Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why Becoming a TOWER CLIMBER could put you in the Driver's Seat of a Locomotive

We personally know of four tower climbers who've applied for conductor training with Class One railroads. They have ALL been hired. That's a pretty good track record. I can't guarantee that becoming a tower climber will get you a RR job, but I do know that interviewers were pretty impressed with my husband's job. If you really, really want to work for a railroad and can't get their attention, working as a tower climber for a couple of years might do the trick. I've heard predictions that the current hiring trends are supposed to continue for a few more years-- so it might be worth a try to build experience in tower industry, and then re-applying.
Here's the downside:
  1. YOU COULD DIE OR BECOME MAMED FOR LIFE. This is no joke. Tower climbing is THE MOST DANGEROUS JOB in America. There are only about 8,700 in the country and yet about 10 climbers fall to their deaths every year. That's 115 deaths per 100,000 worker. It is extremely dangerous. And if you don't die, you could become paralysed or brain-injured when your body slams against the tower repeatedly as you dangle by your safety line after you fall.
  2. There is very little formal training. You have to pick up your knowledge as you go. You have to be assertive about just pitching in and helping. This is hard to do, of course, when you don't know what needs to be done.
  3. There is a culture of drugs, violence, and crime in the industry. Almost everyone at my husband's company had a criminal history-- and most of them had felony convictions. My husband had to be aggressive with some people about convincing them NOT to steal valuable copper wire or tools from work sites. He refused to participate or to allow anyone else to participate in such actions while he was on site. But is was a constant stressor. He also had to often drive his own car to worksites to avoid being in the same vehicle with people who were using drugs on the way to the worksite- not to mention the danger of being killed by a work partner who was high AND insisted on driving. You will have to be careful to take actions to keep your nose clean and your record clean.
  4. It is HARD HARD WORK. You will work at heights of at least 250 feet (often much higher) at night, in the winter, during ice storms or snowstorms or rain. You will work for HOURS AND HOURS without sleep. Once my husband worked for more than 40 hours WITHOUT SLEEP and with very few breaks (just the break he got while a supervisor drove them from site to site) repairing towers during an ICESTORM.
  5. The PAY IS NOT GOOD, considering what you have to do and the risks you have to take. My husband only got $17 per hour. Unless you get hired by one of the FEW MAJOR tower maintenance companies in the country, your chances of making more than my husband are SLIM. FORGET the $75 per hour wages you've seen mentioned on showed like Hazard Pay. That's what experienced people get when they work for BIG COMPANIES. And oh, you WON'T GET HIRED by a major company until you are experienced-- and by that time, hopefully you'll get hired by a Class 1 RR.

So that's the scoop. It's not a guarantee- after all, my husband was an ASE Certified Master Mechanic for years before he was a tower climber. That also contributed to his hireability. But it DID compensate for the several years that he stayed home to take care of our kids while I was in graduate school.

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