Learning the Line with Today’s Staking Engineers
Staking engineers play a vital role in establishing a member’s service and protecting the co-op’s line
Few people outside of the electric utility industry are familiar with the role of a staking engineer, but for rural electric cooperatives across the state, the job is vital to providing service.
Many co-op employees begin their careers as lineworkers and later move into the staking engineer role, which requires more engagement with the public. While lineworkers work alone or in teams to repair lines or set new poles, staking engineers interact daily with property owners and utility companies to map out service plans.
Clifton White worked as a Verdigris Valley lineworker for 15 years before applying for his co-op’s staking engineer position. He attended an online school based in Georgia to complete his staking engineer coursework. The job involves obtaining easements, coordinating installation with utility companies and meeting with property owners to understand and address their service needs.
“There’s always training you can do and things to learn,” he says. “If you go a day without learning, you’re behind.”
White says his experience as a lineworker gave him a competitive edge for the job, and he enjoys serving as the middleman between customers and power crews.
“I absolutely loved being a lineworker, but I wasn’t going to let the staking engineer job pass me up,” he says. “I still have that brotherhood with fellow lineworkers but now I get to make sure everything is right on paper with any and all information I would’ve wanted when I was on the crew.”
Twenty-six-year-old Payden Day had five years of lineworker experience under his belt when Kay Electric Cooperative suggested he apply for a staking engineer position. He completed three courses online provided by the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives’ (OAEC) safety and loss control program and will attend his fourth and final class at OAEC in person this fall.
The added responsibility of organizing easements, managing contracts and meeting with landowners is a good mix of office tasks and field work. Day oversees behind-the-scenes logistics and uses the latest technology to establish new service for customers.
“It’s nice to have the freedom to work both indoors and outdoors and use your brain in a new way,” Day says. “With every new service and pole we put in the ground, we have to call OKIE and coordinate maps with gas, electric and utility companies such as US Infrastructure Company (USIC). Throughout a week, I average around 50 to 100 miles a day of driving. I like the challenge every single day, and it’s definitely a job I could do for the rest of my career.”
Bentz Helm attended lineworker school in Kentucky and became a lineworker at Lake Region Electric Cooperative (LREC) near his hometown in eastern Oklahoma. When he accepted the staking engineer role at LREC in 2019, he gained a deeper appreciation for how all the pieces of a rural co-op service fit together.
“You deal with a lot of framing for the crews out there actually doing the job,” he says. “It helps to be a lineworker first and understand what it takes to build something. I like learning about the ideas people have while helping them realize their dreams for their property or home.”
Not all of Helm’s projects are new service requests. Some are three-phase conversions or fiber make ready conversions as co-ops statewide continue to embrace technological upgrades. LREC is adding high-speed internet fiber line to its network, and Helm helps address issues that might arise when the line is added to an existing pole.
Infrastructure needs to evolve, but there’s always a demand for dedicated, knowledgeable co-op employees who can provide essential services for rural residents.
“I like driving around the area where you can see your thumbprint on everything,” Helm says. “Watching things change over time and knowing you’ve been able to be a part of it is rewarding.”