Lineman’s Vision Becomes Reality

Posted: March 2, 2023 at 1:18 pm

Prime Line Academy’s apprentices are ready for real-world worksites

Terry “Hutch” Hutchison, who retired from Raft River Electric as a journeyman lineman, teaches Matt Case about changing an electric pole.
Terry Hutch” Hutchison, who retired from Raft River Electric as a journeyman lineman, teaches Matt Case about changing an electric pole.

Story and photos by Dianna Troyer

Frustrated that graduates of lineworker programs still lacked necessary job skills, Wylee Douglas envisioned starting his own school—one that employers could count on.

“At job sites, I’ve seen employers screen about 100 apprentices, and only about 15 could perform basic tasks,” says Wylee, 38, a journeyman lineman who lives in Albion. He worked as a contractor for nearly two decades, traveling the nation from New York to Hawaii.

“Many apprentices couldn’t do a cross arm change-out, frame a pole, operate a hoist or identify tools,” he says. “It’s not their fault they weren’t taught what they needed to know.”

Wylee learned basic skills at the Mountain States Apprenticeship program through Mountain States Line Constructors in West Jordan, Utah. After graduating, he worked for contractors, building powerlines nationwide. He eventually became a journeyman lineman and foreman of a line crew.

In 2014, he and his wife, Kylee, moved from Hawaii to southeastern Idaho to be closer to her family in Yost and Malta and his family in Howell Valley near Snowville.

While working as a contractor throughout the Salt Lake City area, Wylee couldn’t stop thinking about opening a school.

Two years ago, he and Kylee began transforming his idea into reality.

In March 2022, they opened Prime Line Academy in Heyburn. Their 12-week programs begin in March, June, September and December. Class size is limited to 25, which enables students to have personalized instruction.

“We’ve had 56 graduates and are booked out until next fall,” says Kylee, who works as the office manager. “Employers are starting to call us, saying our apprentices are awesome and asking when we’ll have more graduates.”

Most students say Prime Line stood out to them in their search for apprenticeship programs because instructors have worked as linemen for decades and can provide practical training.

Along with Wylee, retired journeyman lineman Terry “Hutch” Hutchison teaches students. In 2021, Hutch, now 61, retired from his 43-year career with Raft River Rural Electric, ending his tenure as the co-op’s Western Division line superintendent.

“I love teaching these young guys a trade in an industry I love,” Hutch says. “I want to teach them all they need to know so they can have a lifelong career as a lineman. It was my life for four decades.”

Students’ Varied Backgrounds
“Wylee and Hutch are top of the line,” says student Kaeden Oliver, 23, from Filer. “They want us to succeed and are teaching us everything they know. They remind us that we need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses—not necessarily physical but mental, too. You wouldn’t send two guys up a pole if they’re both uncomfortable with that task even though they can do it.”

Matt Case, 34, a former Marine and barber from Coeur d’Alene, says he chose a lineman career “because I’m an adventure-seeker. I like the small class size and that it is practical and hands-on.

Taylor Clift, 25, from Everett, Washington, is a former Marine and pipe layer.

“I’d eventually like to be an aerial lineman,” Taylor says. “This is a career that will eventually help me get back to Virginia where I was born.”

Kyle Williams, 38, a journeyman electrician from Twin Falls, says he overcame his discomfort with heights and climbing poles.

“It’s like Wylee says—even if climbing a pole is outside your comfort zone, you just have to keep doing it, and eventually you get comfortable with it. You just tell yourself to get up and do it.”

Launching the Academy
Wylee says he and Kylee took their own advice—just do it—when they started the academy.

“It’s amazing how everything fell into place at the right time,” Wylee says. “It took us two years.”

Needing legal advice, they searched for a law firm on the internet and chose one in Twin Falls. They were referred to an attorney in the firm whose father was a journeyman lineman in Havre, Montana.

“She knew the business from having grown up with it,” Wylee says. “She understood what we needed, and in about two months, we had approval for our syllabus from the state board of education.”

Dawnette Hutchison, job placement adviser, searches program openings with Kaeden Oliver.
Dawnette Hutchison, job placement adviser, searches program openings with Kaeden Oliver.

They hired a website builder and bought supplies and equipment they needed from a line contractor in Twin Falls selling his business due to health issues.

A friend, Myron Wilson, offered his property in Heyburn for the academy’s location.

“He had a new building where he planned to open a paint and cabinet store but decided to retire instead,” Wylee says. “Behind the building, there’s plenty of land to set poles and park our work vehicles and heavy equipment.”

As Wylee looked for a knowledgeable lineman who could teach, he turned to his longtime friend, Hutch.

Before students graduate, Hutch’s wife, Dawnette, the academy’s job placement adviser, helps them find jobs where they want to live.

“Most love the Intermountain West, so we do our best to help them stay in the region,” she says.

Wylee says it’s gratifying to see students gain skills and self-confidence.

“After 12 weeks, they know they’ll be an asset at a worksite,” he says. “We teach an intense program, but at the same time, we make students’ experiences in and out of the classroom enjoyable. By the time they graduate, most of them have jobs.

“It’s good to know we’re on the right track.”