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Not only are there 23 outside utility poles to practice on, but four stand inside the center as well.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - PGE pre-apprentices test their climbing skill on a recent chilly morning at the companys newest training center in Sherwood.On a recent chilly morning in Sherwood, a group of 20 Portland General Electric pre-apprentices dug their spiked climbing gaffs into wooden utility poles, using them to help shimmy up toward the poles' 35-foot-tall tops.

What distinguished them is they were the first group of future linemen to train at PGE's new training center, which includes an expansive footprint for outside training as well as a 15,695-square-foot indoor facility on Southwest Langer Farms Parkway.

"Here at Sherwood, what we're doing is we're basically getting them accustomed to climbing the power poles, getting in shape to the point of when they get to the apprentice program, they're able to completely have the ability to climb and work at height," said Jim Phelps, PGE's apprenticeship program supervisor.

While climbing utility poles is incredibly stressful on a person's legs and hips, it's a daily routine that has been practiced by linemen all over the world ever since telegraph, and later utility poles, were first installed in the mid-19th century.

Before long, the linemen are engaging in a literal tug-of-war between two groups, a way for them to practice balancing on the poles.

"This is really a conditioning exercise," said Phelps as the two groups pulled on the rope, trying to maintain their balance more than 20 feet in the air.

"This is not for the faint of heart," Verlea Briggs, senior manager of PGE's apprenticeship program, noted during the exercise. "If you think about this type of work as a trade, it can be extremely rewarding. We look at them as kind of first responders … especially during storms."

While new subdivisions have their utilities buried underground, the linemen are practicing an old-school art form that's more than 100 years. Although much of the work today is done via bucket trucks, they are usually accompanied by at least one lineworker on a pole, said Phelps.

Instead of stringing live wires, the linemen at the Sherwood training facility were practicing by using thick ropes, stringing them from pole to pole. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - PGE pre-apprentices practice a game of tug-of-war at the new training center in Sherwood. The exercise is designed to increase the balance of future linemen.

"This is definitely a trade that we want to communicate to the community that is available to them," said Briggs.

Three years in the making, the new training center sits on land that has been used to serve linemen since PGE moved its training center from its former site at OMSI in the early 1990s.

"Our goal here is to keep their climbing skills up," said Randy Bryson, one of the journeymen trainers, who was quite literally showing his students the ropes. "We climb them pretty hard in the morning like this, and then in the late afternoon, we'll do a final climb at the end of the day."

It all builds confidence, he said, and as they become more confident, they will be asked to climb higher, Bryson said, pointing out several high-tension metallic poles across the street from the training center that soar up to 140 feet — and which linemen must often climb as well. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A utility bucket trucks parks inside the new PGE training center on Langer Farms Parkway in Sherwood.

Bryson, who has been with PGE for 40 years, said a big part of the satisfaction linemen get in their work is knowing they can get people's lights on. He called the pre-apprentices he's training right now (all of whom have spent the last three months training in courses that take 12 to 18 months to complete) "a good group of kids."

One of those is Michael Tolento, 28, who plans on becoming a PGE journeyman.

"As a pre-apprentice, my job really is to just soak in anything and everything that these guys are willing and ready to teach me," Michael said. "(I) get to do something new every day. Even when it's the same thing, it's always exciting and a new experience every day."PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A group of 20 PGE pre-apprentices climb utility poles during a recent morning at the new PGE training center in Sherwood.

Tolento said he had no previous utility work experience and that the training is "definitely learning how to walk, taking steps every day."

Those who continue training enter PGE's full apprenticeship program, which lasts about three and one-half years.

The new Sherwood facility has indoor classrooms for training as well. Also inside the center are four utility poles, ranging from 35 to 40 feet tall, all catering to a different set of skills linemen will need to know.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The new PGE training center in Sherwood opened in December on Langer Farms Parkway. This neon PGE sign inside the companys training center in Sherwood is believed to be the last of its kind in the Portland metro area.

But the actual training comes when pre-apprentices grab their tools and head for the outside poles.

On the other side of the property is what they call the "Ice House," a small metal structure once located at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry in Portland that was used as a training center and later moved to the Sherwood location.

"There was no way we could ever get rid of this," said Phelps. "This was part of history, of the history of the company. We've got (names) all the way back to 1953," said Phelps.

Those are the names of PGE linemen who have finished their training, many of them written on the walls of the building with others inside on a so-called "signature board."

Phelps said he is really pleased with the new facility turned out.

"I could not be happier with the increase in efficiency, our ability to go directly from classroom to outside and we call that blended learning," said Phelps. "We're hitting folks at all levels. It's really cool."PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Randy Bryson, one of the journeymen trainers, oversees pre-appretices during training exercises at the new PGE training center.

By the numbers

23 — Outdoor practice poles

4 — Practice poles inside center

5.6 — Acres of site property

54 — Height (in feet) of indoor training center peak

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The new PGE training center in Sherwood opened in December on Langer Farms Parkway.


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