Linemen have a special bond that is often described as a tight-knit brotherhood, but for these three special men, it’s all in the family.
John Hall and his wife came west to California from Indiana, starting a new life in a state that was booming with industry after World War II. While their lives in the Golden State began in Ontario, they eventually settled in the small town of Blythe near the California-Arizona border.
John plied his trade at Southern California Edison (SCE) as a journeyman lineman starting in 1953. When his oldest daughter, Jane, married Mike Watson out of high school, Mike was introduced to the company through his father-in-law and started working as a meter reader for SCE in 1966.
“My father-in-law was — he was god — he was a lineman in charge of half the union,” said Mike. “He said ‘you gotta be a lineman, kid.’ So I said ‘ok’ and that was that.”
When Mike eventually became a lineman himself, John, who retired from SCE in 1985, had only one piece of advice for his son-in-law.
“Don’t lie, work hard and read the books. But don’t lie,” Mike recalled John telling him repeatedly.
Valuable advice for any up-and-coming apprentice lineman. But for the Watson family, it’s a mantra that’s trickled down to John’s grandson and Mike’s son, Chad. Even after John’s passing in 2007, the words still ring true.
For young Chad, he’s heard it all his life — at family gatherings or while working with his father in the yard. The lineman apprenticeship started long before he was old enough to ride a bike.
Most kids grow up wanting to be a firefighter, an astronaut or the president of the United States. Not Chad.
“All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was to be a journeyman lineman for SCE,” said Chad, who started at SCE in 1989 as a meter reader.
“Chad was his grandfather’s favorite kid,” said Mike. “When we would get together, all they’d ever talk about was Edison. When he got around his grandfather, it was all Edison — just whatever was going on at work. What blew up, what did this, what did that.”
But things weren’t so easy when Mike and Chad started out at the company, mostly because making their way as new linemen meant living up to the expectations set by the previous generation that first paved the way.
For Mike, the trail was blazed by John. For Chad, who became a lineman in 1992, the road was paved smoother by Mike. To keep each subsequent generation on the straight and narrow there were often straight forward and candid discussions.
“John just knew how hot-headed I could get sometimes and said to me, ‘don’t go (into work) stupid,” said Mike. “He told me to work things out with people and I’ll get along and settle things much better.”
It served Mike well and allowed him to rise through the SCE management ranks, eventually retiring in 1996 as a senior manager.
For Chad, being a part of this linemen family legacy meant proving he belonged. Now a seasoned 24-year veteran of the company, most of them as a troubleman at the Monrovia service center, his initial battle was to demonstrate to his peers that he could earn his way.
“It just made me work harder and be better so guys didn’t give me a hard time about it,” said Chad. “It can be a lot harder if you are part of a legacy, but if you’re good at what you do and you work real hard at what you’re doing, you’re golden. People are going to respect you.”
The job of a journeyman lineman is not easy. The risk and danger is similar to firefighters, underwater welders and longshoremen.
“The harder the job used to be, and standing on a pole all day or all night, that was what I wanted to do when I was younger, for sure,” said Chad. “We didn’t violate any safety policies, but if there was a 100-foot pole and we’re going to do something on top of it, I’m going to be the one to do it. And now, I’ve become the older guy for the most part and I’m on all these safety committees and I try to make sure everybody’s safe.”
“The job was tough, but it was a good place to work and the company took care of you,” said Mike. “You can honestly say that with three different generations, no one in the family every bad mouthed how SCE treated you.”