Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

Eight linemen swarmed over and under a four-track Tucker snowcat to perform an inspection of the vehicle Thursday amid flurries of large snowflakes at the Catherine Creek Summit Sno Park before they embarked on field training several miles into the nearby mountains.

The Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC) linemen were a couple of hours into day three of a four-day training in which they learned winter survival skills and how to do emergency repairs on the snow machine.

OTEC bought the snowcat about four years ago to give linemen a way to reach repair sites in isolated areas.

The cooperative also makes the machine available to assist with search and rescue operations.

Thursday’s training in the snowy woods was preceded by two days of classroom instruction.

“My goal for today (Thursday) is get everyone a little bit of experience behind the wheel,” said Steve Andreas, senior instructor with Safety One Training of Littleton, Colorado.

Andreas said snowcats are built to be very lightweight.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “They have to stay on top of the snow.”

Andreas said there is a misconception that a snowcat is a heavy piece of machinery that can be used and abused, but that is not the case because of its light construction.

“They tend to break — especially if they’re not treated properly,” he said. “We’re definitely well out of the reach of people when those things go wrong.”

That’s where Safety One training comes into play for OTEC. Linemen learned to perform some repairs to the snowcat. But if repairs aren’t possible, or the machine is stuck in the bottom of a canyon, the OTEC employees also learned survival skills such as how to start a fire in extreme cold, building snow shelters and avoiding hypothermia, frostbite and avalanches.

“Having the ability to figure out what to do to solve that problem — whether it means getting the snowcat repaired and figuring out how to get back to the trailer or if that means figuring out how to survive up there and wait for help to come which for a lot of what these guys do could be well after a snowstorm ends ... before anyone is able to get to them and come help them out,” Andreas said.

He said the driving instruction part of the training is crucial because snowcats are quite different from cars.

“People tend to look at snowcats and assume they’re any other vehicle,” Andreas said. “In reality, they’re quite a bit different than that and they take a lot more special skills. Even guys from extensive driving backgrounds, there’s still some skills development that needs to take place with any kind of snow operations.”

The process starts with a thorough inspection.

“I like to get you guys in the habit, first off, doing a walk around inspection before you try to take this machine out,” Andreas said.

The visual inspection included examining hydraulic connections and hoses, steering and driveshaft assemblies, brakes and driver controls.

See more in the Feb. 26, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.