The Lynchburg Office

It’s a little town with a big image. To be one of Tennessee’s smallest towns, Lynchburg, is home to one of the oldest and largest whiskey manufacturers, the Jack Daniel Distillery. It’s also home to one of the largest manmade lakes in the state, Tims Ford Lake, which not only provides recreational fishing and water sports but is also used by TVA for flood control and power generation.

Lynchburg has one traffic light, one grocery store, one electric substation, and one Duck River Electric team that works to provide power and customer service to just under 4,000 residential and business members in the Metro Lynchburg-Moore County area.

The DREMC Lynchburg district team includes Area Manager Eugene Cartwright says that working in the Lynchburg district office truly feels like he’s working with family. “We are small in number at our office, and we work hard to care for those we serve. And the employees here care for and help each other. When one employee’s vehicle is in the shop, another employee will pick him up and bring him to work.”

Cartwright began working at DREMC in 1990 as a draftsman in the engineering department at the Shelbyville headquarters location. From 1998 until 2006, he worked as a lineman before becoming Lynchburg’s area manager.

“I always believed that Duck River would be a great place to work, and I knew several people who worked here. Thirty-one years later, I know without a doubt that this is a great place to work.”

As a draftsman, Cartwright remembers the early days of designing electrical construction by hand using a pencil and paper before the process was converted to computer drafting. He was with DREMC when the introduction of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition technology that assists with outage management), air conditioning in fleet pickups, and other more modern tools and equipment were introduced to the cooperative to improve safety and streamline procedures.

As area manager, Cartwright supervises a team that includes one member service representative (MSR), four linemen, and a collector service aide – all working together on daily duties and planning for the growth that continues in the area.

Greg McGee, a lineman, has been with DREMC since Jan. 1989 and shares that his father worked for Bellsouth Telephone for many years, which was what interested him in becoming a DREMC lineman. He also shares that his son is now a lineman for a nearby municipal power system, which makes a three-generation legacy of utility careers in his family.

“I still have a square-nut wrench that my dad used at BellSouth, and I plan to pass it down to my son someday,” McGee says. “Working in the utility business is a rewarding career, especially when we restore power following a storm,” he adds. The Lynchburg linemen have an apparent camaraderie. It’s as if they are true brothers. But when on the job site and during storm recovery, their time together is focused and serious as they understand the dangers of the work they do.

Wade Crick, lineman, began working in the Shelbyville warehouse at DREMC in 1989. He became an apprentice groundman in Nov. 1990 and soon began his career as a Shelbyville district lineman. He spent 29 years as a lineman in Shelbyville before transferring to the Lynchburg district three years ago.

In the earlier days, tenured employees like Cartwright, McGee and Crick remember working from bucket trucks without a harness or safety belt, constructing new services based on hand-drawn, printed engineering sheets and wearing t-shirts with cutoff sleeves to stay cooler in summer months – practices that are much improved and safer by today’s standards.

“I purchased my first lineman belt, tools and hooks at a pawn shop,” recalls Crick. “Things were different 30 years ago. I remember when we received the first FR clothing (fire-resistant clothing worn to protect electrical workers from arc flashes, flames and thermal injury). Our crew was working in Shelbyville along Highway 231, and when we operated the last electrical switch on the line there was an equipment failure. I heard a loud boom and felt the heat from a fireball that flew from the nearby equipment! We were fine, and fortunately, the FR clothing helped protect us from injury. Things like this do happen.”

The seasoned linemen agree that safety improvements with the equipment they use and the processes they follow every day have made positive changes for their jobs, and they also agree on how thankful they are for those safety improvements.

Adam Stubblefield began his lineman career as an electrical contractor, and before coming to DREMC, he worked at a neighboring electric utility. “My brother was a lineman for a contractor, and I began working in his crew in 2004,” Stubblefield said. “My first foreman was Brian Seals, who is now Duck River’s Chapel Hill area manager. I used to enjoy traveling while working as a contractor. I was young and had a good income. But now it is rewarding to do the work I love in the same small community where I live. Under normal conditions, I’m home every night with my family. Being a lineman is hard work, and it’s hard on your family.

Linework is dangerous work, and it’s not for everyone. Over the years, when the lights go out, linemen sometimes miss holidays with family, birthday celebrations, and a child’s play or ballgame. Even so, I love my job, and I love the community I work in.”

It is not uncommon for a lineman to work 120 hours over a two-week period when storms cause outages. Crick says that DREMC members in Lynchburg understand that it takes time to replace poles and rebuild damaged power lines.

“Our team may be small here,” said Cartwright, “but when there’s an outage, this team goes to work quickly. Many times, they call me to help before I can call them into the office.”

“Linemen work outdoors, and over the years, we realize how hard the weather can be on us,” said Crick. “Winter months are hard, especially in the snow and ice,” he adds, “but working outdoors all day when it’s 90 degrees and humid can also be physically brutal.”

Randall Perkins is a native of Lincoln County and worked with an electrical contractor before joining the Lynchburg DREMC team four years ago. “My family and I love this area,” he said. “And the efficiency that the Lynchburg team restores power with just four crew members is amazing. When the power is out, we want the lights back on just as quickly as the members do.”

During outages and emergency situations, Cartwright and the Lynchburg team share that the terrain is their biggest hurdle in restoring power. Due to the rural remoteness of some locations, getting in and out of a secluded area to change a pole may take all day as compared to the typical one hour for such a task. According to Cartwright, the Lynchburg district was the first at DREMC to add a 4×4 line truck to its fleet to assist with accessing those hard-to-get-to locations.

“We have a good relationship with local officials, especially when we work together during emergency situations,” said Cartwright. “When trees are down on power lines, the sheriff’s deputy stays with our crew to help keep everyone safe until the roads are cleared. When we need assistance from the highway department, traffic control or the local emergency management agency, they are a phone call away and always quick to respond.”

“At times, a local farmer has helped pull our trucks out of the mud with his tractor when we are working on storm recovery,” adds Cartwright. “One has even told us where the tractor key is in case we need to use his tractor again. That’s how helpful the members are in this small community.”

Carol McGee began reading meters in 1998 for Duck River while employed by an electrical contractor. A year later, she was reading meters, assisting with collections, providing courtesy re-reads for members with higher-than-expected energy use and billing accounts as part of the DREMC team in Lynchburg, Lewisburg, and Chapel Hill districts.

“As a meter reader, I have literally pulled into every driveway here and feel like I know most members personally,” shares McGee, and then she laughs, “and I also know their dogs! A few of those dogs weren’t always happy to see me. With the advanced meters installed, I do miss going to every location each month to read meters and seeing our members every day.”

McGee adds, “I wasn’t raised in Lynchburg, but I feel like this community is my home.”

McGee says that DREMC’s advanced meters have made positive changes in how members receive service from the cooperative and how members manage their energy use. Whether a member uses a smartphone or a flip phone, they can receive a daily text message informing them of the energy used and the cost. No mobile app is needed to receive the daily energy use text message.

As an MSR, Paige Gunn greets new and existing DREMC members and visitors in the office and assists them with applying for service or permits, making payments and taking advantage of the programs and services the cooperative offers.

“People love the DREMC mobile app!” says Gunn. When assisting new members applying for electric service, she is quick to tell them about the app and how the technology keeps them connected to their accounts with alerts and reminders for due dates and payment confirmations. The daily energy use data, which can be used to better manage monthly electric bills, is an additional tool members use.

Gunn juggles an assortment of responsibilities in the office as the only MSR in Lynchburg. “It’s the atmosphere here that I like best,” she says. “In a small community like Lynchburg, not only do we regularly see members at the drive-through or in the lobby, but we also see their dogs that ride to town with them. Many times, the dogs jump to the front seat and seem excited to be at DREMC. I think it’s because they know we will offer dog treats when they visit us.”

Aside from the fact that Lynchburg is a small community with a big image, it’s also a community where hometown friendliness is the culture. At the DREMC Lynchburg District office, that’s what members receive. Members aren’t treated simply as customers of Duck River Electric; they’re treated as friends, family, and neighbors by all who work there.

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