Island Guy

Terry at his desk inside the South Bass Line Shop.

August 27, 2019

Though he’s lived on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island for the last seven years, Ohio Edison’s Terry Jenkins isn’t your typical islander.

Before accepting a job offer to be the company’s dedicated line serviceman for five islands – including South Bass (a.k.a. Put-in-Bay), Middle Bass, North Bass, Rattlesnake and Gibraltar – he’d never spent much time there.

“When the job opened up, it sounded like an interesting opportunity,” said Terry. “My supervisor, Rob Scott, gave me and my wife a tour of the islands before I accepted the job. That was my first time seeing the area. We thought it over and decided to go for it.”

The Jenkins moved from Canton, Ohio, to South Bass in 2012, and have lived there ever since in a company-provided residence. Their grown children, who reside in the Canton area, visit during the summers.

“My kids would kill me if I ever left here, because they love the islands so much,” joked Terry.

An airplane view of South Bass island in Lake Erie.

Prior to South Bass, Terry was a serviceman with more than 20 years of experience under his belt. After starting his career at AEP, working transmission-related jobs for 15 years, he joined FirstEnergy in 2001 and was assigned to Fairlawn Service Center.

“Fairlawn was a big adjustment for me. I wasn’t accustomed to working in a bigger city. I didn’t know my way around Akron and disliked the traffic,” Terry recalled. “I was used to working on transmission towers out in the country, in the middle of nowhere. When a chance came up to transfer to Massillon after six months, I took it.”

After Massillon, he made the ultimate move to South Bass – a 403-acre island village with fewer than 600 full-time residents. And, so far, island life has been good for him – though the water-locked location of South Bass isn’t without its challenges.

In the winter, Terry and his wife rarely leave the island.

“There are only two ways off this island in the winter,” he explained “You can fly by plane or, if the lake is frozen solid, you can drive a snowmobile to the mainland.”

A bright summer day provides the perfect conditions for Terry to replace some blown fuses on a South Bass utility pole.

Assisted by Pilot Bob from Griffing Flight Services, Terry loads up a plane with his equipment before taking a flight to Middle Bass Island for a job.

His working conditions are also anything but orthodox.

The South Bass Line Shop, a small one-story building which houses tools, equipment and Terry’s office, resembles a makeshift workshop inside.  His two work vehicles, an Ohio Edison pickup truck and a line truck, sit parked out in front.

During a typical week, he works from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday but is on call 24/7, should any issues arise. He has one weekend off each month, during which his coworkers at Sandusky – the closest mainland service center – take turns filling in for him.

Some days, the work load is lighter than others. For instance, a customer calls in to report two blown fuses on a utility pole at the corner of Catawaba and Niagara avenues. It’s a quick, five-minute fix that Terry completes in no time. Then, he’s off to Put-in-Bay Airport to catch a flight to Middle Bass Island, where he connects an electric meter on a recently constructed building.

Other days are more complex with jobs that require back-up.

“Two weeks ago, a Coca-Cola delivery truck was driving through downtown South Bass and hit a sagging phone line at a major intersection. The accident snapped a phase on one of our poles,” said Terry. “Several Sandusky line workers came over on the Miller Ferry to assist me with the restoration job. We worked all day and night to get the power back on.”

On another main road, a line of now pristine utility poles was uprooted just last year by a powerful tornado that came off the lake. “That was a big job, reinstalling all the infrastructure there to restore power. It took weeks to make the permanent repairs,” he recalled.

In retrospect, despite the challenges, he’s happy with his career choice to serve the islands.

“This job is unique, but I enjoy it. It’s not like working on a line crew, where there are designated job assignments scheduled each day,” he said. “Some days are slower and others busy, but that’s the life of a serviceman. You wait until you’re needed.”

Feels Like Home

In the Mayberry-like setting of the Lake Erie islands, where the inhabitants all know each other by name, Terry fits right in and feels at home.

“The community on South Bass is tightknit. Only one or two restaurants stay open year-round, along with one grocery store and the post office,” said Terry, who is also a volunteer firefighter with the South Bass Fire Department. “In the winter, everyone eats and shops at the same places, so it’s easy to get to know each other. It’s not unusual for my wife and me to celebrate holidays with our fellow villagers.”

Business is also conducted with a more personal touch.

When outages occur, the locals typically phone Terry directly to report any losses in power before contacting FirstEnergy.

And, in true island-style – where folks go the extra mile to look out for one another – he’s usually already on the job, working to restore the power before official word of an assignment reaches him.