is on the site of the former Fisher Lumber Co. on Illinois 15, next to Tractor Supply.

It was a gentle and relatively smooth ride up and down. Of course the weather was nice. No problem.

The lumberyard was ready-made for the center. There are plenty of large buildings to store and train on equipment, to hold classes and even an indoor climbing center where they can train linemen during bad weather. Instructors have a platform where they can be eye-to-eye with the apprentices while they are on poles.

Outside, there is a small forest of 24 poles for more training. Some go about 40 feet high. Instructors can hang different equipment on any pole to simulate almost any task a lineman might have to do.

I strapped on about 60 pounds worth of equipment, a hard hat and a safety harness for my climb.

It looks a lot easier than it is. Stepping up on the poles, sticking your spike into the pole and then locking your knees to gain purchase is hard.

It sounds simple, but balance is involved, and quite a few of the muscles in your legs quickly begin to ache. The instructors were much more worried about me stepping on my own foot with a spike than they were about me falling. Quite a bit of a problem.

After you have practiced for a few weeks it is easy, said Travis Ankrom, an apprentice lineman from Highland who was helping me.

He scampered to the top of the pole and back down with ease.

I struggled to about 6 feet. But to be fair, I was restrained.

"Don't let him go any higher than your heads," said Marv Morey, training director to the guys helping me.

"We don't want to have to climb up and get you down," he explained to me.

No problem.

Ameren Illinois established the center as part of its infrastructure modernization plan. President and CEO Richard Mark said the center is the kickoff to the future as their systems are modernized.

"The technology is changing so fast that we have to really adapt to keep up," he said. "There are new state-of-the-art switches, capacitors and transformers coming on line. We can bring that new equipment here and train our new and existing workers."

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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