In 1977, months after graduating from St. Paul’s Johnson High School, Duane Lundgren found himself traveling to and from the school again. This time, though, it was as a newly hired, 18-year-old school bus driver. The job wasn’t meant to be anything more than a way to make a little money while he pursued a career in TV or radio. But after attending vocational school, completing a broadcast program and briefly entertaining the idea of becoming a teacher, Lundgren remained at the wheel. He’d end up staying there for quite a while, too, spending 8 years as a school bus driver and trainer, and 34 years as a Metro Transit bus operator.
While it hadn’t been his initial plan, it wasn’t completely surprising that Lundgren would end up making a career as a bus operator, either. As a child, he was fascinated by large vehicles like semis and tractors. Growing up on St. Paul’s East Side, he often rode the bus downtown to spend his allowance on 88-cent records, thinking it might be neat to one day drive a bus. Practically speaking, being a bus operator offered better benefits, pay and stability than his other professional interests. “When I came here (to Metro Transit), it just seemed like a really natural fit,” Lundgren said.
Lundgren’s career in transit began in 1985 at what was then known as the Shingle Creek Garage. As a part-time bus operator, he worked during the morning rush hour and spent the rest of his day at the school bus company. After resigning from the school bus company, he started working during the afternoon rush hour. Lundgren became a full-time bus operator in 1988, briefly worked out of the old Snelling Garage and then arrived at Heywood, where he’d spend the remainder of his career. At Heywood, Lundgren spent more than a decade driving Route 3, and another decade driving what he and many of his customers believed to be the prettiest route in the system, Route 675, which runs between Mound and downtown Minneapolis (Route 675 later became Route 645). Lundgren said he enjoyed getting to know his passengers, being out in the community and overcoming daily challenges. “This is a challenging job, but I’m someone who likes to have my abilities and skills challenged, even if it gets a little frustrating at first,” he said.
Lundgren had plenty of skill, too, persevering through winter weather and much more to reach retirement with a perfect safe driving record. Patience and attitude, he said, were the keys to reaching that milestone. “I always told myself it wasn’t an option to have a chargeable accident,” he said. Lundgren regularly tested his skill in the annual Bus Roadeo, competing nearly every year that he worked at Metro Transit. He won several of the competitions and competed nationally four times.
For several years, Lundgren shared his expertise with new operators as an instructor. He was also among the first group of operators who mentored new hires through a program introduced in 2018. “You get a good feeling from teaching people and watching them wrap their heads around the things you’re telling them,” Lundgren said. Lundgren was also proud of a change he helped initiate in a union contract. Motivated by his own personal experience, the change allowed medically disqualified employees to retain their seniority when they were allowed to return to their job.
While his attention turned away from broadcasting, Lundgren still found opportunities to use his voice. Customers often complimented him on the way he announced streets and points of interest, and he once narrated a Metro Transit training video. In retirement, Lundgren hoped to get more voiceover work and to explore theatre. He also looked forward to spending more time with family and friends, traveling and devoting more time to his biggest hobby, dancing and being a dance instructor. Still, he said he’d miss the work that had come to define more than three decades of his life. “I’d go on three-week vacations and never dread coming back to work, clenching my teeth,” he said. “It always felt good to be here.”