Retired lineman climbs the ladder

MIDDLEBURY — At age 100, Bill James can cross the word “bucket” off his bucket list.
James donned a helmet last Wednesday and at long last got a lift in a bucket truck, courtesy of his former longtime employer, Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS).
It was a special treat for James, who toiled full-time as a lineman for the state’s biggest electric utility for 34 years, from 1940 to 1974. Back in those days, linemen had to climb up the utility poles. Today, the bucket trucks gently lift workers up with the flick of a switch.
“I got some strong legs out of it,” a beaming James said of his erstwhile climbing regimen during a luncheon held in his honor at CVPS’s offices on Cady Road in Middlebury.
“I think they have it made,” the Bristol resident added of the new generation of CVPS lineman who have bucket lifts at their disposal.
The only climbing James is doing these days is on the longevity ladder, and he is scaling heights not many people live to see.
He was born in Lincoln July 5, 1911, three years before the start of World War I. It was a year during which the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire, and Sun Yat-Sen was elected the first provisional president of the Republic of China. William Howard Taft was president of the U.S.
James lived his first 30 years in Lincoln, starting out as an electrician, then moved to Bristol in 1941 with his new bride, Mabel.
He began with CVPS as a part-timer in the Bristol area during the 1930s, and helped reconstruct the Rockydale dam after some major flooding. He joined CVPS’s Middlebury branch as a full-time worker in 1940 — the year before the United States became involved in World War II.
Being a lineman had its challenges, but James was up to the task. He took a few spills during his thousands of utility pole climbs, but was fortunate to avert serious injury. He recalled a fall from several feet up, but landed in a very grassy pasture.
“I got a few cuts on my neck and shoulder,” he recalled.
He retired from CVPS in 1974 in good health, but wasn’t done working. His “retirement” was short-lived. He resumed his activities as an electrician, operating on a freelance basis until his 75th birthday.
But James hasn’t coasted through his second retirement, either.
He is an avid carpenter and has made chairs, picnic tables and other pieces of wooden furniture. He is an active member of two seniors groups that meet regularly. One of them is a group of CVPS retirees who meet at Rosie’s Restaurant, the other is the celebrated “Old Farts Club” that gathers at Cubber’s Restaurant in Bristol.
Indeed, food has helped keep James fit and energetic through the years. He credits his late wife Mabel — who passed away in 2009 after 64 years of marriage — for being a great cook. He enjoys all kinds of food, with a particular penchant for pizza and cake. And he’s had a lot of birthday cake throughout the years.
“I ate everything that came along,” James said with his omnipresent smile.
He has never smoked and only been a casual drinker. James also credits church with keeping him on the straight and narrow, particularly during his teen years.
Longevity has run in his genes, though Bill James has sprouted the longest limbs on his family’s tree. One of his grandfathers lived to 98, and he had an uncle make it to 96.
“The rest died mostly in their 80s,” James said.
He’s been able to remain remarkably independent throughout his life. James, a former Bristol selectman, has held a driver’s license for the past 86 years. His first vehicle was a 1928 Pontiac. He was at the dedication of the first Champlain Bridge in 1929 and expects to be at the grand opening of the new one this fall.
Part of James’s birthday festivities included a boat ride across Lake Champlain near Chimney Point. He also went to the Shelburne Museum and has had some nice family dinners. He has four children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“I really don’t feel 100,” James said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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