Thompson enjoys retirement, Kruse takes over

Phillip Collins
Posted 2/21/24

LUSK-The passing of the torch is a narrative motif common to both fictional and nonfictional stories. It is also a very appropriate motif to invoke with the recent change of Lusk’s electric superintendent. After all, electricity, like a torch, provides light. For over two decades, the man responsible for keeping that light burning has been electric superintendent Royce Thompson. Now, Thompson is extinguishing his light so that someone else’s electrical torch might shine.

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Thompson enjoys retirement, Kruse takes over


LUSK-The passing of the torch is a narrative motif common to both fictional and nonfictional stories. It is also a very appropriate motif to invoke with the recent change of Lusk’s electric superintendent. After all, electricity, like a torch, provides light. For over two decades, the man responsible for keeping that light burning has been electric superintendent Royce Thompson. Now, Thompson is extinguishing his light so that someone else’s electrical torch might shine.

Thompson has been employed by the Town of Lusk for a total of 30-years. Twenty-five of those years have been spent working on Lusk’s electrical system. Yet, before he would work o powering Lusk, he would be tasked with cleaning it up. As a matter of financial necessity, Thompson went to work in Lusk’s sanitation department. From there, he would eventually segue into Lusk’s electric department.

“At the time, I had a family,” Thompson said. “I wanted a full-time job with benefits. I started out working on the garbage truck. They needed somebody on the electric department. So, I threw my name in there and got hired on.”

According to Thompson, the transition from the sanitation department to the electric department was a challenging one. Nevertheless, he adapted to the change and demonstrated an aptitude for electrical work. Thompson went through the apprenticeship program and became a journeyman lineman. So began Thompson’s adventure in electricity. Thompson stated that the adventure was an unanticipated one.

“I never really thought of myself as being a lineman,” Thompson said. “It was a better job. The money was better. It seemed to be a job that was going to be needed for a long time. I wanted to get into a full-time position that was going to last a while.”

Thompson was immediately confronted by a daunting task. The first-year journeyman lineman inherited an electrical system that was badly in need of upgrades. 

“Quite frankly, when I started as a line superintendent, the electrical system in the Town of Lusk wasn’t in good shape,” said Thompson. “I’m proud to say that, in the 25-years I’ve been there, we’ve done a lot of upgrades to the system and made it a very viable electrical system. It’s a good revenue maker for the town. I was able to do all of that without borrowing money.”

While Thompson holds aloft Lusk’s upgraded electrical system as a major accomplishment, it was not an easy victory to secure. According to the recent retiree, the full system upgrade was daunting and involved some trial and error.  

“It was a huge undertaking because I was fairly new at doing what I do,” Thompson said. “I made a few mistakes along the way.”

Thompson stated that he took an incremental approach to revitalizing Lusk’s electrical system, thereby saving the town money.

“In attempting to rebuild any kind of system, the challenges are always the revenues and how much there is and the time that it takes to do it,” said Thompson. “We did little bits at a time. That’s why we were able to do it and not borrow any money.”

To help him tackle the town’s rather sub-optimal system, Thompson enlisted the aid of Steve Teehe. Teehe boasted 25-years of experience as a journeyman lineman. This experience would be passed along to Thompson, who would employ Teehe’s wisdom in upgrading Lusk’s electrical system. After assisting Thompson in this major project, Teehe moved on and Thompson would hire the apprentice lineman that would eventually become his successor. That individual would be Pete Kruse from Powell, Wyoming. Kruse came with the recommendation of Thompson’s predecessor, Butch Hogan. According to Thompson, this recommendation was well-warranted.

“I felt good about him,” said Thompson. “After I talked with Butch for a bit and I interviewed Pete, I felt that he [Pete] would be a fairly good fit for the town.”

Indeed, Kruse proved to be a good fit for Lusk, as is evidenced by how quickly he embraced the community when he first accepted his position as apprentice lineman.

“I liked the town,” Kruse said. “It reminded me of some of the small towns up there in the Bighorn Basin. They’re small. They’re quaint. I liked the fact that when I first moved here, my neighbors gave me a ‘welcome to town’ gift. I thought it was great.”

Kruse’s transition was further eased by Thompson’s natural style of mentoring.

“He [Thompson] liked to teach,” said Kruse. “He taught me a lot about safety. Safety is the big one. In our trade, safety is huge.”

Kruse started working with powerlines in October 1999. For the first five-years of his career, Kruse was a contractor working out of Powell. He eventually left Powell to accept a position in Lusk and has been with the town since January 2004. In the 25-years that he has worked for the town, Kruse has developed a strong familiarity with Lusk’s electrical system. According to Thompson, this familiarity is one of the chief strengths that Kruse will bring to his new role as electric superintendent.

“Pete knows the system,” Thompson said. “He knows the system as well as I do. He was with me the majority of the time that we rebuilt the system. So, he knows the ins and outs of it. He knows how it operates. He knows how to fix it. I just feel like it’s a lot easier for somebody to step into a position that they’ve already been doing than it is to hire somebody new and hope that they can learn the system before they have problems.”

Reiterating this point, Kruse added, “I bring some experience. I know the electric system of the Town of Lusk. Instead of hiring somebody from outside, I already know the ins and outs of this place. I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve been in the trade for 25-years. Twenty of that has been with the Town of Lusk.”

As one might expect, Kruse’s transition into Lusk’s electric department was not bereft of challenges. Among those hurdles was tackling large jobs with a small crew.

“I was very used to coming from crews that were four to six guys,” said Kruse. “Here, we only have two.”

Of course, the small size of Lusk’s electrical crew necessitated a greater degree of availability than Kruse was accustomed to.

“I was never on call until I came here,” Kruse said. “As a contractor, we were never on call. You had your weekend to yourself. So, a challenge is the middle-of-the-night call outs because of the weather.”

Kruse stated that he intended to build on some of the lessons he learned from Thompson while simultaneously retaining some aspects of his own approach to the job.

“Everybody has their own style,” said Kruse. “I hope to take some of the stuff I learned by watching him [Thompson] and, as other challenges come along that are new, I’ll figure out my own way.”

As for Kruse’s predecessor, a new set of projects are waiting on the horizon. Thompson stated that retirement will allow him to pursue other passions that were percolating while he was electric superintendent.

“I’ve had some other interests,” said Thompson.

Among those interests is a fledgling business venture dubbed Thompson Safety LLC. According to Thompson, the company will concern itself with issues such as electrical safety, first aid, and CPR.

“Hopefully, his new business venture does very well,” said Kruse.

Additionally, Thompson intends to continue working part-time for the town at the nearby airport, where he deals with general management and maintenance. And, he maintains his status as a volunteer firefighter with the local fire department. So, just because Thompson is retiring does not mean he won’t be busy. Yet, he will remain available for the department that he served for 25-years.

“I enjoyed what I did,” said Thompson. “They know they can always call on me when they need some help.”

Kruse voiced a deep respect for his departing predecessor. He stated that while their working relationship had its peaks and valleys, his apprenticeship under Thompson was largely a fruitful one.

“It was pretty good,” said Kruse. “We kind of understood each other. Like any working relationship, you fight with each other once and a while. But, that’s to be expected. I mean, there’s only two of you. But, overall, it’s been pretty good. I think we work well together.”

The poetic pattern of passing the torch will continue with Kruse. He has already taken an apprentice named Justin Lashmett under his wing. Like Thompson, Lashmett started in the sanitation department. This was a cycle that was only momentarily broken when Kruse bypassed the garbage truck to step into his role as an apprentice lineman. Now, the cycle has resumed with Lashmett vacating the garbage truck and assuming the position once occupied by Kruse.

“I’m kind of an oddity here,” Kruse said. “Pretty much everyone here has started out on the garbage truck. I never did.”

While he might be an oddity, Kruse is certainly no novice. He expressed confidence in his ability to bring Lashmett up to speed on Lusk’s electrical system.   

“I’ve got the skills to help him [Lashmett] advance,” said Kruse.  

There will be no shortage of learning opportunities for Lashmett, as is evidenced by the sizable list of projects that Kruse has lined up. This includes conducting a large upgrade at the Wyoming Women’s Center and implementing a 600-amp service for a fiber company situated across from Lusk’s cemetery. No doubt, these future projects will both challenge ad educate Kruse’s apprentice. However, the mentor will be present every step of the way. In fact, Kruse doesn’t intend on going anywhere anytime soon.  

“In our trade, guys tend to bounce around anywhere they want to go,” Kruse said. “I’m going to stay a while.”