Each year, Port Byron, Illinois and Le Claire, Iowa, two towns sitting across from each other on opposite side of the
Mississippi River, face off in the ultimate competition – a tug of war. IBEW Local 109 and IBEW Local 145 help to light up this event each year, making it a festival that both sides can look forward to…no matter the outcome.

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Transcript: The IBEW Takes on Tug Fest

The Mississippi River towns are comely, clean, well built, and pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit. ― Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

These words are still as true as the day that Mark Twain wrote them. It is especially true for the towns of Port Byron, Illinois and Le Claire, Iowa.

Lying on opposite sides of the Mississippi for 364 days a year they are friendly neighbors but on one day in August this friendship goes out the window for the ultimate tug of war between two states. This is Tug Fest!

The groans, the screams, the cheers… People from all over Iowa and Illinois come to watch the teams duke it out and it’s beenKari Long a tradition since 1987.

Kari Long: President of Tug Fest 2016 “It started as an argument between two local drinking establishments over which
side of the river is stronger. Thirty years later we are still going strong…We have one day a year that is all about the competition, we’re not friends at that point. For those three hours that rope is strung across the Mississippi we are competitors. And we compete hard.”

This isn’t just a big deal for these towns; it’s a big deal for the entire Mississippi River.

Chad ChristyChad Christy: Lead Tugmaster, Iowa Side “The fact that we are the only event that gets to shut the Mississippi river down for three hours. No one from Minnesota to the gulf gets to do that.”

And it’s not just the tug of war that draws a crowd. There’s also a carnival, a 5k run, and a parade all requiring a lot of electricity.

And who is there to help out? The IBEW.Scott Verschoore

Scott Verschoore: IBEW Local 145, Business Manager “It was 10 to 15 guys we started with. Just to drag the cables, take the power in take it back out…Why don’t we do something better for them. How about we put in some temporary permanent power in.”

Cory Bergfeld: IBEW Local 145, Assistant Business Manager “We made it more permanent aspects where all the panels and outlets are hanging on the poles so all we need to do is come down and turn the circuits on prior to the event, make sure everything is working. Plug in the cords and plug in the vendors.”

Scott Verschoore: IBEW Local 145, Business Manager “We need to hook up the vendors, make sure the power is there and we have a few on call in case a breaker trips we have to be there if there is an electrical event.”

But you can’t have a tug of war without a rope. The rope is 750 pounds and 2,700 feet long. Getting it across the Mississippi River is no easy task. But the IBEW is there to make it happen.

Gary GreubelGary Greubel: IBEW Local 109, Business Manager “IBEW Local 109 has done from the very beginning at Tug Fest is getting the rope across the river. They would make sure to get the rope across and monitor the rope and keep it safe.”

Donnie Jones: IBEW Local 109, Journeyman “We control the rope on Donnie Jonesboth sides of the river, we use equipment from Mid American Energy otherwise you would have no way to control the tension on the rope.”

Kari Long: President of Tug Fest 2016 “We’ve got the IBEW truck on one side and the IBEW truck on the other side and those guys are going to come together and link this festival together in the middle of this river.”

Volunteering for Local 109 and Local 145 is just a part of the job.

Scott VerschooreCory Bergfeld: IBEW Local 145, Assistant Business Manager “It isn’t a one time thing. We are active on both sides of the river. Whether it is setting up festivals, putting up lights at old folks homes, parades different events…we do a lot in the community.”

Gary Greubel: IBEW Local 109, Business Manager “One of the biggest things in the union is to always improve and maintain a high quality of life for our members and that of the people in our community. And this is just one of the ways for us to do that.

And after the IBEW does their work and everything is set up…here comes the real work.

Cory Bergfeld: IBEW Local 145, Assistant Business Manager “It is a great thing that we have a team in there this year. They are in the Iowa side, we are on the Illinois side right now but sides don’t matter.  It is the brotherhood we have and the brother’s tugging.”

After 11 grueling tugs, Illinois won bragging rights. But there is always next year and the IBEW will be there as always with all hands on deck to make sure the tradition of the Tug Fest continues on.

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Matthew Walton

Matthew Walton is the host of IBEW Hour Power and has been with the program since its beginnings in 2007. As an IBEW Hour Power host and producer, Matthew travels across the United States and Canada visiting job sites, training centers, and union halls to tell the stories of the IBEW brothers and sisters that work so hard every day.

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