by Rodney Koop

Pricing enthusiast Rodney Koop is the founder and CEO of The New Flat Rate, a home service menu-selling system designed to put profit directly into the hands of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC contractors.

You are probably thinking that there is no way that Rodney, or anyone for that matter, is going to tell you the dumbest thing he or she has ever done, and you would probably be correct.

After all, no sense in being totally humiliated, but this will be enough for you to say, “Boy was that ever stupid.”

The year was around 1978. I was newly married and still working for my dad as an electrician. I use the term “electrician” loosely because I was mostly an “on-the-job trained” electrician. My older brothers and one or two of my dad’s other employees were the electricians that I learned from.

So, by 1978, I had been full time for 3 years with about 2 or 3 summers before that. Many of you can relate with your own introduction to the trades.

By this time, I had taken and passed my “B Journeyman” test, so that gave me a card to put in my wallet. The test wasn’t the kind you study for. The B Journeyman test was basically to see if you had shown up anytime in the past two years. The questions were carefully crafted to deduce your participation on the job. You know the kind. Question #1. What color is a red wire nut? Answer a. Red b. Blue c. Green d. None of the above. I think I did pretty good on the test because they sent me the card.

So, understanding that I was well trained, you will wonder how I could have possibly done what I am about to tell you. It happened like this; a day in the life back in the day was either on the ground running a trencher digging an underground cable or up in the bucket truck taking down the overhead wires on farms that we were replacing with underground cable.

In 1973 in the Midwest, the price of wheat went from $1.85 a bushel to about $5.00 a bushel. For those of you who are experts in economics, this is truly “rags to riches” for Midwest wheat farmers. Now farming is risky business, and with only one crop a year, well, it can be a real heart breaker sometimes. However, most farmers were told by their fathers before them that you can farm for 40 years and it will be the darndest struggle you can imagine. But one of those 40 years will be the perfect year; you will do so well it will make up for the other 39. The kicker is this: you never know which year that will be. Well for the farmers, I knew; it was 1973.

Because farming now seemed to be a great thing, the investments in farming went through the roof. Farmers started buying larger equipment, and larger equipment meant that to pull it to and from the fields, it had to be folded up. So, a 40’ cultivator would have ends folded up as high as 18’ going down the road and into the farmyard. The overhead wires on the farm would get caught in the cultivator, and people could get killed. So, for many years, we took down the overhead wires. And that was how my story came about.

So, this one day in 1978, I was about to take down the wires from the center pole in the farmyard to the house. But first, I needed to turn off the power. The problem was that I was already up in the bucket 20’ off the ground and looking at the connectors holding the wires together.
If I was smart, I would go back down and turn off the power, but what the heck? I’m in the bucket; I’m insulated; no problem.

I began to loosen the split bolt connector that did nothing other than hold one of the “hot” wires together. About the time I had it just about loose, I realized that I could not drop that wire because it would still be hot due to back-feed. Now I knew I had to go turn off the power, but about that time, the wire started to slip, so I grabbed the loose end, which was about 75’ long connected to the side of the house, and I also grabbed the short wire connected to the pole. I was now part of the electrical circuit. One hand on the supply side and one hand on the load side.

My heart was now the circuit breaker.

All I needed was for some teenage girl to decide that she wanted to blow dry her hair and turn about 13 amps of a hot air gun for my heart to begin to boil.

Now the good news (besides the fact that I’m still alive) is that right then, I made up my mind to never, ever do something so stupid again.

We all need a few of those right? I then applied as much muscle as I had left to pull the wires together again and hold them with one hand while I tightened back the split bolt connector. Once I had them secured, I leaned back in the bucket and took a deep breath while thanking God above for saving the life of this stupid kid.

I’m pretty sure I never told my brothers about that experience because they didn’t need any more bullets for their harassment guns. Of course, there was the day the bucket truck didn’t go high enough so somebody put a 24’ extension ladder in it, but let’s pretend that never happened.

Of course, while I’m writing this, I’m thinking of some even dumber things I have done. How about you? Are you glad to be alive? Today is a good day to review some of the things we have done that just about got us killed and take a few minutes to talk to our teams about being safety conscious every day. If you have slacked off on your safety training and discussions, then now is a very good time to go back to square one and get serious again.

Most accidents could be avoided if we had paid attention to our safety training. I’m more serious about it today. How about you and your team? Are you having regular discussions? Lives are worth saving.

Rodney Koop