Terry Whitson thought he’d make a career as an industrial welder. But when the company he was working for moved out of state, he found himself looking for a new line of work. His then father-in-law was working as a bus operator and suggested he try driving for a living. “It was the last thing that I ever would have thought of,” Whitson said. Even so, he applied and started shortly thereafter as a part-time operator at what was then called the Shingle Creek Garage. Whitson would ultimately spend almost 34 years as a bus operator.
Whitson remembers being pretty nervous as he started out on his new path. But he liked the challenge, the variety and the clean uniforms. So he stuck with it. After a few years at Shingle Creek (now the Martin J. Ruter Garage), he became a full-time operator and moved to the old Snelling Garage, where he found himself in unfamiliar territory. “I didn’t know St. Paul at all so it was kind of a crazy time,” he said. Before long, though, he was back in the comfortable environs of Minneapolis. From his home in North Minneapolis, Whitson could take the bus, walk, bike or occasionally even hitchhike to work. Working at Heywood was more than convenient, though. At the garage, Whitson found himself surrounded by friends and family. “I was really surprised how many people worked here that I already knew,” he said.
As a longtime extraboard operator, Whitson experienced a lot of different routes. But for nearly a decade he drove Route 16 between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Whitson said he enjoyed the route because it was “straight ahead, not a lot of hills and few turns.” He also spent many years on Route 7.
Shortly before retiring, Whitson earned a five-year Master Operator award for his attendance, customer service and safe driving skills. He also retired with a 29-year safe driving record and as a top finisher in several Bus Roadeos. The accomplishments were all the more meaningful because they followed a several-year period in which Whitson admittedly took the job less seriously than he should have. With support from his managers, peers and family, he charted a new path. Over time, he became something of a role model himself, passing along advice and answering questions from newer operators.
In retirement, Whitson planned to spend more time fishing, skiing and boating on the Mississippi River. “I call it my great escape,” he said. “Out there, it’s just water, wildlife and blue skies.”