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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.”

2016

Ned Swentik, #562 

Dispatcher
| Friday, July 01, 2016 10:54:00 AM

Growing up, Ned Swentik never set foot in a bus. When he was hired as a bus operator in 1985, though, he quickly became familiar. “It was my first day and here they have me driving right off the bat,” he said. “It was kind of exciting.” Swentik ended up spending the next 25 years as a bus operator, learning every route in the system by moving garages every few years and spending nearly all of his time on the extraboard. The variety helped keep him going. “When you move every two or three years, it’s like going to a new job with all new people,” Swentik said. “It kind of gives you a boost.” During his time as an operator, Swentik trained to be a Dispatcher and spent six months as an Assistant Transportation Manager through the Leadership Academy. He spent the last five years working as a full-time Dispatcher, but continued to serve as a miscellaneous operator for all but the last year of his career. As a Dispatcher, Swentik said he particularly enjoyed doing the markup, putting the pieces together to ensure all of the available work was correctly assigned to operators. Aside from his work duties, Swentik is also proud of his efforts to get a garden started at South Garage, growing sweet corn that became a frequent treat at the garage. After nearly 31 years of service, Swentik retired in July 2016. In retirement, Swentik plans to build on his gardening skills by moving to a hobby farm in southern Missouri where he can grow peaches, grapes and plums. Swentik also hopes to help his wife start a horse rescue and to spend more time with his family, including four children and seven grandchildren.

2016

Jan Homan, #4113 

Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus
| Friday, April 01, 2016 2:42:00 PM

Jan Homan

Jan Homan’s career in transit began on Christmas Eve 1975. Hired as a Cleaner, he spent the overnight shift working alone in the then empty Shingle Creek Garage. After that solitary evening, Homan quickly found his place as a leader and innovator and, above all else, a friend. Over his 40 years at Metro Transit, Homan continually took on new and different challenges. After working as a Mechanic at the old Northside and Snelling garages, he landed his first supervisor job, as a foreman at Nicollet Garage. In 1992, he became the Maintenance Manager at Heywood Garage. It was in this role that Homan helped re-define the inspection process and shift attention toward preventative maintenance. In 2000, Homan became Metro Transit’s Director of Bus Maintenance. As Director, Homan helped Metro Transit adapt new technologies, including hybrid-electric buses, worked to create opportunities for others and continued to lead efforts to improve fleet reliability. In 2013, Homan was named Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus and began leading both the Bus Maintenance and Bus Transportation divisions. Read more about Homan's career at metrotransit.org/ridersalmanac.

2016

Chuck Wurzinger, #5255 

Assistant Director-Bus Maintenance
| Friday, April 01, 2016 11:13:00 AM

Chuck Wurzinger knew early on that he wanted to do something related to public service. He began as a Cleaner in 1979, then spent the next decade repairing buses in various service garages. In 1989, he became the Cleaning Supervisor for all garages. Two years later, he became a Fleet Service Supervisor for ADA equipment, brakes, air systems, steering and suspension. Wurzinger also trained mechanics, worked on accident and fire investigations and filled several open positions, ranging from Shop Supervisor to Assistant Director. In 2007, he became the Assistant Director for Technical Support, managing a staff of 11, including trainers, fleet service supervisors and an engineer. Wurzinger also led bus, fuel and tire leasing procurements and managed Bus Maintenance contracts and individual bus production runs. Wurzinger retired in April 2016 with nearly 37 years of service. Upon his retirement, he said he never imagined he’d have such a lengthy career in transit, but that new challenges and opportunities motivated him to continue. In retirement, Wurzinger plans to spend time traveling with his wife and biking. “Of course, the biggest hole left by my retirement will be missing everyone I’ve worked with at Metro Transit,” he said.

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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