Meter reader Roy Ratliff faces on-the-job hazards

The temperature is close to 90 at 10 a.m.

on a Wednesday when Roy Ratliff goes about his job as meter reader for the city of Kingman Municipal Water System.

He wastes no time as he goes from meter to meter, up and down the streets and alleys, picking up each meter box lid and using his "chicken head," a steel stick with a hook at the end, to scrape off the meter cap to read the identification number.

He then looks under the cap to get the meter reading, a six or seven digit number which tells how much water the customer has used within the past month.

"I never know what I'll find in here," Ratliff said as he peered into an ominous looking opening filled with cobwebs.

"Last week there was a snake in one of the boxes and I had to use my stick."

A dozen or more very large bugs scurry in all directions as Ratliff lifts the lid off the next meter box.

After reading the numbers, Ratliff enters the data into a small hand-held computer called "The Interrogator," as he quickly walks to the next meter.

Occasionally the computer will "beep" at him to go back and check the numbers again, something that occurs when a number is entered incorrectly, or no one is living at the residence.

Ratliff checks between 350 to 600 meters a day depending on his route and figures he walks four to five miles.

"When I first started I could only read about 35 meters an hour," he said.

"Now I can do about 100."

Along the way he occasionally runs into other hazards.

He still has a scar from the time a pit bull terrier bit him, and he once released a swarm of angry bees when he opened a meter box lid.

He must also contend with the heat, something Ratliff said he has learned to deal with.

"I have a water bottle in my lunch box and I am constantly refilling it with water from the cooler in back of the truck," he said.

"I drink about five gallons a day.

The rigorous workout has netted other changes in Ratliff's life: Since becoming a meter reader last August he has shed 42 pounds.

"I'm happy about that," he said.

"I'm a diabetic, so the exercise is good for me."

Ratliff is used to hard work.

He was a supervisor at Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin for 27 years, and said he enjoys his current job, despite the hazards.

Scott Yocum, the city utilities superintendent, said some people think reading meters is easy, which is absolutely not true.

"It is a lot of walking and bending over," Yocum said.

"Rain, snow, sleet or shine we have to read the meters, even in 100 degree heat.

The only time meters aren't read is when a storm fills the boxes up with water, which is rare in Kingman."

Yocum said Ratliff, one of four meter-readers assigned to read 14,728 city and county water meters within 44-square miles in and around Kingman, is a "good reader who almost never needs to have a meter rechecked."

Rechecking is done when the data contained in the hand-held computer is entered into the main computer at the water finance office.

If the reading is judged too high, the meter reader must go back to the residence to recheck the reading.

"If it is high consumption and correct, we go back and look around the yard to see if there is a leak, then we leave a door hanger for the customer, alerting them to expect a high bill," Ratliff said.

Every three weeks Ratliff works for a week in the water finance office as part of a rotation system with other meter readers, but then it is business as usual back on the streets and alleys.

"This is fun for me," he said of his job.

"I wouldn't want it any other way."