WAHOO – After 40 years of working as a lineman for the city, Steve Daharsh has lots of stories to tell. Most of them include climbing electrical poles in ice storms, blizzards, thunderstorms and high winds to restore power when the lines went down.
It was dangerous work at times. But that didn’t keep Daharsh from doing his job.
“I really had a sense of pride restoring lines for people,” he said.
Daharsh retired from the Wahoo City Utilities Department as an electrical lineman last month. He began his career in 1979 at the age of 19. It was two years after he graduated from Wahoo High School, and there was an opening at the city’s generation facility.
Working as a lineman was part of Daharsh’s family legacy. His grandfather, Orie Daharsh, was a Wahoo lineman. He died in the 1930s. He also had an uncle and a cousin who worked in the industry.
Daharsh also looked forward to the opportunity to work outside.
“I didn’t want to work in an office,” he said.
After working at the generation plant for about six months, Daharsh transferred to the line crew. His training was mostly on-the-job.
“They took you off the street and trained you,” he said.
He soon realized the job was the right fit.
“It was something I learned to do and I thought I was good at it,” he said.
In the early days, the lineman climbed the poles with heavy leather tool belts hooked around their waists, made even heavier with tools. They used hooks attached to their feet that grabbed the wooden pole. Today, they mostly use hydraulic buckets to raise the linemen up to the top of the pole.
Daharsh has fond memories of his fellow employees and managers, but one in particular stands out. He mentioned Donald Peterson multiple times as a mentor and friend. In fact, Peterson, a family friend, helped Daharsh get the lineman job.
“He always looked out for the young guys,” Daharsh said.
Peterson was responsible for some of the biggest projects Daharsh worked on during his 40-year career, including replacing all the downtown overhead wires with underground lines in the 1980s. Under Peterson’s supervision, the crew also put in a second substation in Wahoo as the town began to grow.
Many of Daharsh’s memories revolve around storms that took out power to Wahoo or other Nebraska communities. The October 1997 ice storm downed power lines around the community. Daharsh and his crew worked 22 hours straight to restore power. He remembers being up on a pole at 1 a.m., with the icy rain falling all around him. It was so dark he couldn’t see beyond what was illuminated by his light.
“All you could hear around you was branches crashing,” he said. “You didn’t know if one was going to come down on you.”
An ice storm in the 1980s took out power to Weston, which is also supplied by the Wahoo electrical system.
“There were 36 breaks in 95 miles of line,” Daharsh said.
During that blizzard, the wind was blowing so hard Daharsh couldn’t hear when the fuses would blow, which normally sound like a shotgun blast, he said.
The Wahoo crew also went to help Lincoln during the 1997 storm. Many times, linemen from other communities were called to “mutual aid” another city in an emergency. Daharsh also went to McCook and Auburn to help during ice storms, and was on the scene after numerous tornadoes in the state, including the Grand Island tornado in 1980.
Daharsh said customers often take electricity for granted. When the lights are off, they aren’t happy.
“Certain outages, we can’t control,” he said. “We try to build our system to the best of our abilities.”
For the most part, customers treated Daharsh and his co-workers very well.
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of customers are appreciative,” he said.
There are some humorous stories Daharsh tells about his interaction with customers. One time he went to the home of an elderly gentleman to tell him they were doing some maintenance work in his neighborhood and that his power would be out for a short time. The man told him, “I don’t think we’re interested,” and closed the door, Daharsh said.
“That was one of the few times I’ve been speechless,” he added with a smile.
Daharsh was also rendered speechless when he was accidentally electrocuted while working on a pole on a hot, sweaty day. The charge blew him back and he ended up hanging upside down from his safety belt.
Danger was a daily part of the job, but Daharsh said his family didn’t worry much about him. His wife, Rose, met him after he’d already been a lineman for several years.
“She figured I knew what I was doing,” he said.
Injuries were also a part of the job. Daharsh tore both biceps and had more than one surgery on his shoulders. A shoulder injury is what prompted him to retire this year. Otherwise, he probably would have worked another year or two, he said.
Daharsh said he misses his fellow employees, but is enjoying retirement. He takes his dogs for walks, works on projects around the house, and has plans for vacations with his wife and his daughter, Nicole, a college student.
On his bucket list is a trip to Alaska. That sounds much better than having a five-foot long bull snake fall in your lap while opening an electrical box, another of the many stories Daharsh has about his 40-year career as a lineman.