During the month of September many residents in East L.A. awoke to find their streets closed off as a convoy of diesel-engine vehicles roared in. Southern California Edison (SCE), the electric utility company, along with its contractors, had been busy in the area replacing aging electric utility poles and transformers that carry power to our homes and businesses.
To do this requires a small army of workers with specialized construction equipment and vehicles. Now, SCE does this type of work daily, replacing thousands of poles each year to update its transmission distribution infrastructure. However, to local residents, especially kids, it’s a rather special event – like watching a monster truck show – as unusual-looking digger trucks, bucket trucks and backhoes move into position.
Many of these wooden poles being replaced were installed in the 1950s or 1960s. Termites, birds, earth movement, and the weather have taken their toll on them, necessitating replacement. The processes of replacing the poles calls for disconnecting wires, removing the old pole, installing the new pole, and finally re-connecting the new wires, cables, transformers, etc. To be done in about a day—No simple feat. Keep in mind that these poles can be 65 feet or taller, carrying high-voltage electricity.
That’s where the biggest of the trucks on scene come in … the boom trucks, giant truck-mounted cranes that can lift objects weighing tons and reach out to close to 200 feet with their long booms. It’s quite a sight to watch these marvels of modern-day construction safely hoist a power pole over the tops of homes and trees.
Even so, safety must be priority on these jobs. In fact, on the very day that the author observed this work in East L.A., an emergency situation arose. As an old pole was being removed, one of the “cross beams” at the top of the pole broke off causing high-voltage lines to fall to the ground. Law enforcement and fire personnel responded as work was temporarily suspended. Luckily, no injuries were reported.
So next time residents of East L.A. turn on their light switches, they ought to remember how truly fortunate we are to enjoy the benefits of electricity thanks to the highly-trained workers and amazing equipment that make it all possible.
Photos by C.J. Salgado