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Dover pensioner still climbing electricity poles at 71

Is seventy the new fifty? To look at Dover linesman, Rod Lewry, you might think so.

From Press releases - 11 November 2019 12:00 AM

early days Rod.jpg

At 71 the nimble pensioner, highly thought of by colleagues at UK Power Networks, is still scaling new heights in his career, climbing 15-metre electricity poles to help keep Kent’s lights on.

The age defying ‘OAP’ recently marked an incredible 56 years as an electricity linesman and he is still working full-time on UK Power Networks’ power line network in Kent.

There are no retirement plans on the horizon as Rod is already living the high life, doing a job he enjoys in an outdoor ‘office’ he fell in love with as a 16 year old, fresh out of school in 1963.

Rod said: “It’s horses for courses. All some people want to do is retire, play golf and go on holidays, but that was never my scene. I get pleasure out of my job and the countryside that I work in, working on overhead power lines in rural areas. Simple things in life make me happy.

“Some people always want the best car, the best house, the best holiday, but I’ve never been interested in those things. Give me a beautiful valley in the spring, with everything coming to life again, soaking up the beauty of it all. That’s what makes me happy and long may it be like that.

“I know that at my time of life anything can happen and I count myself lucky I have reached this age with not too many problems. It’s the luck of the draw at the end of the day. Lifestyle counts, but if you want to live to a reasonable age it’s luck to a certain extent and if you have looked after yourself you might get a bit longer. As long as you are happy, that’s what matters.”

Every year Rod, like all linesmen, completes a fit for work medical assessment by demonstrating his lifesaving skills in a physically demanding pole-rescue test, using climbing irons attached to his boots to climb a 15-metre pole and rescue a 12-stone dummy.

“If one of my buddies had a heart attack or electric shock I need to be able to bring them down to the ground safely to be worked on by medical staff. If you don’t pass that test you cannot work as a linesman. The dummy is a dead weight, filled with lead, so it is heavy work,” said Rod.

For Rod the early years of his career were hardest, when the UK electricity network was being built and he was installing new power lines through fields to connect villages. “At the time the linesman’s job was a very manual job and very hard work. Today I repair faults, mostly using aerial work platforms, which have largely taken over from climbing irons,” said Rod.

“I’m lucky, I have always been a physically fit person. As a lad I could climb trees like a monkey. I never let myself get too heavy. If I can walk anywhere, then I walk. A lot of the lads will jump in a car to go a few hundred metres. If can carry something, then I will carry it and not climb in a vehicle. Generally I keep everything going. I’m not quite as agile as a used to be at my age but why give it up when I enjoy what I do?

“When it comes to carrying something heavy the lads see me as an OAP. They will say ‘don’t do that, I will do it’. Sometimes I let them, but they know it doesn’t faze me. I will do it,” says Rod, who sometimes coaches an apprentice 50 years his junior.

“I have been working as a linesman for so long that nothing troubles me. I have seen it all before and done it all before. That may sound big-headed, but if you don’t know your job after 56 years then you shouldn’t be doing it.

“The best part of the job to me is the countryside and the camaraderie with the lads. For an electricity linesman every job is slightly different from the one before and the one to follow. When there is a lot of damage on the network, after storms, we rely on each other to work as a team and get the equipment back up again, to get the lights on.

“Sometimes there are six, seven, eight, nine or 10 men mucking in and getting customers back on as quickly as we can. So the job is all about getting people’s power back on, but you cannot do that on your own and we don’t want to hurt each other. So the bonds between us are strong.

“I don’t envy others and have never got up in the morning thinking I don’t want to go to work.”

In his free time Rod enjoys simple pleasures, spending time with his daughters and grandchildren, gardening, decorating and going to the pub with friends.