Hanging upside down, hardhats stuck above their pointed, elvish ears, Jose Rodriguez and Colby Chapman were a surprise crowd favorite at the Christmas on Green Street parade Dec. 2.
The two Jackson Electric Membership Corp. linemen didn’t exactly fit the elvish type, with their heavy-duty gloves (rated up to 30,000 volts!) and sturdy harnesses securing them to the power poles perched atop the back of the utility truck.
Even so, they caught the crowd’s attention with a bit of gymnastics on Sunday: Along the parade route, Rodriguez and Chapman would kick their feet back, arch their backs and, upside down, wave hello to the people on Green Street.
“Everyone was just overwhelmed at the crowd. Of course, with the guys on the pole, every time they would flip over backwards the crowd would just go into a cheer for them,” said Kevin Cash, a foreman at Jackson EMC in Oakwood who came up with the idea for the float.
It might sound like hard work, but that move is how linemen take a breather when they’re on a long job. Their harnesses, called a bucksqueeze, are for safety — most linemen also wear spikes to help them climb power poles, Cash said.
Basically, they’re standing up straight when they’re up working on a pole. That gets old after a while, so to take some of the pressure off of their legs, they detach and let the bucksqueeze support them for a bit — throwing their legs forward and letting the back go parallel with the ground.
They could even wave hello to someone while they’re doing it.
“I wish I had counted how many times they did it. They were good sports about it,” Cash said.
Along with the acrobatics from Chapman and Rodriguez, the Jackson EMC float was novel for Gainesville.
The truck carried two fully dressed power poles, complete with transformers and lights, that were fixed to the truck using some engineering that ended up looking a lot like Christmas tree stands — sturdy stands, as the truck had to be driven as-is to Gainesville from Oakwood.
It’s the first float entry from Gainesville’s Jackson EMC operation in a few years, and about 25 people were involved in the project.
It took about three days to build the float, and relative to what the company’s linemen were doing this time last year it was a happy task indeed.
“Last year we were still dealing with Irma, so this wasn’t something we could even attempt,” said Cash, who is a foreman in Jackson EMC’s underground division.
The truck used in the float wasn’t just for fun, either: It was an authentic remake of the poles that power Gainesville.
“We wanted to demonstrate the example — that’s what a three-phase line looks like,” Cash said. “We built it and we replicated just what we would do any other day. That allowed us to put our two workers (up there).”
He noted that the Jackson EMC employees and families on the float were just as surprised by their reception as the crowd was by Rodriguez and Chapman. So much, in fact, that decommissioning the float is a bit of a sore subject.
“It’s kind of breaking our hearts — we’ll have to tear it down at some point this week to be able to use that trailer,” Cash said, “because now it’s looking like we could have some weather this weekend, so we’re getting ready for that.”
Elves don’t only help Santa make gifts, don’t you know — turns out they help him keep the lights on, too.