Blinding blizzards and blistering fires were all in a day’s work for Heath Higley and Carl Boden
By Dianna Troyer
Dispatched to worksites and power outages, Heath Higley and Carl Boden learned to expect the unexpected when they worked for Raft River Rural Electric Cooperative Inc..
“Things happened no one could have predicted,” says Heath, 52, who retired in January as operations manager after 32 years of work.
Carl, 55, retired in late February as line superintendent after serving for 35 years.
When they started their careers as linemen, along with tools, they packed food and water wherever they went. Sometimes, blinding blizzards or blistering wildfires stranded them in the vast service area of Idaho, Utah and Nevada.
The two helped maintain the co-op’s system of more than 2,340 miles of line that provides electricity to more than 5,100 residential, commercial and irrigation services.
“We lost track of how many times we slept in our trucks overnight waiting for weather to clear,” Heath says. “There are so many memories. It was a great place to work, and I learned any problem can be solved.
“Sometimes, when we arrived at an outage, it seemed overwhelming to restore power. How could we do this with the weather and extent of damage? We always figured out a way to get the electricity back on. During some outages, we were snowmobiling in a blizzard at night.”
One of their most memorable outages occurred after a wildfire. Heath and Carl had to inspect a 28-mile line between Jarbidge and Mountain City. Due to the rugged terrain, they observed the damage from a helicopter.
“The pilot took off the doors and strapped two gas cans to the back of the seats,” Carl says. “We looked at each other and wondered what we were getting into. At first, it wasn’t so bad, then pole after pole was burned.
“Replacing that line was one our hardest jobs. It was such rugged country. We had to haul new poles in with an excavator in some places. But we had great guys on our crews—farm boys who knew how to work and get a job done.”
Undamaged poles were old and rickety.
“They were sketchy to climb,” Carl says. The line eventually was replaced with one that provided access from a road.
Heath recalls when he and other linemen were 15 miles north of the office in Malta—an area notorious for high winds and winter whiteouts.
“We couldn’t see anything and had to spend the night in our trucks,” Heath says. “We were so close to home, but couldn’t get back.”
Another time, Heath and others were dispatched to repair an underground line that led from the Pomerelle Ski Area to the U.S. Forest Service fire tower on Mount Harrison. Suddenly, a blizzard struck.
“We couldn’t see to get down the mountain safely,” Heath says.
They knew the fire tower was nearby, but was boarded up for the winter.
“We were in radio contact with the office, and they contacted the Forest Service, so we could get permission to stay there overnight,” Heath says. “We took a board off a window to get inside. Fortunately, of the three power lines servicing that area, one still had power, so we had heat that night.”
Another time, Heath and Chad Black, who is now manager, made a routine check on the western division.
“We planned to stay just one night, but a wildfire started,” Heath says. “We ended up being there a week, helping to rebuild the line.”
Heath Progresses Through the Ranks
At age 20, Heath was hired to work part time in the warehouse. That was May 1990.
“The person managing the warehouse had back surgery and couldn’t lift things, so I helped him out,” Heath says.
Eight months later, the co-op had an opening for an apprentice lineman.
“It was the job I always wanted and a great opportunity,” Heath says. “I felt so fortunate to get into the lineman program and become a journeyman. I grew up in Malta and knew the guys on the line crew and loved working outside.”
He eventually became a line crew foreman.
“Every day was challenging and different and interesting,” he says.
As employees retired, Heath moved his way up, becoming operations superintendent. “I met members and bid jobs,” he says.
His final promotion was operations manager. “I oversaw the warehouse and mechanics—the whole operation out back,” he says.
Heath says he decided to retire because his son needs help managing the family farm. They raise alfalfa hay, silage corn and silage wheat, and do trucking. He also wants to spend more time with his grandkids.
“I’ve had two hip surgeries and have a compressed disc in my back,” he says, “but I’m still active and enjoy doing things with them. I’m truly thankful for all my experiences at the co-op.”
Carl Gets Early Start on a Career
Carl’s first job with the co-op was the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. He helped build a transmission line from Raft River to Heglar Substation.
“I liked the work and waited for a full-time job opening,” he says.
In 1987, he started as a groundman on a line crew, waiting for an opening to become an apprentice lineman.
“I moved up as people retired,” Carl says.
As line superintendent, he managed the line crews and oversaw conservation work to keep rights-of-way clear of vegetation.
One of the most memorable outages Carl recalls is the salt storms in Curlew Valley and Bridge that coated lines. He and others replaced countless insulators and poles.
“What I’ll remember most is the support from our members,” Carl says. “One Christmas, we had to restore power in Sublett, and a family insisted we eat dinner with them. In winter, if we got stuck, farmers pulled us out.”
Another time at Lake Channel, a member drove linemen in his boat on the Snake River so repairs could be made.
Carl—who lives near Elba—says he decided to retire after having shoulder surgery in February.
“I thought it was time after 35 years,” he says. “Plus, I have plenty of work at home, taking care of my cattle.”