Multiple generations of the Steil family have fixed lines and restored power for Virginians.
DANVILLE-For the Steil family, restoring power is a family tradition. Bill Steil worked as a Virginia-based lineman for 27 years. Now his son is picking up the practice, just as Bill learned from his own father.
“My uncle was a lineman and that’s what sparked my first interest to be a lineman,” Bill said. “Both of my first cousins are linemen as well.”
Bill and his wife Carrie’s son, A.J. Steil, followed in his father’s footsteps. He started working as a lineman two years ago.
“I have always looked up to my dad and have always been proud of what he does,” A.J. said. “Growing up around him and other linemen that worked with him and for him was an awesome experience for me and that always inspired me to want to be like them one day.”
As A.J. got older, he drifted away from the idea of being a lineman. He didn’t want people thinking his father’s occupation was the only reason he went into the line of work.
“The thing that redirected me to pursue being a lineman was Hurricane Irma that devastated Puerto Rico and the east coast of the U.S. I’ve always had a heart to serve and help people through physical labor with or without pay, whether it be through missions trips, disaster relief or just helping people in my community,” A.J. said. “Seeing the devastation that that specific hurricane left for so many people flipped the switch for me and I knew becoming a lineman is my calling and is what I want to do.”
A.J. graduated from high school a year early. As soon as he turned 18, he started training to become a lineman.
“I’m the fifth lineman on my dad’s side of the family within three generations,” A.J. said.
A Special Calling
Being a lineman isn’t an easy job. And there are plenty of dangers in the profession. When her husband and son clock in, Carrie turns to her faith.
“There is a lot of praying for their safety and strength. Over the years, I’ve had to trust God to take care of them, and I also have to trust that they are taking every safety precaution they have been trained to take,” Carrie said. “Storms add so many other factors like sleep deprivation, lack of lodging at times and limited food supplies – all of which are out of my control. So, again, I do a lot of praying for those needs to be met.”
As a wife and mother of two linemen, Carrie had a unique perspective on a lineman’s calling.
“They sacrifice so much – time with family, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, et cetera – and they do it all so that others don’t have to go without power,” Carrie said. “On top of the stress and danger of their job under normal conditions, they are doing it in weather that most people won’t even stay out in for more than a few minutes. Also, their families and their own homes and the fact that they can’t be there to help take care of things are weighing on their minds.”
Advice from a Steil Lineman
While the family moved from Danville to Texas seven months ago, father and son once again found themselves in the midst of a winter storm on Thursday.
Their experience in Virginia winters came in handy for the unusual form of precipitation in the Lonestar State. It’ll also come in handy next summer, when the temperatures likely hit triple digits.
“Don’t skimp on personal gear when it comes to working outside. Whether it be in the dog days of summer or in sub-zero temps in a blizzard. Dress in layers no matter the temp – that way you can add or take off as your body temp and the outside temp fluctuates,” A.J. said. “Your feet and hands are some of your most important tools out here. Keep them dry and warm however you can with waterproof and warm boots and gloves, but not too hot because your sweat will start to freeze and make you even colder.”
A.J. also advised flexibility.
“Linework is always changing and you have to learn to roll with the changes and cope with certain situations that happen very quickly, so there are always going to be things that are different and that I don’t expect. I’ve always been taught that no matter how experienced you are or what level you are, if you don’t learn something new every day, you’re doing something wrong,” A.J. said. “I absolutely love what I do and couldn’t be happier with my career choice.”
Restoring the Power
Turning on the lights during an outage isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.
According to Bill, it takes safety, planning, knowledge, teamwork, trouble-shooting, long hours and physical and emotional fatigue.
“In the early years of my career there were a few 36 hour days during hurricane repairs,” Bill said. “We try to limit the days to 16 hours so the men can rest and stay focused.”
Even through linemen work as hard and as fast as they can, sometimes power takes days to restore as crews battle the elements to fix the lines.
“Restoration work is never easy, but especially in icy conditions it takes longer to get the power back on,” Hamilton Hall said.
To all of the linemen out working in the icy conditions, Carrie had a simple, heartfelt message: “Thank you.”
“Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your hard work. Be safe,” Carrie said. “Even if you think a line is dead and grounded, wear your [personal protective equipment] anyway.”
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org