A day in the life of North Dakota lead lineman Wayne Bentz

As a child in Elgin, North Dakota, Wayne Bentz remembers going out with his lineman dad on service and trouble calls, watching him restore power for members of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.

“Becoming a lineman was just a natural thing,” Bentz, Basin Electric’s lead lineman for North Dakota, says. “Being from a family of linemen, I never really wanted to be anything else.”

Bentz went to line school in 1986, then moved to California, and then the East Coast after completing his training. In 1991, he moved back to North Dakota where he worked for Basin Electric Class A member Mor-Gran-Sou Electric — the same co-op his dad worked for when Bentz was a child. In 1997, he got a job as a lineman with Basin Electric and has been with the co-op ever since. He is based out of the Menoken, North Dakota, Transmission System Maintenance facility.

Wayne Bentz
Wayne Bentz is a lead lineman for Basin Electric.

Basin Electric employs 22 lineworkers to cover more than 2,500 miles of line. The crews are based out of seven outposts in four states across the co-op’s nine-state service area. Lineworkers are divided into three-person crews and assigned to 320 miles of line in a specific area. That crew is in charge of maintaining and repairing the lines and conductors, assisting with construction projects, taking care of right-of-way gates and crossings, conducting air patrol three times per year, inspecting towers, and conducting vegetation management on that area of line. 

In addition to each crew’s normal section of line, they are also called upon to help crews in other areas of the co-op when storms occur. Bentz says there have even been a couple of times when Basin Electric crews have been called to help other co-ops after particularly bad storms. “During severe storms, we usually have a briefing about what happened and then if a plane is accessible, we’ll fly over the area to see what needs to be repaired,” he says.

Bentz says he has helped with storm work after tornadoes, ice storms, and everything in between. “One time I was helping do repair work after a tornado in Nebraska. We saw wildlife that had been killed by the storm all over the place and even a deer that was missing its ears. It was really sad.”

He also remembers an especially bad ice storm in South Dakota. “We worked really long hours and it still took two or three weeks before everyone had power back,” he says.

When it comes to storm work, Bentz says he’d rather work a tornado than a bad ice storm, mainly because of the weather. “It’s cold, everything is iced up, the ground is frozen, and it’s hard to get around with the equipment. We have to make roads and push snow before we can even get to the places we need to be to do the work.”

No matter if it’s routine maintenance, construction, or storm work, safety is Basin Electric’s top priority, and training is held regularly to make sure lineworkers are knowledgeable and comfortable with the tools and techniques of their jobs. For example, each spring and fall, lineworkers attend hot line training to practice how to use tools that allow them to work on energized lines so members don’t have to go without electricity when lines are being worked on.

“Basin Electric is top shelf when it comes to safety. Whether it’s training us in first aid, requiring us to be tied off 100% of the time we’re climbing towers, supplying us with really good gear, or not allowing us to stay out of town for work because of the COVID pandemic, we’re lucky to work for a company that is dedicated to keeping us safe,” Bentz says. “I work with a great group of guys who have good attitudes, and we work for a cooperative that is good to us. It’s a joy to work for Basin Electric.”