Congratulations to Ken Kauffman from Northern Hills, South Dakota for being named the ELM Elite winner for July 2022.
Before becoming a utility locate technician, Ken spent 20 years in the Air Force working with weapons systems. After retiring from the service, it only took about 30 days at home before his wife insisted he find something else to do. They saw an ad in the newspaper for a locating job at a different company and he began working there in 2004. Ken took to it right away as it was similar enough to his work in the military, saying, “it’s following signals, electrons follow the path of least resistance.” In 2006, a little more than a year after he started, the company lost its contracts to ELM and he began working there instead.
As far as Ken is concerned, the most important step in a successful locate is making sure you know the intended work area and locate the entire thing. A big part of this step is communicating with contractors, especially when the ticket instructions are not clear. “Don’t argue with them (contractors). They have a difficult time calling into 811 sometimes and getting their view on exactly what they want located. It’s easier to talk to them to find out exactly what they are doing and where they are working.” As a rule, Ken also locates at least 25 feet past the intended work area so there is a buffer zone in case they dig outside the original white zone. He says, “I’ve seen too many damages where somebody hasn’t covered more than the area.”
Ken always strives to create a safe work environment and is a big supporter of the required 360 vehicle check. Earlier in his career, before the 360 check was standard procedure, spending the time to check around his vehicle before leaving a ticket saved what could have been a disastrous event. When he arrived at a ticket there were kids playing in the front yard, but when he went to leave after completing his locate there weren’t any children around anymore. The difference was noticeable enough that he double checked the area to see if it was safe to leave and found a child underneath his truck trying to retrieve a lost ball. He adds, “If I hadn’t paid attention I could have run over the kid. It’s something you have to pay extra attention to, especially when school is out because they are everywhere.”
Currently Ken is locating MDU gas lines, but in his career, he has located every type of utility. When locating a gas line, he always starts with 512Hz, the lowest frequency and doesn’t go higher unless he needs to. Often at tees he must go up to 8.19kHz, but other than that he doesn’t want to go high enough to bleed off. He also stresses the importance of hooking up to multiple places if you aren’t getting a good signal. He says, “Take your time and do it right. You can go one house on the north side, one on the south side and not get it and then go 4 houses up and all of a sudden you get a signal.”
Ken likes to use his time efficiently, a trait he carried over from serving in the military, but that doesn’t mean rushing a ticket to be done as fast as possible. It means making the most of your time to perform a quality locate adding, “The most important ticket of your day is the one you are doing right now. I don’t like jumping from job to job. You got to finish one and make sure it is right cause you don’t have time to go back and do it again. If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, you’re not going to find the time to go back and fix it.”
Ken has been married for 25 years and has four children, three boys and one girl, with ages ranging from 15 to 36. His household also currently includes two dogs and four cats. In his spare time, he likes to go camping or take his boat out on the lake to go fishing for walleye or trout. He also enjoys anything mechanical and has a ’58 Ford Custom 300 that he enjoys spending time working on.