Rod Walton: Pipeliners turn in to family while away from their own
BY ROD WALTON World Staff Writer
Sunday, March 03, 2013
3/03/13 at 7:38 AM
John Steward's head is focused on the Keystone XL Pipeline. His heart is in Maine.
That's where his 6-year-old daughter, Hailey, goes through treatment for leukemia. Hailey started feeling sick while visiting her dad in Oklahoma last summer, but the diagnosis was determined in Portland, Maine, where the Steward family lives while John is on the job.
Steward, who helps manage construction for TransCanada, is a pipeliner through and through, part of a family chain that started with his father in Texas. He loves the work, cherishes the camaraderie and even handles the travel OK.
"It's really overwhelming," he said one day while leading the Tulsa World on a tour of some Keystone XL construction in south-central Oklahoma. "Sometimes it's all I can do to choke it down."
Fortunately Steward hasn't had to go it all alone. The army of Keystone laborers has fitted together more like a family since hearing of Hailey's plight.
One group raised $6,500 via a raffle to help with medical expenses at Barbara Bush Children's Hospital in Portland. Another group, from a spread (the term used to define sections of the project) outside Steward's own working unit, donated a four-wheeler and raffled it off to raise about $6,000.
A ditching crew renamed itself in Hailey's honor.
"We're all a big family," Steward pointed out. "If one person is hurt, we all feel it."
The pipeliner's life has a certain blue-collar glamour to it, traveling around the country wherever jobs are calling. But the nomadic life has its downsides, too.
"It's tough being away," said Scott Steinbach, a safety coordinator for contractor Michels Pipeline Construction. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it."
Surely the experience is bittersweet for Steward, a man's man who sometimes feels pretty helpless in the grip of fate. Hailey is hanging in there, but right now the treatments are moving along and maybe someday she can personally thank all those rough and rowdy pipeliners whose hearts melted like butter when they learned of her illness.
"I hope to bring her to a safety meeting one day so everybody can meet her," Steward said. "It takes a big toll, so it's good to have all this support."
Original Print Headline: Pipeliners turn into family while away from their own