Louisiana father and son get paid to search for trouble

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, July 28, 2018

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — In humble neighborhoods, gated communities, along dusty streets and four-lane interstates, Willie Thomas Jr., 59, and Cedric Thomas, 41, look for trouble.

They find it.

They fix it.

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The father-son duo, both of Elm Grove, are troubleshooters for AEP SWEPCO.

They are among 17 father-son teams who work for SWEPCO, said SWEPCO Communications Consultant Karen Wissing. The utility company also employs a couple father-daughter teams and one father-son-son-in-law trio in Longview, she said.

When the electricity goes kaput, in their assigned areas — mostly Haughton for Cedric and Ringgold and Coushatta for Willie — they drive to the site in their small orange/white bucket trucks. Willie also has traveled the country to turn on electricity in the aftermath of storms or other disasters.

The Thomases’ job descriptions are the same, but they have different assignments.

The day for both might start like Willie’s did one day. “I get the truck ready and check orders on the computer for orders which have come through.”

“When a customer calls with a problem, we see what the problem is, diagnose it, so crews will know what they need to do,” explained Willie.

About 10 days ago, a storm blew the area and “We had to restore a lot of power,” said Cedric.

There are times when the men can repair the problems.

“When there is a call, we check to see what is the problem. We find out what caused it,” explained Willie. “If it is small stuff and not dangerous, we can fix it. If or we call in a crew. We call them for anything one man can’t handle.”

“What is important is public safety and safety for the crew,” he added

The Thomases could repair a line an animal has bitten, but a crew would be needed for a transformer or to put up a pole.

Once there was a problem with electricity in Coushatta and Willie thought it was repaired. However, the wind was blowing and something would hit the switch and the lights would go off, then back on.

They work 24/7, always on call.

“We are like the fire department,” said Willie.

Willie has been with the company 41 years; Cedric, 17.

Neither started out in the beginning as troubleshooters.

When Cedric started after five years in communication in the U.S. Army, and construction work, he was assigned an entry level position as a meter reader, which brought problems with dogs.

“When I saw one, I would go the other way. I did that for three years, “said Cedric, who saw that job as “fun and good exercise.”

He served as an apprentice lineman where employees are taught to work on power lines,  and a journeyman before assigned to troubleshooting.

Willie’s path was long. He started out pumping gas in the garage for two weeks, then a storeroom, handing out supplies for the line crews for six months. Then, he was a truck driver and a lineman.

The two are close and if Cedric has a question, he turns to dad. “If you listen, it saves you a lot of trouble,” Cedric said.

“If we need to team up, we do, but not regularly,” he added.

Along the way, the two have learned to deal with an occasional irate customer.

“You have to remember that no matter who the customer is, electricity is electricity and when it is out, the people want it on,” said Cedric.

Cedric said Willie never encouraged him or his siblings to pursue his line of work. “He let us find our own way, but our parents taught us to work.”

“I knew he worked a lot… He was used to work,” said Cedric.

“I was behind him when he applied for a job at the company. I was behind him 100 percent,” said Willie.

Willie feels they are successful in what they do because his father, Willie Thomas Sr., and grandfather, L.V. Thomas, were strong figures in both their lives.

“It is a good job and I make a good living. It is a chance to help a lot of people,” said Cedric, although initially he didn’t think he wanted it because it involved shift work. However “I knew I didn’t want to stay a lineman.”

Willie likes the work because everyday is different. “We meet new people, doing different things and being constructive.”

After work, Cedric’s hours revolve around his children, who range in age from 8 to 17, and their activities. “Sports. Practice, Games, football, basketball, soccer, cheerleading.”

The oldest is in ROTC, a daughter is a cheerleader. The 10-year-old plays basketball soccer and the 8-year-old basketball and football.

“I juggle that and work,” said Cedric, with one of his hearty chuckles.

Willie is involved in Fairview Baptist Church and works in his own electrical company.

“It is Thomas & Thomas and I am licensed by the state as a master electrician,” said Willie.

But no matter what else is going on, when a line is out and they are called — the Thomases go.

It is their job to keep anything fueled by electricity on and working.