In nearly 35 years as a lineman, Bruce Hamel has seen, and done, just about everything in his OPPD career.
He has spent five nights sleeping in his truck while stranded west of the Platte River helping restore power to Fremont, Valley and North Bend during the flooding of 2019. He’s worked mutual aid in Minneapolis after a summer storm. And then there’s the normal day-to-day workings of being a line tech.
In May, Hamel will retire from OPPD. Between repairing a three phase transformer and heading off to 127th and Leavenworth Streets on an extremely windy April day, Hamel opened up about his time working for the utility.
“I’m sure that last day there will be some tears,” he said. “I know it will be sad. But I honestly think I picked the best possible career for me. I wasn’t made for four-year college. This has been very gratifying. I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”
Hamel almost chose a different route. He remembered sitting at his kitchen table in Dodge, Nebraska, with a U.S. Marine recruiter trying to convince his dad to sign the paperwork to let the then-17-year-old go off to basic training. His father wouldn’t budge and a different career path opened up, one that Hamel said he always knew was a possibility.
Hamel’s dad was an NPPD lineman for 37 years and Hamel followed in his dad’s footsteps, attending Northeast Community College in Norfolk for line school. After line school, Hamel was hired by Pike Electric Corporation in Georgia where he worked for a year before coming to OPPD.
Since then he has worked all over the utility, from his first assignment at the Tecumseh Service Center to a stint in every service center around the utility’s service territory.
Hamel is one of about 200 employees working as lineworkers or in related roles. And there are a number of former line workers around OPPD who now work as managers, supervisors or in other roles. April 11 is Nebraska Lineworker Appreciation Day and April 18 is National Lineworker Appreciation Day.
Lineworkers are part of a tight and proud group of workers who do one of the most dangerous jobs out there. And they do it under the most extreme conditions – blazing heat, pouring rain and frigid winter storms.
Hamel is proud to be part of that lineage, and while acknowledging a possible bias, said OPPD “has some of the best linemen in the country, I’d put them up against anyone.”
It’s no secret that lineworkers often have to work in some of the most extreme situations, especially when there are outages caused by storms. Yet those are some of Hamel’s best memories on the job.
“It’s the storms you remember, that and telling war stories with each other at the end of the day,” he said.
Did any one storm stick out?
“The storm of 1997,” he said. “That was a long one.”
There is photo of Hamel that hangs in the hallway entrance leading to the skywalk that connects OPPD’s Energy Plaza to the Orpheum that shows Hamel nearly hip-dip in snow working in that storm.
“Ice storms are the worst,” Hamel said. “Knocking ice off of lines is just miserable.”
In March, Hamel arranged a photo shoot to commemorate his time with his co-workers, some of whom he calls his best friends. He wanted a keepsake, another memory. Some retired linemen he worked with over the years also showed up for the photo shoot.
It’s not surprising that so many would show up for Hamel, said several OPPD officials.
Hamel just wanted something he could hang on the wall and remember those friends and his career. While he wished he could have served his country, he is proud of having served his community.
“I don’t know if it is a regret, but OPPD has come first for a lot of years,” he said. “I’ve missed a lot of stuff with my family, whenever the phone rang I answered and went in to work. That’s how I was raised, I saw my dad do that too. But it has allowed my kids to do a lot of camping and boating and family vacations.
“But a bigger sacrifice is the one our wives and families make, we put a lot on them and they don’t get the credit they deserve.”
One of the things he’s most proud of? Hamel doesn’t hesitate to answer: “No one I worked with or who worked on my crew ever got hurt. We may have banged up a few trucks and had some ankle sprains, and that’s a pretty good feeling.”
Hamel knows how he will spend his time once he hangs up the utility belt. He bought a new boat recently and there are a lot of walleye and northern pike to catch. Some duck hunting trips up near Yankton, South Dakota, and time with the family.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, but I know it will.”
Subscribe and receive updates on the latest news and postings!