I sure hope you are having a fabulous day today on your side of the globe!? As I shared before, I have been working on journals, sketchbooks, planners, etc. that are now on Amazon. I am sharing my latest, two podcasts that I released for The Verbally Disastrous Podcast via links for +20 podcast platforms and YouTube. Here is the written transcript for the Verbally Disastrous Podcast Episode #35: Donny’s High Voltage Career Stories- Part A. I know some terms are technical. Therefore, I am offering the written/audio version of the transcript.
Ladies, gentlemen, and disappointments. We are coming to you live from the woman caves in New York and Connecticut. My name is Leslie and my name is Melissa and we are Verbally Disastrous.
Hello everyone! This is your host Leslie Jasper of the Verbally Disastrous Podcast that can be found on over 20 podcast platforms, including YouTube. For this episode, I decided to bring my really good friend who has been an electrician- 40 years. Retired for ten. His name is Donny Raffa. He volunteered to sit with me over the phone and talk about his career as a high voltage electrical splicer. In New York, of course. So, we’ve known each other since pretty much I topped out and became a journeywoman around 2001 is how long I’ve known him. Actually, it might. It might have been more in the 90’s too. I’m just going to say it’s at least a 20/over 20-year friendship. So, he’s working in the garage working on grapes. Taking the stems and the leaves off of them because this is the season where he gets his harvest of grapes. I guess he said he had 50 pounds of grapes that he is processing and getting them ready so that they can ferment over the next year and then they will belong to the batch of wine for next year. So, he does a perpetual process. He enjoys it and it gives him something to do. So, because of that, I was finally able to nail him where he’s sitting still because he likes to keep himself busy. So, I was able to get him to sit down and discuss with
me about his lifetime career as a splicer. Because the majority of his career, he was a high voltage splicer. So, I’m introducing Donny in the garage. Now he’s sitting in these wooden chairs that have some history to them. He said they give characters to the story. So, therefore, I’m going to leave it in. If people have an issue with that, I’ll have him come back on. We’ll schedule another time and then he can share some more stories ’cause I’m sure there’s 40 years of stories. There’s plenty more than what he shared in these episodes. So now I have part A. This is the first half of the discussion where I bring him in while he’s busy working in his garage. So, let’s check it out. Now, I’m introducing my longtime pal for what 20? 20 years? 25? 20 years. His name is Donny. He’s a retired high voltage splicer slash electrician. Which one do you identify with more? Being an electrician or more so the specialty is the high voltage splicing? Splicer. I sucked as an electrician. What
did you say? I sucked as an electrician. A high voltage splicer it. It’s much better. Is there a reason for? You enjoyed it more? So then it was more rewarding whereas it sounds like you don’t like doing other pieces of the electrical. A lot of people don’t realize being an interior wireman is anything from low voltage to high voltage. I don’t think I ever did ‘switchin and pluggin’. No, you never did? If I did. No. Years ago. Like I don’t know. I’ve retired now like 10 years. You’ve been retired 10 years now? It’ll be 10 years. Well, February. Wow, and he’s enjoying a Local #3 pension and making the best. He’s over here probably multitasking while he’s talking to me. Taking the stems off grapes right? For that process? Right now I’m getting 20 cases of grapes ready for for wine. I got to see the last batch. Now, at what age and year did you join the Union and become an apprentice? 1979. Let’s see; I was 21. How long was your apprenticeship? Because mine was in the late 90s, it was five and a half years. Four years. Okay. Now, why did you join the electrician’s union? What prompted you to do that? Don’t you come from a family of plumbers? Plumbers. My father was a plumber. My uncle was a plumber. I took the plumber’s test and I got into the plumber’s. But I also applied for college and I went to college instead.
And they said I can still become a plumber anytime I want. So, when I got out, I tried. I wanted to weld because I went to welding school in Texas. I didn’t know that. Yeah, so wanted to weld. I wanted to go to the fitters. I took the Fitter’s Test. Plumber’s test. No, I’m sorry. Took the Fitter’s test. I took the Electrical test. The Fitter’s messed up on their test. Which is all the same test anyway right. They messed up or you messed up? How did they mess up? You’re saying as far as releasing the test? What’s that? They didn’t give me all the parts for the test. They didn’t give you. When they were proctoring the exam, they didn’t give out all the components of the required exam? Yeah. My father said, “well, I can get you in the Electrican’s”. Okay, we’ll do that. Your father, by the way (rest in peace) he was an awesome man. I always appreciated him. When I would see him and he used to call, he used to call me, ‘his idol’. Which I always thought that was funny ’cause I was thinking, ‘you’re way cooler than me’ but go ahead now. Your father and your brother are plumbers? My father, my brother are plumbers. Yep. Yep. Did he end up becoming a contractor? My brother or my father? Either one. My father actually was a delegate. Not a delegate but he did the minutes. What do you call that? Is it a treasurer? Somebody is in charge of the finances? He was also a treasurer but he did that as well. He might have been a shop stewart, like you’re saying the meeting minutes. The Union meeting minutes. Always a superintendent. Superintendent. Okay, so he was manpower. Manpower yup. Did he transition from being with the tools, after say 10 years, and then become supervision? Yeah, he was also in Korea as a plumber. Really? Oh, that’s how he started out in the military?
Yep yep. Ah. So, was he in the Seabees? He was in the plumber’s before he went into the Army. Oh, we went in the Army. Okay. Then he got called into the Army. He was doing the hospitals. Okay. In Korea, and actually, there’s still there I heard. I hear a chair in the background. I don’t know if that’s gonna. That’s because I’m just 350 pounds.
Of all, all muscle. My ass makes noise like that and I got no ass. It’s why the pants are always falling around. Johnny’s got the same problem. It’s like I always want him to wear a belt and then he’s just like, “nah, I’m good”. The minute he bends over, plumber’s crack. I don’t have any belts. I got to put suspenders on my underwear.
Yes, my name is Don Raffa.
At what point in your career did you decide to get into high voltage splicing? When I was a 4th year apprentice, I was a pimp for a couple of splicers over at IBM in Yorktown. You said a pimp? I was a pimp. Yeah. A pimp is a spicer’s helper. Oh no way. I didn’t know that. Yeah, you are my pimp. Oh yes, I was your pimp for quite, quite a while. Where does that term come from?
I don’t know. Did I make it up? No, probably not.
Everybody had to sign in. Now, this was back before the the hip hop world came around and you had the pimps. But no. Pimp is probably when you’re referencing the street life. Someone that helps me do what I’m doing.
They wear a fur coat? Driving a Cadillac? Just a top hat. Just a top. Drop top.
1984- I was doing it. We’re doing work at IBM Yorktown and they were doing a lot of lead work. Lead work always. I always like lead work because of my father. I learned pouring lead with my father as a plumber. Okay. Right. So, it came to me. So, I mentioned to the guys, “hey listen. If they have a class, I’m taking it”. Yep. So they had a class as soon as I topped out in 1984. That’s a lucky thing. A lucky break now. That’s good.
So the the high voltage class was theory and application, right? All together it was four years. How long was the theory? Hands on in the school was three years. Hands on is 3 years and the theory where you sitting in the class is one year of the four years? You’re sitting in the class with hands on, but you’re building splices right. Okay, so it’s more practicing in the classroom and then once you get into the last three years, it’s on-the-job training? Well no. We’re spicing in the class room for three years. Okay, so it was all within the classroom. At what point did you go out to the field? Probably the last year of school. How did your first time go once it was game time and you had to go into the manhole for your first time? I felt so confident, it was unbelievable. Really? Every time I went into man hole, I felt confident. Not competent. Confident. Confident. Not competent. So you’re saying that being confident got over any kind of fear? I had no fear. No fear. Which is important when you’re potentially what kind of voltage? Let the audience know what kind of voltage is in the pit? Anywhere between 5,000-35,000 I worked with. 35,000 volts?
Yeah, for the people who don’t know what that is. Yeah, 35,000 volts. How do you graduate? What’s your means of graduating? From school? Yeah. Make sure all your joints didn’t blow up and the teachers were happy at what you did, what you learned. Explain what a joint is for a person who has no idea what that means and it’s not something you smoke. Well hopefully, you don’t want it to smoke. Of course, I’m sorry, it’s splices. Okay, it’s a connection for the average person. It’s a connection between the two wires joining them together. It could be it be soldered, high pressed. There’s different ways of doing it. Now lead. Lead is an old way of doing it. Or is it a new way? The old cable used to be lead. The outside jacket used to be lead. Ahhh, Okay. PPR- now it’s a rubber. Right, the insulation is rubber. It used to be oil paper. Now it’s PPR or a rubber insulation. They don’t do what they used to do years ago. It was joints called, it was connectors or splices called potheads and they were also lead. Which was, for some, it could be hard, you know. But for me they came easy. Now would you say that, going away from the lead splicing, Which one do you think is better mechanically? I think the lead is.
But the problem with it is it costs more? It costs more and you have to train the people, right? There’s other stuff now that they’re not even training people. Oh. The contractors are just going out there and oh okay. I’ll send this guy out with the instructions. If he can do it, fine. Which is not a good thing because if they blow up. It could be a time bomb in there, even if it didn’t go off immediately. Now, what’s your funniest high voltage splicing story? If you have a couple of them, you can share them, of course.
I was working and I forget the names and I’m glad it did because maybe I shouldn’t say their names. I was at. I was on one job.
Westchester Community College and it was a beautiful night and I was talking to the guy on top of the man hole. I was in the man hole about 15 feet down. All of a sudden, I stopped talking to him because I was concentrating on what I was doing. My neck started getting wet. Why is my neck wet?
I look up. The guy is sound asleep. Drooling all over my neck. No! He’s outside the manhole like leaned into the hole with his face exposed to where he’s dripping on your neck? My neck was soaking wet.
Is it safe to say that this unidentified person was not the best type of worker? Or was he just tired? It was at the end of the night. I probably would have done the same thing, but I wouldn’t be spitting on the guy. You go somewhere and lay low, say in the back of the van, right? I tied a string around his leg and told him to lean against van.
I’ll tug on his leg. So, you’d use the string to call help? Did that work? Did you have to do that? Yeah, I did it.
I knew I was gonna be down there a couple more hours so. Wow. Now the longest splicing job that you’ve ever had to do where you had to stay on the job. You couldn’t leave and go home to go rest was how long? 60 hours. 60 hours? Nice. IBM. IBM Yorktown? Yup. They never wanted me to leave. They always wanted me to stay there. To continue doing what I’m doing and they did.
Yeah, the longest time was 60 hours. Well, I remember when we were working nights. Was it at Avon where we did the shut? Yeah, we did the shutdown where we were x-raying the equipment and tightening neutrals. Yeah. That shut down was how long? It wasn’t that long. It was just over night, right? Yeah, but then we did some other shutdowns. I could have sworn they were at Avon. No, were you at the sheetrock plant or you were gone by then? Ah. We were working a lot of time there. I did. I remember us doing some shutdowns. I know we did that shut down on Central Avenue. That strip mall that Paulie and I were at. Where he was grinding in the back of the panel and it was near some feeders. I’m like, “if you **** this up, I’m going to get blasted”. He goes, “well, that’s why I know you’re going to pay attention”.
It was like Hartsdale or whatever. Was it near Trader Joe’s? I’m trying to remember. For anybody who’s New York, they would get the reference. Anybody else would be like, “what the hell are these people talking about?!”
Yeah, it was on Central. I remember us doing shots of espresso at night. We gotta wait till we get this wire pulled in and everything terminated and everything back on. Now what would be your three lessons? Lessons learned on your high voltage splicing journey?
You have to be on top of your game. Okay. Alert all the time because anything can happen because 13,000 volts. It’s not like it’s a light switch where you can just hit the breaker and they go back on. Which would be, for the person who doesn’t know, versus 120 or 277 volts. Right. 13,000 will kill you. Yes. Quick. It has, you know. Have you ever seen anybody survive 13,000 volts? I’ve seen a kid. Yeah, actually. That’s another funny story. Okay. But That’s not really funny, because again, the kid was a jerk, right? Yep. He comes on the job and I won’t say where it was. It doesn’t matter. Westchester Community College. He works at Westchester Community College. Okay. So, I got a call saying, “uh, listen. We had an outage over here. You gotta come fix it”. I said okay. So, I go look and check it out and I’m looking for the outage. I’m looking for where the damaged cable was. We couldn’t find it so we got advanced testing. We were dumping it. That’s when we tested cable and it dumps. It tells you where the problem is. Yes. We couldn’t find it. So all of a sudden, their foreman calls me he says, “did the kid call you?” I said no. He said he’s supposed to call ya. Well, give him my number again. Maybe he got the wrong number. He calls me up and he says, “hey Donny.” He says, “you remember that man hole?” I said, “what man hole would that be babe?” He says, “The manhole over by whatever building it was”, I don’t remember. I said, “okay, what about it?” He says, “well, you told me it was dead”. I said, “no, I would never tell you that. I would never tell you anything is dead.” Right? No, you gotta test it yourself. Always
test it yourself. There’s no way in hell I would tell him that’s dead. Yep. I said, “so what did you do?” He says, “I cut it”. “You cut it!?”
With a pair of loppers. “You cut 13,000 volts with a pair of loppers?” He said “yeah”. I said, “did you change your underwear yet?” He says, “yeah, matter of fact I did”. I said then, “well then go play lottery. You’re a lucky bastard!” Nothing happened to the loppers? No, the loppers got burnt. Okay. I heard about people blowing their arm off and stuff like that. Well, that’s another story. Yeah, so he didn’t get hurt but. It rattled him. He did give me work. He gave you work. He gave you more work. Cha-ching to me. Yep. Chaos equals cash. Yup, chaos equals cash. Wow. Did he get fired? No, he didn’t get fired. They fucked shit up because he came in on Saturday to pull the wire out to go to the junk yard. Apparently, his foreman was in on it. Oh! Oh! Okay, so that’s what they were trying to sneak in there before you came in for the splice and yanked the wire ’cause they were going to scrap it? Yeah, they were
gonna scrap it. Of course, and he’s going to say that you told him it was dead. Which is bullshit. Hell no. I wouldn’t even tell you that 110 is dead and let you check it yourself. No. I’ve made sure Tom, since he’s an apprentice. I got him a lockout tagout kit and I told him you always keep that with you and always check. Don’t ever have anybody, “Yeah. Yeah!” Because that’s your life, not theirs. There’s no reason to do it live. Hell no. So now, would you call that the worst splicing story? That was actually sad. Because someone did something stupid like that and they could have killed themself. Yes, agreed. Is that up there with the worst story in the world? Yeah, it’s pretty, pretty bad. There’s another bad one when I was living in Rhinebeck. I just drove up the driveway. I got a call from Advanced Testing. He said there was a blow up down SUNY Purchase. “Babe, I just drove home an 1-1/2.” He said, “Don, we need you. SUNY they’re closed and they they don’t have any power”. Alright, so I go down here. I found out that the guy took a tester. The Wiggin’s. Yep. And he knew he had problems on the secondary. So he checked it on the secondaries. Then went to the primaries and he put the Wiggin’s on the primary. Wiggin’s are not made for primaries. No, they’re only rated for, the average person who’s listening, a Wiggin’s tester that he’s talking about only goes up to 600 volts and the guy’s trying to test that on what 13,000? Yup.
So, he had his. Apparently, he had his… Sorry, I just dropped some grapes.
Did you eat ‘em? Five second rule? They’re in with the other couple thousand grapes that are in there. Okay. I’m doing 6 gallons at a time. 6 or 60?
I’m halfway through my 42-pound box. How many hours did that take you? Another two days. Oh, you’ve been doing it for two days now?
Oh. I’m gonna call it quits for now and have coffee and come out tomorrow morning. Gotcha. Do it all day tomorrow. You get up early and tend to the garden first? The garden’s almost finished. Very nice. Is it harvest season for those ginormous squash? Did you see those squash? 36 pounds. Do they weigh 36 pounds? ’cause I put it as a YouTube “short” on my Verbally Disastrous YouTube channel, of course. I was making fun of the squash. So, Tom listened to my short and he was like, “Oh my God! You’re you’re a rip”. I think I pulled 150 lbs. of squash out of that plant. 150 pounds! So, you get a can everything, right?
Well, I give it away. I don’t know. Squash you really can’t can I don’t think. You can freeze it. I think you can freeze it. I’ll have to jump on the train to go get some. I got one sitting here right now that’s 30 pounds. Wow. Did I tell you that Johnny’s football team, the Carmel Rams, have been kicking *** and taking names this season? 28-0 the first game that I missed. Yeah. Actually, last Saturday against John Jay which is up in Fishkill. They won 40 to 7. In the beginning, John Jay, you know everybody was there talking **** and then towards the end, you see people staggering out like all depressed about how they got a beating. The week before, they were up. It was a home game. New Rochelle came up, New Rochelle is state champs. They were all nervous about ‘em: 28-0. They didn’t even let ’em score. I’m happy for him. I’m very happy for him that he’s a part of a winning situation. So it’s good for a young man’s self-esteem. There’s a ton of kids on the team. Well yeah. He’s a senior right? No. No. He’s a junior.
Yes, because it’s their last season. So, he plays more towards the end, so to speak. When the kids are tired. Obviously, when they’re on defense. But I’m happy for him that he’s experiencing something like that. It’s I think it’s awesome to see them all like kicking *** on that level. If they go to state, I definitely want to be in on that. Yeah, that would be cool to see that. Have that kind of bragging rights. They don’t wear a letter. You know how they used to have Letterman jackets and you’d have your high school letter? I haven’t seen anybody wearing one. $600 apiece. Yeah, but I I don’t even recall even seeing a kid wearing one to say, “hey, let me go get you a jacket”. Oh really? I have to find out about it. Because if he gets a letter for football, then that would be cool to get him to wear it as a keepsake. I just found my letter from White Plains. Did you? Was it for wrestling? Football.
Oh, you played football. What I was gonna ask you what type of electrical work you enjoy doing. But we’ve already established you like splicing and you sucked as an electrician. So you never did any low voltage? I remember that time when you were up on the ladder trying to do a smoke head for what was it Nick? You were like, “Leslie, can you help me? My hands are too big”.
Worked on fire alarm and then I went through so much cable because I couldn’t splice it out ’cause my hands were too fat. So, you would say fire alarm you hate? I’ll pipe the pipe and I’ll pull wire. No. You don’t want to do terminations. I did a short story on Amazon about our buddy “Lucky” who is our apprentice. You remember that fella right? Supposedly he’s still in the business.
You said you have nine fingers because that bastard? Almost. I know. You want to tell the story about that? Sure.
He couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, and couldn’t walk. He gave him to me as an apprentice to help me do some terminations in the cabinet. I had this. I’m gonna call it a high press. That’s where you put the cables together. You press the connectors together. There’s a big hydraulic one and I told Lucky, “Have you ever operated one of these before?” Of course, I had to really explain it to him. He said, “no, I didn’t”. I said, “when I say okay, hit that button”. So, he thought I said “okay” and he hit the button and he almost took my finger. So, I took the button away from. I told to go in the corner and sit in the corner. I wouldn’t let him work with me no more. I let him help with testing at that time. You remember our fearless leader? I had to work with him in Mount Vernon and we were piping out with the black Con Ed pipe up to the manhole. Remember we had those what I would describe, if you’re in elementary school, when you’re putting on those little rubber things on your pencil to keep you from getting calluses on your finger? The coupling was like a rubber, rubberized like clear green and you had to lube it up with Dawn soap. Squirt it all in. Squirt it all in there and then bang it on with a sledgehammer. it was like a whole technique with it. So here I’m messing with it and I’m trying to get the kid to do it. He smacked his ankle and he did it a couple of times. Because one leg was shorter than the other, as you so eloquently described, and he couldn’t hear, he had one eye. Yeah, it screws up your depth perception. I think from birth. I
asked him, “what made you decide to do this so?” “Because the insurance.” So, I said, “what good is that if you cause yourself or somebody else to be killed? What good is that?” It’s like you’re not even built for this business. At all. Whatsoever. He had a compensation case with every contractor he worked for. Yeah, ’cause by the time he was working with us, he was a fourth-year apprentice and he had four compensation cases. Which I didn’t think was possible. Because you open one and you can’t open up another one for three years. I think it’s three. It’s like a three-year timeframe. So, he must have had four accident reports and maybe a compensation case covering shit at least one. You get 26-weeks for each compensation ticket, so to speak, and it’s like every three years. So, what was the guy up on like his second comp case? Did he fall? He was on somebody’s job and he fell off the ladder and broke his shoulder.
Yeah, D’s job. He was something else. I felt like you couldn’t have him do anything. He was up there one step on the ladder. One step. Not 6 feet. Not 10 feet. One foot. One step on the ladder he fell. He fell off and broke his shoulder. Well, now you’re shorter than the other- uh, oh. I’m getting a dead battery.
Well, you want to call back later? Yeah, can I do that? Yeah, absolutely. This wraps up Part A on the discussion with my longtime pal Donny about his high voltage splicing career in New York. Now, if you enjoyed the content, go back in to the podcast platform of your choice and look for Part B. Thank you, I wish you a great day. Peace out Cub Scout. This wraps up another episode on the Verbally Disastrous podcast that can be found on Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube. For more information, head over to http://www.constructiontales.com.
Thank you for listening and have a great one.
Here is the link to the Verbally Disastrous Podcast on Spotify:
Here is Verbally Disastrous Presents- Season #1, Episode #35: Donny’s High Voltage Career Stories-Part A on YouTube:
Here is Verbally Disastrous Presents- Season #1, Episode #35: Donny’s High Voltage Career Stories-Part B on YouTube:
Leslie M. Jasper
-Author And Host of the #VerballyDisastrous podcast now alive on many platforms that include: Acast, Amazon Music, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Castbox, Deezer, Google Podcasts, I Heart Radio, Listen Notes, Overcast, Pandora Podcasts, Player FM, Pocket Casts, Pod Bean, Podchaser, Podcast Addict, Podcast Gang, Radio Public, Soundcloud, Soundtrap, Spotify, Stitcher, Tune In, and YouTube.
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