Rosa Vasquez is the first female lineworker inducted into the International Lineman’s Museum Hall of Fame and has served in the electric utility industry for 30 years.
Why did you become a lineworker?
I started in 1978, when I was recently divorced with three kids and needed to find a good job. Line work is a good paying job, so when I heard about an opening at Central Power and Light (now American Electric Power) in south Texas, I applied. They hired me on the spot.
I was a lineworker for four years; then I transferred to working in substations. I got to be a patrolman and service technician, and I got used to being on call 24/7 for storm duty. I was often the only one out there to find the cause of outages, repair breakers, or call the crew out.
What was it like being the only woman on the job?
I was the only woman doing the job — really for the entirety of my 30-year career. The men didn’t like me working in their world. That was really hard. Some nights, I would come home crying, but I wanted to show them I could go out there and make it. I never gave up.
It took maybe five years for everyone to get the hang of it — to recognize I was just as strong as them, that I was one of them. When I started, the guys always said to me, “Electricity is like a lady; you have to treat it like a lady. You have to be careful with it.” And I recall once I said back to them, “Well, you don’t treat me like a lady!”
By the time I left the job, the guys learned to depend on me. Some of the guys could not open the switches that I could open. Some would be out on storm duty, waiting in the middle of the night and would be clearly relieved when I arrived.
What was the toughest part of the job?
South Texas gets hurricanes and other intense storms. With a storm like that, everything falls, everything breaks down. And you have to be out there in the thick of it. I worked by myself all the time.
One time, I was called to go out to a switch in the sticks. The wind and the rain were so strong that when I stepped out of my truck, I sank to my knees. By the time I got back to the highway, the water had covered the road completely and was up to the truck’s muffler. I knew there were ditches on both sides of the road, so I had to be sure I was driving in the middle of the road, and I couldn’t see well through the pouring rain. That was a scary drive, but I made it.
What did you enjoy best about the job?
I liked what I did. When people’s power went out, I knew that I had to work hard and as fast as I could to get people their power back.
I learned to work with the guys, learned to know them. This is like a family. We laugh, fight, and cry together.
There were times when it was fun doing the job, and other times when I had to really work at it — like having to change a transformer in an emergency. I never knew what I would encounter.
I didn’t leave because I wanted to, but because of my health.
Do you have any advice for women (or anyone) getting started as lineworkers?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Do not give up. You can do it. You can be just as good as they are. They make you feel like you aren’t going to make it. You’ll think maybe they are right. But if you put your mind to it, you can do anything you want. If you can do the job, you’re entitled to be called a lineworker. One of my sons became a lineman because of watching me do it. It is something to be proud of. It’s a good job.
How has the industry changed since you started?
Now it’s a whole lot easier. You don’t have to work as hard. Back in the day, I had to use a hand crank to drill into poles; now lineworkers don’t really have to do that. The whole thing is easier. And you get paid even better now.
What does being inducted into the lineman’s hall of fame mean to you?
It is good to be appreciated for doing a job that helps people. I worked to keep the power on for people. I never thought that I would be in the Hall of Fame! It is so nice.