Lineman Builds Models to Help Tell Story


No detail is too small for VEA’s Butch Davies

Butch Davies likes sharing what he knows about VEA’s electric system and has invested more than 300 hours into two scale models that students can relate to. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

Lineman. Craftsman. Teacher. Valley Electric Association’s Butch Davies wears all three hats.

For most of the past two decades, Butch, a Journeyman Lineman, has been keeping the lights on for VEA members by patrolling the Cooperative’s vast network of transmission and distribution lines, performing maintenance and making repairs. Like many of his colleagues, Butch knows the trade inside and out, and he has a passion for explaining how the grid works and how students and members can stay safe.

Butch is quick to volunteer at member events or in Nye County School District classrooms where eager students get an expert breakdown of the Co-op’s electric system. Their curiosity is easily matched by Butch’s willingness to engage them. The interaction keeps him young.

“I like sharing what I know about our system with people, especially students,” says Butch.

He now has two handcrafted teaching models to assist.

Butch built both of the models – a miniature distribution system, and a substation, illustrating how voltage is stepped down from 138,000 volts to 24,900 volts.

With the models, Butch can show what a utility system looks like. It brings to life what line workers, meter techs and other utility employees.

Before he built them, Butch sometimes would become stumped trying to explain these concepts to students if the classrooms had no window where poles and wires could be seen, or, if there was a window, the facilities were too far off in the distance for the kids to see what he was talking about.

Butch’s solution? Bring the facilities to the classroom, in miniature, of course.

Butch invested more than 300 hours over the course of 12 months to build the exact scale models. He used five-eights-inch dowels for power poles, dozens of match sticks for cross-arm supports and hundreds of tiny washers to replicate insulators. Wire usually used to hang heavy mirrors was the perfect substitute for power lines. He stained or hand painted every little piece.

“I used to build models – sailing ships, airplanes and cars – when I was younger,” says Butch, who is now 55. “I love doing this kind of work.”

Butch was sidelined from his day job for several months last year recovering from knee surgery when old sports injuries finally caught up with him. He spent much of his down time in the garage of his Pahrump home building the models, covered by Plexiglas shields. No detail was too small, down to the desert landscaping and the concrete footings on each model.

Now when he explains how a transformer or a breaker works, everything the students need to visualize what he is talking about is right in front of them.

Butch gets a kick out of the way students relate to the models. Last spring while talking to students in Pahrump, Butch learned that one young woman was interested in becoming a line worker. “I have since found out that after graduation, she is now enrolled in lineman’s school. How about that?”

Though Butch’s handiwork has become an important teaching tool at the Co-op, he is not content. He is already planning his next project – an electric generation model, which may a hydro generator, a solar plant or a gas-fired facility. Maybe all three.