From desk job to auger operator

Published 11:59 am Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Charlotte Gaines helped keep the lights on in Farmville.

She worked in the rain and sunshine and in snowstorms and hurricanes to make sure that power outages were kept at a minimum, and she did so as one of few women in an industry dominated by men.

Gaines was raised on a farm in Charlotte County with her brother and seven sisters. Now she lives in Hampden Sydney.

Her lifelong career in a male-dominated field began 41 years ago with a position in the business department of Dominion Virginia Power.

In 1982, after working clerk positions for Dominion for seven years, Gaines decided that she wanted to get out of the office and applied for a job working as a groundman in the line crew.

“I was ready for the outdoors,” Gaines said.

A woman working in that position was nearly unheard of at that time and is still very unlikely today, but Gaines wasn’t intimidated when she got the job. She jumped right in and got to work.  “They called me ‘mother hen’ because I was like a mother hen with little chicks. Even though they were older than I was, I just cared so much about them. I just always wanted them to be safe and to be careful,” she said of her co-workers.

The job of a groundman is physically demanding and requires a driven person, said Gaines. She said that you have to be willing to come in all hours of the night, on weekends and on holidays, if needed.

Gaines has bundled up in the winter, stayed as cool as she could in the summer and kept a strong support system behind her.

She says she couldn’t have achieved her success without help from her mother, Verna Hensley, and babysitters Florence Smith and Ella Trent. They helped watch her son, Matthew, when she worked long hours.

In 2007, Gaines was given the opportunity to work as an auger operator and line truck driver for Dominion.

The job of the auger operator is to assist with digging holes and transitioning large poles. Prior to receiving the promotion, she had been receiving training with the auger for about 10 years.

She had one groundman who worked with her each day, Stephen Boyer. She’s trained him to take her place for when she retired in June.

Gaines felt bittersweet about retirement. “I’m gonna miss the work and I know I’m gonna miss the people,” she said.

Fortunately, she had big plans for June. She kicked off her retirement by celebrating her 60th birthday with her twin sister, Cheryle Francis, and relatives in Key West, Fla.

Gaines encourages any woman interested in applying for a job stereotypically held by men to do so.

“If anyone wants to do this kind of work they can, because there’s a lot of training and safety procedures and better equipment,” Gaines said. “If more women wanted to do this line of work they could, but you’ve got to want to do it. You’ve got to want to tackle all the obstacles.”