On a quiet farm near Middlesboro, Kentucky, John Morrison focused on replacing a meter on the large red barn. The wind drifted softly on the cold January day as cows bellowed in the valley below. Mud from recent rains clung to Morrison's boots. All was calm — peaceful even.
Then came the bull.
"I heard a noise coming from inside the dark barn, but before I even saw it, he had gotten me — just busted my right knee," said Morrison.
As a customer order technician based out of Middlesboro — and as a groundman/truck driver and meter reader before that — Morrison has had his share of wildlife encounters during his 50-year career with LG&E and KU. But the 2004 incident still rings clear in his mind.
"It was one of those days I won't forget," he said. "My supervisor David Marler took me to London to get a brace on my knee, but I love what I do and wanted to get back to helping customers."
Family ties and history
Taking care of customers is in Morrison's blood. His dad, uncle, great uncle and two brothers (including Thurman Morrison who retired from the Lexington Operations Center at Stone Road and Danny Morrison, line supervisor A, who currently works in Pineville) have all worked for the company, with a total of 247 years of service between them.
"It's in my DNA," he said. "When I was a kid, there were no call centers. All calls came directly to my dad. The company paid for the phone line, so he answered any call about wires down or lights off. I remember plenty of times riding with him while he finished up jobs at night. And we didn't mind. KU was feeding us, so we were happy to do whatever we could to help."
Starting his own career on Dec. 2, 1968, at KU's Louden Avenue location in Lexington, Morrison remembers his first day as a 22-year-old, helping change a pole by Rupp Arena. Later, he helped the company reach milestones like breaking ground for Lexington's then-new Stone Road facility in 1969.
In 1974, he moved to Middlesboro to work as a meter reader, where he remains today. With a territory covering eastern Kentucky, Virginia and even Tennessee, it's not unusual for Morrison to drive two hours to take a single meter reading or to have to drive to the top of a mountain to do his work.
"Every day is different, a challenge," he said. "I get 30-40 orders in the morning, then travel the area to change meters, do disconnects or complete re-reads if a customer questions their bill. When a re-read is requested, for example, I'll look at their meter and have them turn off various appliances. We can see together what the issue may be, and then I'll suggest they contact an electrician, for example, to make repairs. At the end of the day, customers just want to be heard."
Company and industry changes
While Morrison has been serving customers for 50 years, he's seen many changes since he first started his career.
"The biggest change has been the impact of technology," he said. "When I started reading meters, we kept records on paper books. When it rained, you couldn't read the paper, but now — with handhelds — we can keep on working.
"The creation of the Distribution Control Center was huge, too. Once that facility was established, it really changed the way we worked because we now complete multiple check-ins to know whether a line is energized, which cuts down on accidents. The industry as a whole has really become a safer work environment."
Off the job
Morrison's life away from work requires includes hobbies like tinkering with antique tractors and maintaining a 120-foot lighted cross on the side of a local mountain, but much of his time is spent with family. He and his wife spend time with their two daughters and support their three grandchildren at soccer games and theater performances.
Morrison doesn't know what the future holds — much depends on his doctor's recommendation following a knee replacement surgery earlier this year — but hopes to retire in the next year or so to spend even more time with family, including 15-year-old twins who are focused on getting drivers licenses.
"One of them is already eyeing my red truck," he laughed.
Regardless, Morrison's future seems bright, surrounded by family on his own property, complete with muddy boots and clear skies. But no bull.
Happy 50th service anniversary, John Morrison!
3 Questions for John Morrison
Can you describe your LG&E and KU career in 15 words or less?
What started as a job has become a rewarding experience.
Any particular interesting memories?
I spent a week in Louisville with restoration following the Hurricane Ike damage in 2008. I’ve seen my share of celebrities, too, including Colonel Sanders. Once, I was reading a meter in a Lexington home, and out strolls Adolph Rupp in a long, red flannel shirt. He takes one look at me, turns right back around and changed out of his pajamas before coming back outside.
What advice would you give to new LG&E and KU employees?
Have patience and work hard. When I started, I didn’t know how long I’d be here. But we have to be here for our customers always – whether we’re working in snow that’s 12 inches deep or 100-degree heat.