Cody Young

Transmission Line Foreman | East Valley Region

Cody Young is not a man who’s not afraid to get high. Like really high—100 to 140 feet off the ground on a regular basis, climbing transmission towers throughout the eastern region for TVA Transmission.

But he doesn’t just climb them; he builds them. Young is a Transmission Line Foreman, “and that means that I direct a crew, and most of our work is constructing 161- and 500-kilovolt power lines—building new ones, or working on upgrading or updating existing assets.”

The bulk of his work, he says, is building new poles from substation to substation, bringing power, possibility and the potential for prosperity to new areas within the Tennessee Valley.

“We get on the job when the right of way is cleared and the locations of the structures are staked,” he says. Young and team move through and spot, set and frame out the poles; install the hardware; and then put up the rope and conductor. Repeat. 

Young and crew have access to trucks that hold about 17,000 feet of rope on them; the crews can pull up to 15,000 feet at a time. As to how they do that, it’s varied. “Sometimes we use the truck, sometimes we use a dozer, sometimes we use a helicopter and sometimes we have to hand walk it because you can’t get equipment into the terrain.”

There are many safety considerations. “You’re crossing roads, you’re crossing hotlines…there are all kinds of obstacles you have to cross, and you’re relying on tensioners to help control the line.”

In the end, he says, the work is not complicated, but demanding. “It’s just a lot of steps we have to take to keep ourselves safe and protect the public,” he says.

On the High Line 

You might be tempted to think of Young as one of the line crew you spot on the road on your way to work—a lineman from your local power company. In fact, that’s just what Young’s dad did for 44 years for the co-op that served Young’s hometown of Blairsville, Georgia: Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Cooperative.

But Young is more likely to be working on mountainsides or deep in the woods, moving heavy equipment into cleared rights of way and building and climbing soaring structures. “At TVA we do high line work, which is bigger, higher, heavier and harder,” he explains.

Young, who feels he was born to be a lineman, joined on with TVA as an apprentice in 2003, and never looked back. He’s seen the work evolve a lot since then—for the better.

“We have so much more and better equipment available today,” he says. “When I came in, the line crew had one crane with a bucket attachment and one bulldozer. Today we have we have a couple of cranes, a couple of bucket trucks and a couple of dozers—so much more equipment at our disposal.”

The equipment makes the job better for the crew, he says. “It’s just not as hard on their bodies, and it make us more productive. Technology is better now, too. All of this makes our work safer, too. This is just the way the industry has trended, and I’m grateful for it.” 

Trade Winds

Still, line work is difficult, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. “There is an art to it, too,” Young says. “It takes a lot of grit, there are long days and you’re always exposed to the elements. You have to be comfortable in the cold and the heat. It’s a very physically demanding job—one that’s not for the faint of heart.”

It’s also a trade, one that is valued and passed down in on-the-job training, just as it was for Young. “We’re all union out here,” he says. “You have to know your job and be able to pass it on to the young guys we hire. We are constantly training apprentices. There is one class per year, and the apprentices are distributed among the 12 crews we have around the Valley. Right now, we have two—a one step and a four step.” (The training is a four-year process.)

The apprentices are key part of Young’s eight-man crew. “We’re a tight-knit group, and we depend on each other,” he says. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we know how to put together a team for a task we’re doing on any given day. That’s key—everything we do, there’s teamwork involved.”

Potential hazards are rife for those in the business of line work—who can work 24/7 during storm season, and under hazardous conditions, too. “Safety is the top priority,” Young emphasizes. “The work we do is very dangerous work, we use heavy stuff, and you have to know that the guys all know the task at hand and we’re all on the same page.”

Life on the Road

Young still lives in his Georgia hometown, traveling from there throughout the eastern Valley, which spans from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Kentucky and over to Virginia and North Carolina. He enjoys family life with his wife of 12 years Jessica, an LPN, son Maddox, 11, and daughter Baylee, 18, who’s enrolled in college. He describes the family as outdoorsy, noting that they enjoy four-wheeling as well as fishing and kayaking on the Toccoa River.

And yes, he spends a lot of time on the road—but he likes that aspect of his job. “I love that my location changes every day—I’m not inside a fence, I’m not stuck looking out a window,” he says. “The elements can be harsh, but I love the freedom, and I get to work in a different environment every single day.” 

He also deeply appreciates the tangible quality of his work. “I like that at the end of the day you’re able to look back and see what you accomplished, and at the end of the week you can see if you met your goal.

“I drive down the road and see that there aren’t many lines I haven’t worked on. You remember all the good times—as hard as it is, it’s a lot of fun, too. We have a lot of camaraderie out here. It’s a rewarding position to be in.”

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