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2017

Florence Ruble 

Data Collection Supervisor
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, October 12, 2017 2:14:00 PM

Florence Ruble

When Florence Ruble began her career at Metro Transit in 1985, she was the only person in the scheduling department with a computer. Later in her career, she helped the agency begin using technology that would help automatically collect passenger boarding data – at times climbing to the top of 10-foot ladders to mount detection equipment on light poles and other street fixtures. But when she retired after 32 years of service, it wasn’t her proficiency with technology that people remembered her for. It was the way she supported those around her, and especially the employees she led over 23 years as a Data Collection Supervisor. At her retirement, co-workers said Ruble was always the one to suggest and organize a potluck, or to pick up the phone and listen when Data Collectors encountered issues on the road. The relationships she built, Ruble said shortly before her retirement, are what kept her coming back for more than three decades. “I got more comfortable and had such good people to work with, so I said, ‘OK, I’m going to stay here,’” Ruble said.

Before she started, though, Ruble wasn’t quite sure what she was getting into. She applied for a job as a Data Processing Aide after seeing it advertised in the newspaper. It seemed like a good fit, she said, because she’d done similar work at the Powers Department Store, which was closing. But, she said: “I just assumed it was a garage with a bunch of buses. I never imagined how big it was.” The organization Ruble stepped into didn’t look much like the one she left behind, though. In her first few years, Ruble helped transfer hand-written route information into a computer system that built operator schedules. It would be several years before others in the scheduling department would also begin using computers. The next leap came with the arrival of Automatic Passenger Counters, or APCs. The technology allowed passenger and schedule data to be automatically collected through sensors, instead of being counted manually by employees. Because the technology could only reach a portion of the system at first, Ruble helped develop sampling methods that expanded their impact. The work was hands on, too – Ruble helped mount sensors in the field and pulled disks that stored data from the buses. While that technology replaced some of the manual counting that took place, Ruble continued to oversee Data Collectors who spent their days counting bus and light rail passengers and tracking on-time performance. That information helps verify and supplement the automatically-collected data. Ruble said she was proud of the work she and her team did over the years. “I know the information we collected over the years made a difference,” she said. “It’s so important because that’s really the first step in building the schedules.” 

In retirement, Ruble planned to spend time with her dog and traveling with her husband Jim. As longtime season ticket holders, the couple hoped to attend Minnesota Gophers football games at each Big Ten school. While looking forward to that next chapter, Ruble said she’d miss her co-workers. “After seeing them every day, they’ve really become family,” she said.
2017

Renee Stafford, #603 

Operator
| Thursday, June 01, 2017 10:36:00 AM

Traveling between the University of Minnesota and her Mounds View home on Route 25, Renee Stafford started to think she might like working as a bus operator. At 19-years-old, she submitted an application but was told she was too young. But the thought persisted and a month of her 21st birthday, after reaching the minimum age requirement, she tried again. It was the beginning of a career that would span more than four decades, hundreds of thousands of miles and countless passengers and end with Stafford retiring as Metro Transit’s longest-tenured female operator.

While Stafford didn’t initially expect to spend her life as a bus operator, she quickly grew to enjoy the work and stayed on after earning her degree in education. It was a surprising decision that raised eyebrows among family, friends and Stafford herself. One of just a few female operators, Stafford was also introverted and largely unfamiliar with the urban environment she found herself working in. She remembers being “terrified” the first time she drove the bus alone in heavy traffic during rush hour – a Route 17A that ran from downtown Minneapolis to Uptown.

The fear didn’t linger long, though. With each customer she met and each mile she drove, Stafford’s confidence grew. At her retirement, she was remembered as a bright and cheerful presence both on the bus and with her peers at Nicollet Garage. Stafford spent the last seven years of her career on Route 9, developing friendships with many longtime customers. But all those who boarded Stafford’s bus were greeted warmly. “I talk to everybody now, even if they don’t look particularly happy,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s a game, but I definitely take it as a challenge to get people to smile.” Customers could also be assured of a safe ride: she retired with 37 years of safe driving, which she credited to a commitment to Safety Keyes and a habit of expecting people to do the “dumbest, most dangerous thing they could do.”

Stafford retired in June 2017, exactly 41 years after she began. At her retirement, Stafford said it was the relationships she developed that she ultimately cherished and will miss the most about working at Metro Transit. “I have friends that I pick up every day, and I’m going to miss that,” she said. In retirement, Stafford planned to spend more time traveling, golfing and enjoying life.

See a video of Stafford taking her final trip on KARE-11​.

2017

Terry Hinchcliffe, #5157 

Facilities Technician
| Monday, May 01, 2017 3:09:00 PM

Terry Hinchcliffe

Terry Hinchcliffe was producing ammunition at the Twin Cities Arsenal when a friend encouraged him to apply for a job at the Metropolitan Transit Commission. In 1977, he started working as a cleaner at the old Northside Garage, beginning what would become a 39-year career in transit.

After gaining a few years of experience in Bus Maintenance, Hinchcliffe moved to the Overhaul Base where he began working in the brake and body shops. As he settled in, he found his most satisfying work came when he had the opportunity to put his creativity to use. Over time, he developed a reputation as a talented and inventive fabricator, fulfilling visions that were often born out of crude drawings and vague notions. “Many times it was so basic you had to ask, ‘What did you even draw?’ or it wouldn’t even be drawn but just discussed,” he said. Hinchcliffe filled in the gaps, though, earning trust and gaining more freedom to create as his career progressed. Among his many inventions were custom lift devices that made it easier for technicians to remove bumpers and radiators. He also helped create two Twinkle Buses, specially-decorated buses that were a fixture of the Holidazzle Parade for many years. The first version was wrapped in metal panels, netting and around 20,000 holiday lights, each individually zip tied. “I was always given a lot of freedom to build anything I thought we needed, which was challenging but also rewarding and a lot of fun,” Hinchcliffe said shortly before his retirement.

Hinchcliffe spent most of his career in Bus Maintenance. But looking for more chances to get outside, he spent his final three years as a Facilities Technician. The job involved snow removal, painting and installing shelters, among other duties. It also provided Hinchcliffe a chance to apply his fabrication skills in new ways. Pulling together equipment, he created a fabrication shop devoted entirely to facilities. He also continued to invent, designing a hydraulic jack that could lift heavy waiting shelters in and out of trailers to make installation easier.

After 39 years of service, Hinchcliffe retired in May 2017. In retirement, he planned to spend more time with his family, including several children and grandchildren, and pursuing his hobbies – dirt biking, hunting, fishing, camping and playing the guitar.

2017

Rob Milleson, #5267 

Director of Bus Maintenance
| Monday, May 01, 2017 10:07:00 AM

After moving from rural Wisconsin to the Twin Cities, Rob Milleson studied broadcasting and spent a few years working for a concrete company, a hotel, a metal tubing plant and the Dayton’s department store. In 1978, his search for something that fit brought him to the Metropolitan Transit Commission. In his first job as a vault puller at the old Northside Garage, he had to squeeze in and out of tightly-parked, exhaust-filled buses, at times entering through the window to read fare box meters. While it wasn’t glamorous work, Milleson had found the opportunity he was looking for. And he took full advantage, embarking on a 39-year career that eventually led him to several leadership roles in Bus Maintenance.

Not long after he began, Milleson moved into Bus Maintenance and began working his way up from Cleaner to Helper to Technician. While he didn’t have much experience, he learned on the job and quickly grew to enjoy replacing transmissions, troubleshooting faulty electrical components and other maintenance tasks. In 1986, he took his first leadership role as a supervisor, briefly working at Nicollet Garage then taking the second shift at Heywood Garage. Working at Metro Transit’s largest garage brought more responsibility but the days went quickly and brought a sense of accomplishment, Milleson said. “Pull out was always stressful but it was also very satisfying when you got through it,” he said. As a supervisor, he devised a road call card system that kept better record of repair needs so buses wouldn’t end up back on the street before they were fixed. And he created the first-generation electronic stub sheet, a tool for scheduling buses in for work.

More responsibility followed. In 1998, Milleson became the Maintenance Manager at Heywood. Three years later, he would become the Manager of Maintenance Administration. He was named the Assistant Director of Bus Maintenance in 2006. As a leader in Bus Maintenance, Milleson oversaw fleet plans, bus purchases, garage assignments and a variety of personnel issues. He also took a more active role in improving fleet reliability, regularly checking in with garages to follow-up on repeat issues that appeared to be avoidable. “Sometimes, road call buses would slip away without being addressed only to fail again,” he said. “I was drawing attention to that and building the understanding that we needed to fix it the first time and fix it right.” In 2003, Metro Transit’s reliability began to steadily improve. For the last four years of Milleson’s career, he served as the Director of Bus Maintenance, overseeing a department that had grown to include nearly 500 technicians and support staff.

Approaching retirement, Milleson said he’d never imagined the path his career would take, but that he was grateful for the opportunities that arose along the way. He wasn’t eager to take much credit, either, saying the department’s successes came from having a strong and capable team that worked together to make decisions. “I certainly don’t have all the answers, so I’ve always felt that it was important to include other people in the decision-making process as much as possible,” he said. “One of the most important roles in this position is listening to people, and I did a lot of that.”

After 39 years of service, Milleson retired in May 2017. In retirement, Milleson said he looked forward to spending more time with his family, including six children and 12 grandchildren, working on his home, woodworking and traveling. “I hope I made a difference where I could,” he said. 

2017

Cheryl Kienietz-Hall, #360 

Instructor
| Wednesday, March 01, 2017 3:51:00 PM

Cheryl Kienietz-Hall always thought of her employee number, #360, as a symbol of coming full circle. And her career did eventually come to a close in almost the same place it began, at least geographically. That’s because Kienietz-Hall finished her career at Metro Transit as an Instructor, working just across the street from the site of her first job at the since-shuttered Shamrock Neatway Plastics factory. “I worked a lot of places in between but I find it really kind of ironic that I’m retiring just across the street from what was my first job,” she said.

While her career began and ended on the same block, Kienietz-Hall collected plenty of experiences during her 38 years as a bus operator and instructor at Metro Transit. Her career began in February 1979 when, after nearly a decade of riding the bus, she resolved to see what it was like to be in the driver’s seat. The decision came after Kienietz-Hall had graduated with a degree in psychology, ruled out furthering her education and was searching for good-paying, steady work. “I didn’t want traditional women’s work, because it was traditionally low pay,” she said. When Kienietz-Hall interviewed, she was surprised to be asked how she’d commute without a car. But she made it work, riding the bus and roller-skating to the old Northside Garage.

Not long after she started, Kienietz-Hall moved to the old Snelling Garage and began working as a driver for Project Mobility, serving residents unable to use regular route transit because of their disabilities. Kienietz-Hall was in part drawn to the work, she said, because her mother was in a wheelchair. She was also among the first operators to volunteer to drive buses with lifts, which at the time were available on only a portion of the fleet. “It was important to me to have the ability to pick up anybody,” she said.

Kienietz-Hall was later among Metro Transit’s first group of full-time instructors. While taxing, Kienietz-Hall said she enjoyed helping new operators and that the work was a good match for her personality. “Training has really been the best fit for me,” she said. “It takes a lot of energy, but I’ve always been able to put myself out there.”

Kienietz-Hall retired in March 2017, just over 38 years from her first day on the job. At the time of her retirement, she planned to take a few months to think about what she wanted to do next. But more time reading, attending theatre, learning how to cook and several home improvement projects were among the activities she looked forward to.

2017

George Hernandez, #1354 

Garage Coordinator
| Friday, February 03, 2017 2:33:00 PM

George Hernandez

George Hernandez wanted the kind of job he could stay in until retirement. So after leaving school and briefly working at an aluminum foundry in St. Paul he applied at two places he thought would offer steady employment – the U.S. Postal Service and the Metropolitan Transit Commission. MTC was the first to respond. And just like that Hernandez’s 36-year ride in transit began.

Hernandez started his career as a bus operator at the old Snelling Garage, where his two older brothers already worked. He immediately liked the job and continued to drive up until his retirement, maintaining a clean driving record the entire time. But he also saw a chance to help his fellow operators. So when he was offered a new role as an Instructor in 1985, he gladly took it. “I always liked helping people – that’s why I think that job fit me so well,” Hernandez said. Hernandez also spent several years providing peer support, responding when operators needed someone to talk to after a traumatic incident. 

In 2011, Hernandez was asked to serve as East Metro’s Garage Coordinator. As Garage Coordinator, Hernandez helped schedule new operators, coordinated quarterly picks and stayed in close contact with the Instruction Department to ensure training requirements were met. “It’s a lot of scheduling,” Hernandez said. “You have to know what’s going on next week and the week after.”

More than that, though, he was an all-around problem solver who was always eager to help, even when it meant staying longer or being pulled away from other work. And as one of Metro Transit’s largest garages – there were nearly 400 bus operators at East Metro at the time of Hernandez’s retirement – there was always plenty of work. “There were days I’d look back and think, ‘What did I get myself into?’” Hernandez said. “It definitely kept me on my toes.”

After 36 years, though, Hernandez decided he was ready to have more control over the course of his days. As he looked forward to retirement, he said he was eager to spend more time exercising, traveling and with his family, including wife Joanne, son, four daughters and ten grandchildren. “I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done and I still enjoy it,” he said. “But there’s another part of life that I’m looking forward to.”

2017

Tim Dixon, #5510 

Mechanic-Technician
| Friday, February 03, 2017 2:00:00 PM

Tim Dixon

Early in his career, Tim Dixon was driving a bus through the wash rack and got it stuck, a discouraging experience that caused him to rethink whether he was in the right line of work. But he stayed with it, moving from Cleaner to Fueler to Skilled Helper to Mechanic-Technician – acquiring skills that would eventually lead him to a first-place finish in Metro Transit’s Bus Roadeo. Looking back at his 36-year career, Dixon said he was grateful he stayed with it. “I’m glad I didn’t quit because it’s really been a blast,” he said shortly before his retirement. “I feel very fortunate.”

The fulfillment came not only from getting better at his work, but from the relationships he developed over the years. Dixon spent time at every service garage except for Ruter, and lived under a mile from East Metro. But he felt most at home at South Garage, where he spent the last 15 years of his career working as a Mechanic-Technician. “I put on more miles coming here one way than I would have all week going to East Metro, but it just felt like home here,” Dixon said. “It was a really tightknit group.”

The camaraderie didn’t keep Dixon from building connections throughout the organization, though. Over nearly a decade on the ATU Local 1005 board, he worked with management and union representatives to develop an employee resiliency program and other training initiatives. “I never really considered myself a leader but that kind of came with the job,” Dixon said. “You listen to people and see what you can do to help.”

There were plenty of light and memorable moments, too. When South Garage opened in the early 1980s, the facility was surrounded by undeveloped land full of wildlife, providing an opportunity to chase rabbits. During the blizzard that hit the Twin Cities on Halloween 1991, he spent 15 consecutive hours pulling buses out of the snow. And amid a massive rainstorm, he literally swam through the parking lot to close a bus window. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dixon said. “It was a deluge that never ended.”

At retirement, Dixon said he was looking forward to moving with his wife to a family cabin in Webster, Wisc., where he could devote more time to fishing and pursuing new hobbies like gardening, canning and smoking food. A lifelong lover of children, Dixon was also eager to spend more time with his four grandchildren. But saying goodbye still didn’t come easily. “The easiest part was getting hired on and the hardest part now is retiring,” he said.

2017

Thomas Gilligan, #798 

Operator
| Wednesday, February 01, 2017 2:17:00 PM

Thomas Gilligan

Thomas Gilligan has always enjoyed being on the move, happily volunteering to cut the grass with a riding lawn mower and, growing up, speeding around the city on his bike or riding Twin City Lines buses. So while he didn’t always aspire to be a bus operator, it was a profession that he fell naturally into. The love for driving persisted throughout what ultimately became a 41-year career. He found plenty of other things to like about the job along the way, too.

Gilligan’s career began in November 1975, after his best friend’s mom encouraged her son and Gilligan to apply at what was then the Metropolitan Transit Commission. His friend didn’t get the job, but Gilligan got the call. His first stop was the old Nicollet Garage, but he would eventually spend time at every garage except for East Metro. As a longtime extraboard operator, Gilligan also had a lot of variety in the routes he drove. He immediately like the driving, but it took time to learn how to deal with passengers, Gilligan said. He eventually got the hang of it, though. “Most people were there just for the ride, but I met a lot of wonderful, warm human beings – as well as a few people from outer space who were fun, too,” he said.

Among Gilligan’s most memorable passengers was former Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson, who rode the bus several times a week to and from his Wayzata home. Before public transit agencies were prohibited from providing charter service, Gilligan also helped transport visiting sports teams, including professional and college baseball teams playing at the Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Gilligan got the most satisfaction, though, from his time as a Project Mobility operator serving individuals whose disabilities prevented them from using regular route service. “It was a very personal job,” he said. “You really felt like you were doing something special.”

Gilligan retired in February 2017, at the time Metro Transit’s longest-serving operator. Leaving on top, he said, was a meaningful end to his four-decade career. “I’m really kind of a humble guy, but yeah that does mean something to me,” he said. In retirement, Gilligan plans to spend more time with his family, including his son, daughter and two grandchildren, and taking fishing trips to Canada. While Gilligan looked forward to the next chapter, he said he’d miss the people he worked with and the job itself. “I still absolutely love the driving,” he said.

2017

Russ Dixon, #918 

Operator
| Wednesday, February 01, 2017 1:58:00 PM

Russ Dixon

Growing up, Russ Dixon’s father taught him to be more than a bystander. The lesson stuck with him through adulthood, leading Dixon to get involved in a variety of different activities during his 30-year career as a bus operator. Dixon served on the Transit Safety and Security Committee, a group that regularly met to discuss diversity and spent 18 years as a steward with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005. “My dad always used to talk about how important it is to get involved in whatever system you work in, so that’s what I did,” he said.

Dixon’s career path was also influenced by family. After growing up in Chicago, he followed his brother to Minneapolis and applied at the Metropolitan Transit Commission on the advice of his brother-in-law. A month after submitting his application, he got a job as a part-time bus operator at the old Shingle Creek Garage. A few years later, he went full-time, briefly working at the old Snelling Garage before moving back to Shingle Creek. When a favorite dispatcher retired, Dixon transferred to Heywood Garage. The move led to more opportunities to engage with the community, which became something of a specialty. One of his most memorable experiences was the years he spent driving the specially-decorated Twinkle Bus in the annual Holidazzle Parade (including one year in which he took the bus through the community, following the Route 5).

While Dixon enjoyed the unique opportunities that came his way, he got just as much enjoyment out of his day-to-day work. He spent most of his time driving routes that served North Minneapolis, where he lived. “What was fun about that was how you got to know people,” he said. “I looked forward to seeing my customers. We’d laugh and joke all the way until they got to their stop. It was really a blast.” Dixon had just as good a time with his co-workers, whom he treated as family. That closeness led Dixon to become a strong and vocal advocate for his peers and to take his role as a mentor seriously. “I always used to preach that you had to give the best eight hours you had because this could be not just a job, but a career,” he said.

Dixon retired in February 2017, with plans to spend more time traveling. At his retirement, he said: “The people here are more than co-workers, they’re family. That’s what I’m really going to miss.”

 

2017

Kathy Jones, #3049 

Maintenance Clerk
| Sunday, January 01, 2017 3:46:00 PM

Kathy Jones was working for a printing company when the woman living in the upper unit of her duplex told her she would soon be leaving the Metropolitan Transit Commission and that she should think about applying for her job. It was a chance piece of advice from a neighbor she’d never see again. But it opened the door to what would become a 40-year career for Kathy, who would soon leave the printing company and begin working for MTC.

When she began in 1976 Kathy served as a payroll clerk, reviewing trip sheets at the old Snelling Garage to help ensure operators were paid correctly. “It was really a serious job,” Kathy said. “Everyone was on edge because you didn’t want to make any mistakes.” Undeterred, she moved to the Finance Department, where she used a ten-key adding machine to balance farebox collections. After that, she spent about a year working as a transit information representative helping customers plan trips over the phone at a call center based at the old Nicollet Garage.

When she took a job as Maintenance Clerk at Nicollet in 1981, Kathy found a permanent home in Bus Maintenance. The job was a relatively new creation for the company, requiring her to keep manual records of timecards, inspections and repairs, all stored in three-ring binders. While she worked at a desk, the realities of the garage were never far off. Smoke built up and eventually filtered through the bottom of the door and into the office space where she worked. “It looked like the fog was coming in,” Kathy remembered. Kathy was also the only female in her work area. But while her clothes smelled like diesel at the end of each day, her co-workers treated her well and she enjoyed the work. So she persevered. “I enjoyed what I was doing, so why would I want to change?” she said. “I was having too much fun. I didn’t want to give that up.”

Eventually, though, the time to move on arrived. In January 2017, Kathy retired with 40 years of service and plans to spend her retirement traveling, visiting friends and with her family, including a son, daughter and three grandchildren. Looking back, Kathy said the thing she’ll miss most is the people she worked with at Nicollet, throughout the transit system and through the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005.  “There’s a lot of good personalities” she said.

2017

Jeff Gauthier, #3052 

Mechanic-Technician
| Sunday, January 01, 2017 2:16:00 PM

Jeff Gauthier

Growing up in St. Paul’s East Side, Jeff Gauthier and his grandmother would regularly visit his grandfather Lawrence, an MTC operator, for lunch between trips. His dad Fred also built a 45-year career in bus maintenance. So it’s unsurprising that when Gauthier was encouraged to make a career in transit he heeded the advice. And while he wasn’t sure how long he’d stay when he began, he wound up spending 42 years in bus maintenance, working on at least seven different types of buses as technology continued to evolve over the course of his career. “I never knew how long I’d be here, but once I got in and started seeing the work people did, had a steady check and good insurance I figured, ‘I’m going to stay right here. This is perfect,’” Gauthier said shortly before his retirement.

Gauthier’s career began as a Cleaner at the old Snelling Garage. He worked for a few years as a foreman for Metro Mobility, but spent the majority of his time as a Mechanic-Technician tearing apart and rebuilding motors. And he never left his hometown. After the old Snelling Garage closed, he continued and finished out his career at East Metro. But Gauthier still saw plenty of change over his four decades in maintenance. Troubleshooting went from an intensely manual process to one based primarily on computer programs. Engines became progressively more complex and powerful. And the environment he and his fellow mechanics shared became markedly better. “When I started, we were working in what was really just a dingy old streetcar barn. It would rain and the manhole covers would come up,” he said. “When I got to East Metro, it was like night and day.”

Looking back, Gauthier said keeping up with those changes, and the satisfaction he got from mastering a new skill or repairing a bus, were what kept his interest over the years. Friendly co-workers and a supportive workplace made it all that much easier to stay. “It’s hard to leave a place like this, because everything’s been so good,” he said. Even so, Gauthier decided it was time to say goodbye, retiring in January 2017. In retirement, he plans to continue building his business repairing small hoists and to finally take his fishing boat out of storage.

2017

Rick Carey, #5197 

Director-Rail Vehicle Maintenance
| Sunday, January 01, 2017 12:09:00 PM

Rick Carey

As a little kid, Rick Carey loved taking things apart and putting them back together. By middle school, he’d already decided he wanted to be a mechanic. And he always worked on his and his family members’ vehicles. So it was only natural that he’d go to vocational school, apply for work at what was then the Metropolitan Transit Commission and build a 36-year career in bus and rail maintenance.

Carey’s career began at the old Snelling Garage, where he quickly moved from a Cleaner to Helper position. He later worked as a Mechanic-Technician at the old Northside, old Nicollet, South, Shingle Creek and Heywood garages. During his time in Bus Maintenance, Carey enjoyed heavy hoist work – replacing trailing arms, changing rods and pulling wheels – and getting vehicles in top condition.

In 2003, Carey transferred to Metro Transit’s fledgling rail vehicle maintenance department, working as a Quality Assurance supervisor and traveling across North America to ensure vehicles being made for the Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line were built correctly. “I was probably flying more than anybody in the company at that time,” Carey said. “I was gone every single week.” In 2006, Carey initiated the first overhaul program for the Bombardier light-rail vehicles, also known as Type 1. He later worked in the Central Corridor Project Office, where he helped lead the purchase of 59 Siemens vehicles for the Green and Blue lines.

Shortly before the Green Line’s 2014 opening, he moved into another new role as the Assistant Director of Rail Vehicle Maintenance; he become the Director in 2015, overseeing a department with 65 technicians responsible for maintaining a fleet of 86 light rail vehicles. Carey said he had always enjoyed being an “informal leader,” and that assuming more responsibility gave him an opportunity to bring people along toward shared goals. “I always wanted us to do the best job we could,” he said. “That was the satisfaction I got from the job – working with a big group of people able to keep things running.”

After 36 years of service, Carey retired in January 2017. In retirement, Carey looked forward to enjoying time with his family, including wife, Karen, three children and seven grandchildren. He also hoped to spend more time working on his hobby farm, hiking, camping, canoeing, snowmobiling and four-wheeling.

2017

Jeff Zabel, #5413 

Mechanic-Technician
| Sunday, January 01, 2017 11:15:00 AM

Jeff Zabel’s father and godfather each worked as mechanics at the Metropolitan Transit Commission, and he’d learned first-hand how to repair cars growing up. So when he graduated high school and considered his options, pursuing a career in bus maintenance was an obvious choice. He applied and spent the next four decades repairing buses – at one point literally taking his father’s job in the radiator shop after he retired.

Zabel’s initial years were spent at the Shingle Creek, old Northside, Nicollet and South garages, where he rose from Cleaner to Mechanic-Technician. After moving to the Overhaul Base he eventually settled into the Body Shop, where he spent more than half of his career repairing coin-operated fareboxes, applying trim, fabricating panels and working on special projects like the specially-decorated holiday buses. He also became handy with a sewing machine, repairing seats and, later, using the same material to fashion hundreds of on-board trash bins. Toward the end of his career, Zabel experimented with the undercarriage of the flexible section on 60-foot buses, creating what he expects will be a more widely-used and durable protective cover.

The ability to try new things, take on different jobs and learn from his fellow co-workers, Zabel said, is what kept the job interesting throughout the years. It also made the years go by quickly. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long at all,” he said as his retirement date approached.

Zabel retired in January 2017 with more than 40 years of service. In retirement, he plans to spend time catching up on his honey-do list, gardening, fishing and being a grandfather. Zabel’s immediate family includes wife Mary, son Pete, who also works in Bus Maintenance, daughter Heidi Peace and granddaughter Jade Peace.

2017

James Schlafer, #3337 

Transit Information Representative
| Sunday, January 01, 2017 10:29:00 AM

James Schlafer wasn’t entirely sure what it would be like helping customers plan trips over the phone. But he’d spent his entire life biking and taking transit around the Twin Cities and had several years of experience as a telemarketer, providing what might have been the quintessential background for a job in Metro Transit’s Transit Information Center. It worked so well, in fact, that Schlafer ultimately spent more than 31 years as a Transit Information representative, becoming the department’s longest consecutively-serving employee by the time he retired in early-2017. “I’m pretty good at sticking with things,” Schlafer said wryly shortly before his retirement.

By his retirement, Schlafer had assisted up to 1 million callers over an estimated 3 million hours on the phone. The job was far from routine, though. Throughout his career, Schlafer challenged himself to look for solutions that weren’t immediately evident, mastering the quirks of local address systems and developing personalized mental shortcuts that helped him decipher the vague outlines callers sometimes presented him. “You get to know what people mean, even if they don’t really know what they mean,” he said. Schlafer’s intense study led to an encyclopedic knowledge of the transit system, at one point giving him the ability to place more than 120 routes on an unmarked map by memory. While technology eventually gave Transit Information representatives more immediate access to online trip planning tools, Schlafer said his intuition and knowledge base continued to be useful throughout his career. “Even if I didn’t have a computer or all these resources I could find out pretty accurately where someone was and still help them,” said Schlafer, known to callers as “Mr. James” throughout his career.

Schlafer took pride in proving the breadth of his knowledge, often telling self-convinced callers they’d owe him a Dr. Pepper if he could persuade them they were mistaken. “There are lot of people out there who owe me Dr. Peppers,” he said. That didn’t mean he wasn’t patient, though. In fact, Schlafer holds a likely record for the Transit Information Center’s longest phone conversation, a two-hour, 17-minute marathon call with someone looking for help getting around Burnsville and Eagan. “Usually, I try not to be on the phone long enough to have to be patient, but in this case all I could do was humor them for a really long time,” he said.

Approaching retirement, Schlafer said he would miss being a resource to his co-workers and answering what seemed like unsolvable puzzles. But he planned to have an active retirement, spending more time biking and taking daily hikes with his wife Diana, completing the Superior Hiking Trail, making photographs, writing music and participating in Mensa, a high IQ society.

2017

John Mattson, #1563 

Facilities Technician
| Friday, April 01, 2016 9:45:00 AM

After serving as a Marine in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict, John Mattson thought he’d go back to school to study engineering and science. But in 1975, on the recommendation of a friend, he applied for a job at Metro Transit, where he could put his “backyard mechanic” skills to use. He spent the next decade working as a cleaner, fueler and helper at the old Northside and old Snelling garages before moving into Facilities Maintenance so his days would have more variety. As part of a small and mobile facilities team, Mattson spent time at several garages. Eventually, though, he found a home at South Garage, where he spent the last 25 years of his career. Though he could have gone elsewhere, Mattson said he took pride in making South the best it could be. “I’ve always considered this my baby and the place where I belong,” he said. Mattson took particular pride in keeping the garage clean, well-ventilated, and lit and battling blizzards that nearly buried the garage during the winter months. Mattson retired in April 2016 with plans to spend time golfing, watching and photographing birds, and monitoring osprey nests along the St. Croix River.

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