Skip to main content For screen readers, our previous mobile pages might be more easily navigated while we continue to improve the accessibility of our website.

 
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.

2016

Roger Haas, #5312 

Manager-Fleet Services
| Tuesday, November 01, 2016 2:29:00 PM

Roger Haas

As one of nine children, Roger Haas regularly rode the bus while growing up in St. Paul. With a single car for the entire family, his father was also a dedicated transit rider who eventually found work as a mechanic at what was then the Metropolitan Transit Commission. So it wasn’t altogether surprising that, after graduating from Normandale Community College, Haas would also end up taking a job in transit.

Haas began his career as a cleaner/sweeper at the old Northside Garage in early 1975 and quickly moved into a helper/fueler position. While waiting for the Shingle Creek Garage to open in Brooklyn Park, Haas helped fuel more than 400 buses that were being stored inside and outside of old Northside each day. He moved to Shingle Creek when it opened, and also spent time at the Nicollet, old Snelling and South garages, gaining experience as he moved into skilled helper and mechanic roles. In 1988, he moved to the Overhaul Base where he worked on brakes, transmissions and in the body shop, among other jobs. “I did just about everything there at least once,” Haas said.

That wide-ranging experience led to a supervisory role in fleet services in 2009. The final four years of his career, Haas served as the manager of fleet services, overseeing a team of supervisors and mechanics to identify and implement best practices in Bus Maintenance. Haas also worked closely with bus manufacturers to provide feedback, help guide mechanical improvements and order new vehicles. “What’s really nice is to be able to see a project from start to finish, and to be able to measure success at the end,” he said of his time in fleet services. “There’s challenges that come with everything you do – time, money, buy in – but when you do succeed it’s extra sweet.”

Reflecting on his career, Haas said he appreciated having a steady paycheck, good benefits and a strong support network that encouraged and helped him along the way. “I’ve really been blessed throughout my career to have had the opportunity to learn from everyone who walked through the door,” he said. After more than 41 years of service, Haas retired in November 2016. In retirement, Haas plans to devote more time to his farm in Isanti, where he raises chicken and cattle and grows hay, and to go fishing and hunting more often. Haas and his wife Karen have two children – David, who works in Bus Maintenance at Metro Transit, and Steven, a surveyor Anoka County.

2016

Rick Sovde, #5506 

Mechanic-Technician
| Monday, August 01, 2016 10:34:00 AM

Rick Sovde was working as a meat cutter when a strike took him off the job for more than five months. Uncertain about his employer’s future and eager to get back to work, he started putting in applications. He quickly found a job as a Cleaner at the old Nicollet Garage – the start of what would become a 35-year career in Bus Maintenance. Sovde said his long tenure was largely a result of enjoying the people he worked with. “It was almost like a family working there,” he said. “We weren’t just work cohorts but friends in life.” Sovde said he also liked working in the old Snelling and Nicollet garages, environments that weren’t always clean but were rich with character and history. “When you were working in the bays in the early morning and all the old flexibles were pulling out, they’d start up and smoke like crazy,” he said. “You could hardly see the hand in front of your face it got so thick.” Sovde spent the majority of his career at South Garage, where he enjoyed making friends with mechanics and operators alike. While at South, Sovde became known for rebuilding seats and mirrors – efforts that began as a way to pass the time after finishing work orders but would become areas of unique expertise. Sovde rebuilt hundreds of seats and thousands of mirrors during his career; he also passed the knowledge on to Mechanic-Technicians at other garages. “I started doing it on the side but, just like anybody, you get really good at it when do it so much,” he said. Sovde retired in August 2016, with plans to spend more time golfing, hunting and taking weekend trips with his his wife, Lisa Sovde, an Asset Management Clerk at Metro Transit.

2016

Kevin Johnson, #2798 

Operator
Posted by | Sunday, July 10, 2016 3:40:00 PM

After graduating high school, Kevin Johnson began studying chemistry, driving a school bus and considering his career options. With a bleak job market even for those with college degrees, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a bus operator. He started on May 27, 1975 and ended up spending more than 41 years at Metro Transit – a decade longer than his father and, at the time of his retirement, the highest-seniority operator at the company. Johnson said his longevity was largely the result of good pay and benefits – his starting wage was $5.41 an hour – but that he also loved driving and meeting customers. “I had an inside job, but I was always working outside,” he said. “And while you didn’t get to pick the people you met, you did get to meet people.” He was also good at what he did: Johnson’s had a nearly-flawless driving record when he retired. Johnson’s career began at the Old Snelling Garage, where he was first assigned to the old Route 3 that ran on Grand Avenue (he remembers that route mostly for the heavily-perfumed older women). He spent a few years at the old Northside Garage and had a stint at Nicollet Garage before returning to Old Snelling and moving to East Metro when it opened in 1984. He spent much of his career working the extraboard and on urban routes. In St. Paul, Johnson was in familiar territory; he grew up and went to school on the East Side. After years of early-mornings, Johnson said he is looking forward to living without a schedule in retirement. He plans to travel the United States with his wife Marita, golf and spend time with his family, including six children and eight grandchildren. “Whatever I do, it’s not going to entail an alarm clock that’s for sure,” he said. “That things a goner.”

Page 3 of 14 << < 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >>

Skip footer navigation

CONTACT US
FOLLOW US ON: