Enemies of Vertical: Terrain P2 (S1:E2)

Enemies of Vertical: Terrain P2 (S1:E2)

New Atlas Devices BLOG Series: Enemies of Vertical (EOV)

Enemies of Vertical: Terrain Part 2 

Written By: Owen Clarke

The Energy company bucket truck was out of commission, sunk deep into the mud and muck of the Minnesota bog. A team battling to get it unstuck, in sub-zero conditions, was coming up without reward. The team was freezing, they were losing daylight, the whole tower job was in jeopardy.



As anyone who works at height knows, gravity isn’t the only adversary to contend with. There are dozens of villains standing in the way of safe and efficient high angle jobs, from terrain to permits to morale.

It's not just steep terrain that's an enemy of vertical (photo for illustration only, not actual truck from story)

It's not just steep terrain that's an enemy of vertical (photo for illustration only, not actual truck from story)

In our new blog series, “Enemies of Vertical,” we’re sharing how we’re tackling these obstacles for our customers one at a time. This week: Terrain



Atlas spoke with Tri-State Field Training Specialist Tyler Johnson, who was with another crew on site for this specific incident in Minnesota. Johnson has worked for nearly 20 years in the high-angle utility industry across the United States, both as a trainer and lineman. 

The situation in Minnesota: supports in a series of A-frame towers were catching on the wind and vibrating, so Tyler and the linemen needed to haul in 300 pounds of weight to hang off the tower supports, dead center both low and high, to stop the vibration. The crew attempted to bring in a tracked bucket truck, with 125 feet of boom, to navigate the swampy terrain, but the heavy equipment became stuck fast after the team used it to hang the weights on the first tower. “The tracks were around three feet tall, and the truck was probably four feet to the deck,” Johnson said. “That deck was flush with the ground.” Simply put, the bucket truck was screwed.

With the truck bogged down, there was no way to get to the other three towers. “Unless they would’ve matted everything and brought out cranes,” said Johnson, “there was no way around this mess. And just to bring in the matting, well… it would’ve been miles and miles of matting. It would’ve taken weeks,” he added, “if not months, to get it all done.” That’s not even mentioning the cost. Matting for a single job regularly costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The team fought to extricate the bucket truck from the mud until nearly 10:00pm, in temperatures below zero, with no success.

Luckily, a sole APA-5-U ascender and REBS launcher was on site, as well. The following day, Johnson and a few others hopped on UTVs and headed to the other towers with the Atlas gear, while the rest of the crew began bringing in mats, skid steers, and loaders to get the bucket truck out. 

It took eight men the entire second day just to get the truck out. 

They didn’t use the truck again on that job. “They used it for half a day, and then shot a day and a half just getting it out,” said Johnson. Meanwhile, he and a few others were knocking out the remaining towers, firing their lines over the arms with the REBS pneumatic launcher and hoisting men up in minutes using the sole powered ascender (APA-5-U) they had on site.

Using the APA-5-U’s remote control feature, the team sent one man up a tower, brought the ascender down remotely, and used the same ascender to hoist another man up another line moments later. Given the sub-zero temps, the ascender was invaluable in more ways than one. If the men had had to climb the towers manually, “they would’ve been sweating, and if you’re sweating, climbing up like that in the freezing cold, then you sit up there working and cool down, it’s dangerous,” said Johnson. With the APA-5-U, the men simply pushed a button to raise and lower, staying the same temperature the whole time.

In his work with Atlas in the past few years, Johnson has also seen a tremendous impact on morale when using Atlas gear. “Some linemen don’t wanna learn anything new, they get set in their ways,” he said. “But you get the Atlas out there and they get their finger on the trigger and they’re like, ‘Oh… I don’t have to climb?’ You get these guys who are not very physically active, in any shape or form, and they're wanting to do all the work, because they don't have to climb at all!” he said. “They're throwing ropes and they've got a good attitude and they're like ‘I’ll do this tower!’ and it’s like, ‘No shit man, you don't have to do anything when you’re using the Atlas!’” Johnson added, laughing.

As a long-time employee of Tri-State, one of the first utility companies in the industry to adopt rope access methods, Johnson is a rope access veteran. He’s also seen firsthand how utilizing roped access provides unique benefits for vertical jobs, Atlas gear notwithstanding. The freedom of being able to get to any point in space with rope, as opposed to the limitations of positioning a truck, is something that can’t be overstated. “There are simply so many less failure points with rope than there are with a truck,” he said. “These trucks have so many moving parts and lines. They’ve got 170, 180 feet of boom. We’re always having issues. With rope, you can see everything you’re doing. No ifs, ands, or buts.” In jobs like the above tower maintenance assignment in Minnesota, where terrain poses a significant obstacle, to bring in trucks or cranes you have to deal with landowners, get permits, and lay matting before you even begin. “Basically, in the time it takes you just to get the truck on site, using Atlas gear, the job is already done,” said Johnson. 

Repetitive use injuries (which we’ll talk about in another Enemies of Vertical) are another obstacle Johnson regularly sees in his field. He’s dealt with tendonitis himself for years. “Every time I get out there climbing, it comes back,” he said. “After a week climbing towers, my arms are so shot I can barely hold on to anything.” With the Atlas gear, however, linemen simply push a button to raise and lower themselves up their lines. It also eliminates the possibility of human error. You aren’t having to navigate around obstacles, clipping and unclipping, as you climb. “You land where you need to be, you're not winded, your arms aren't tired, and you can do what you’ve got to do, and then you're back down the tower,” said Johnson. He added that the APA-5-U is the only piece of gear he’s used which allows lineman to have as much energy on the last tower of the day as they do on the first tower.

If YOU are battling an Enemy of Vertical, we’d love to hear from you! Give us a call, and stay tuned for more entries in our “Enemies of Vertical” blog series.

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Photo Credit: Tom Rafferty

Source: Basin Electric Power Coop BLOG Verendrye Electric