PG&E facility hosts training for gas rodeo

PG&E employees participated in various events in preparation for the National Gas Rodeo, which will take place in Missouri this month.
Cale Castro/Winters Express

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By Cale Castro Special Contributor

At PG&E’s Gas Services Facility in Winters on Tuesday, Aug. 27, a diverse group of employees from across the company’s territory held a training day.

The facility’s main building Ls, creating a perimeter with a courtyard that includes a lawn of mulch and dry-climate shrubs and small trees. At its corners, partially tucked under the E-Z Ups, were two quadrilaterals–one of AstroTurf, one of gravel–that side-by-side occupied this xeriscaped space. Extending two-thirds its length, the set constituted an arena: a gymnasium that, at times, had a vibe more like a playground in a sandbox.

Welders, equipment operators and gas servicepersons of various specializations congregated here and sorted themselves into teams to practice for the National Gas Rodeo, a program of MEA that’s to kick off this September in Kansas City, Missouri.

The gas rodeo will feature a body of competitive events emphasizing the importance of attention to detail in the staging, assembling and servicing of hardware for gas distribution.

“It’s simulating what we do,” said welder Zach Shepherd. “We dedicate a day a week for practicing this. The closer it gets to the competition, obviously, the more we try to practice.” This upcoming rodeo will mark his fourth year competing nationally.

In April, Shepherd and his team, Manteca Gas Rats, beat the posted best time for the Rodeo’s pipe cut—one of three corporal events that they and the other teams practiced on Monday, along with the meter set and service installation.

See more: PG&E employees have a gas at safety rodeo

In the pipe cut, each team is fighting a 6-inch-diameter steel pipe. Of the teams practicing, some, employing a burst-series of wide, ratcheting sweeps of their pipecutter—modified with handles fitted to accommodate the four-person unit—were successful in leveraging their combined torque to whirlwind a swath of steel from its pipe familial within seconds.

“Our main focus was the pipe cut, for sure” said Tom Peterson, a teammate of Shepherd. “We wanted to beat the record.” And this was before the PG&E-hosted Gas Rodeo in April, said Peterson.

That day, the team timed in at around nine seconds to best the pipe-cut national record.

Peterson regretted to say that he must miss this year’s National Gas Rodeo on account of he and his wife expecting the birth of their child. In the meantime, Shepherd expected he’ll have his hands full with the pipe cut. The challenge now, he said is working with a new partner.

“His dad’s actually here,” Shepherd said, gesturing toward the meter set station, chuckling, “so he’s acting like he’s practicing hella hard over there.”

Temperature highs exceeded 100 degrees that afternoon. In the shade of the E-Z Ups, the ice cooling the comped beverages had melted. Everyone wore a bib of sweat  and the unbridled light, rising off the mulch of the xeriscape made the sun seem eight short minutes from Earth.

Despite the heat, two-person teams hit the AstroTurf running with synergy to train in the service installation event. Of the events that day, this one most resembled a picnic-style Hackensack race. The duos participating in this event had to coordinate with one another instead, however, on the bisecting of a mock gas main, using a diverter hose, or secondary line, and then run the 50 foot line from the main on one side of the lawn to a wood post representing a service riser on the other side; then, pulling from the supplies provided them in the middle, introduce a tracer wire along the length of the line and, finally, secure the line and tracer wire at each end for completion.

“This one here,” remarked Peterson on the service install, “you can get a lot of penalties. You can lose a lot of time, but you can make a lot of time up . . . You can have a great run. They’ll come back and check all the penalties and, man, they add up quick.”

In the meter set, four-person teams knelt huddled at the mats, scrambling to hunker a meter and its accessory components—a regulator, gaskets, and various fittings—onto a fixture.

Before the Gas Facility in Winters became operational, PG&E employees competing in these games had no reliable place to practice, the events’ coordinator Mary Molina said.

For teams that advance from the Rodeo’s qualifying events, their final challenge will be the Rodeo Relay.

Competitor Rod Waters has operated heavy equipment for over 40 years. If his team qualifies for the relay in the upcoming Rodeo in Kansas City, then his leg up—or, arm up—on the competition will be his swiftness with a boom.

Typical of the field of gas service, the relay requires at times operating large equipment. On the mini-excavator, Waters is like a guru.

A method of his in one foot of the relay is contracting the excavator’s boom in such a way that two teeth of its bucket can straddle a target softball set on a vertical pipe of PVC. If the operator’s bridged enough space between the ball and the lip then, curling it inward, they can use the bucket as a slide for the ball, guiding it down and containing it. (The Rodeo will officially call this event ‘softball pickup’ or ‘drop-in-the-bucket.’)

The Rodeo Relay will also include an egg pick-up with a backhoe and a truck back-up.

“It’s all about rhythm of where me and my partner [or team members] are,” said competitor Jayson Visinoni. His Chico-based team, Quiet Riot, placed 6th of 39 at the 2018 Rodeo. “If I’m at a certain step, as long as he [or my team] falls into that same spot, we’re fine. If he goofs or I goof, we kinda fall out of rhythm.”

As a Paradise native, Visinoni shared his perspective on working as a PG&E employee in proximity to the Camp Fire and its aftermath.

“Both my partner and I live in Paradise. We were both born and raised there. Both of our houses are fine but nobody in our family’s—both of our family’s houses burned.

“I’ve been there almost 40 years, he’s been there almost 35 years. We’re definitely both proud PG&E workers, proud to be from Paradise.”

PG&Es Principal Communications Representative Tony Khing said that the company has been pedal-to-the-metal for decades on improving safety and reliability. In recent years, they’ve also turned internally towards boosting morale.

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