Terry “Hutch” Hutchison hangs up his lineman’s hooks after four decades
By Dianna Troyer
Asked to recall stories of his worst and most memorable after-hours calls to restore power, Terry “Hutch” Hutchison laughs. There are so many.
“I’m relieved to never be on call again,” says Hutch, 60, who retired in April after 43 years with Raft River Rural Electric Co-op Inc. His most recent position was Western Division line superintendent.
“I’ll miss our members and staff,” he says. “Living in Elba, though, I’m still around to visit with them.”
Hutch says Raft River’s members “are great. They’re understanding and appreciative of what linemen do. It’s been an honor to serve them this long, to make their lives easier and to keep the power flowing to their homes and businesses and irrigation pumps.”
Hutch says he began thinking about retirement about a year ago.
“It was getting harder to keep up with the younger guys and to work at the pace I did when I was younger,” he says. “Working as a lineman takes a toll on your body.”
General Manager Chad Black says Hutch had a knack for finding the source of an outage.
“He’s one of the best at locating and fixing problems on a line where power is disrupted,” Chad says. “His knowledge of the system didn’t happen overnight. All of his years of experience are irreplaceable. The co-op applauds him for these countless years of dedicated service. He has definitely left his mark.”
Trudy Tracy, a member services representative and longtime colleague, says Hutch will be missed.
“He’s been a great employee and dedicated to his work and our members,” she says. “He’s a positive person and always brightened our day, no matter what was going on.”
Hutch and other linemen routinely confronted unpredictable storms, floods and fires that caused outages. They worked to restore power at all hours and holidays.
“Those salt storms were awful,” he says.
At times, thunderstorms picked up fine particles of salt and dirt from the shores of the Great Salt Lake and mixed it with rain, creating a whitish-gray slime. Blown northward into the co-op’s service area, it coated insulators and equipment at substations, resulting in malfunctions and outages.
“We had to borrow fire trucks to wash the insulators, lines and other equipment,” Hutch says.
Frigid storms and high winds south of Malta in the Strevell area often coated the lines in ice, weighing them down.
“We’d work for days breaking it off with long poles,” he says.
In 2017, a freak February flood damaged lines in northern Utah. Summer and fall wildfires have destroyed lines, too, requiring him and other linemen to work overtime to restore power.
Two summers ago, Hutch oversaw reconstruction of 3 miles of line damaged during extensive wildfires in southern Idaho and northern Nevada in the co-op’s Western Division.
“We had several crews working day and night to rebuild the line,” he says.
Hutch says the co-op has always been proactive before fire season.
“We spray weeds in the easements to keep fire fuels low,” he says.
Unforgettable First Day
Hutch still remembers the excitement of his first day at a new job and his hourly wage.
“It was the sixth day of November 1978,” he says. “I earned $3.89. I thought I had the world by the tail.”
Hutch had been working at a nearby dairy, artificially inseminating cows, when he heard about an opening for a ground man at the co-op.
“It sounded like a good career opportunity with advancement and a future,” he says. “I worked my way up with on-the-job training.”
Eventually, he became an equipment operator, an apprentice lineman, journeyman lineman, foreman and line superintendent.
About 4½ years ago, Hutch became Western Division line superintendent.
“It was a good opportunity to end my career in management,” Hutch says.
He supervised linemen Jeramy Logue and Billy Fullmer. He also oversaw construction of a new shop and warehouse with living quarters in Riddle 14 miles north of the borders of Nevada and the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.
Hutch says the biggest changes he has seen throughout his career are advances in technology. Things have especially changed in the last 10 years, including developments such as remotely read meters.
“You can see from a computer in the office what’s going on throughout the system,” he says. “A lot of information can be accessed on smartphones, too.”
Another change is how lines are accessed.
“When I started, all the work was done off hooks and by climbing poles,” Hutch says. “Eventually, we switched to using bucket trucks. It’s a lot easier physically.”
With his newfound retirement time, Hutch says he plans to work at the Burley Livestock Auction one day a week.
“I grew up working around cattle, and the auction owners needed some help,” he says. “I’m not the type to sit around.”
He and his wife, Dawnette, plan to travel and visit children and grandchildren.
“We’re talking about seeing the fall foliage of Pennsylvania and New England,” he says. “We’ve always wanted to do that.”
Austin Udy filled Hutch’s position.
“Hutch was the kind of boss who would work right alongside a crew,” Austin says.
“His opinion was respected, so when he commented about something, people listened. He’s a people person and really likable. He left big shoes to fill.”
Hutch says whomever the line superintendents are throughout the co-op, “our crews are always working on part of the maintenance plan, leaving our system better than when we found it.”