Paul Liddicoat was just out of high school, living at home and looking for work, when his mom, a longtime bus rider, suggested that he apply at what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission.
Liddicoat hadn’t considered working as an operator – he thought he’d become a baker, a chef or a barber – but the $5 hourly wage was persuasive enough for him to put in an application. The manager Liddicoat spoke with shared his birth date, which was enough of a reason to give him a chance (if, that is, he agreed to trim his beard and get a haircut).
Liddicoat was hired at MTC, which would later become Metro Transit, on June 17, 1974. On Friday, 40 years and 9 months after he began, Liddicoat put on his operator uniform for the final time. Just before noon, he pulled the Route 7 bus he was driving to a halt, relinquished his seat to a relief operator and called it a career.
“Everyone says it goes by fast and it really does,” Liddicoat said while making his final trip through Minneapolis.
Joining Liddicoat on his final ride were General Manager Brian Lamb; past and current managers; Richard Maurer, who retired in 2014 with 39 years of service as an operator; and Renee Stafford, a longtime golf partner and 39-year operator.
Also on the trip was Liddicoat’s wife Jody. Going along for her husband’s final trip was especially meaningful for her because it was on a bus where she and Liddicoat met 37 years earlier.
Jody was a regular passenger on Route 5, which she took to get to her job at the Children’s Hospital on Chicago Avenue. She remembers Liddicoat as looking “wild with a big afro,” but said she was intrigued that he wore cowboy boots and agreed to go on a date.
“It was just like fate,” she said remembering their meeting. “Like it was meant to be.”
Liddicoat, who worked at Heywood Garage, is one of many Metro Transit employees who have recently retired with more than three decades of service. In 2014, 37 employees – operators, mechanics, stockkeepers and facilities technicians – retired with more than 30 years of service (combined, these employees had nearly 1,500 years of service). Another eight employees with more than 30 years of service have already retired through Jan. 8, 2015.
There are now just 80 employees left with three-digit employee numbers, which typically indicates they started working at Metro Transit several decades earlier (more recent hires usually have four- and five-digit employee numbers).
East Metro Operator Mark Uzpen celebrated his retirement on Jan. 6 after 42 years of service and 40 years of safe driving. Uzpen grew up on St. Paul’s East Side and grew up riding in the streetcars and buses that his father drove.
Uzpen’s father, who later became a street supervisor, retired with 46 years of service and his brother Jon retired as a safety specialist with 40 years of service in 2013.
At his retirement, Uzpen said he didn’t expect to stay as long as he did but that he enjoyed the work and will miss getting behind the wheel of a bus.
“I remember being told when I was hired that there would come a time when you’d rather be driving your bus than your car,” he said. “I thought that would never happen but toward the end that was definitely true.”
Not that retirement doesn’t have its perks. Maurer, the retired operator who was along for Liddicoat’s final ride, said he has learned to take it slow now that he no longer has to hold to a schedule. In fact, he said, he quickly dropped from his wardrobe the watch transit operators are required to wear while on duty.
“That was the first thing to go,” Maurer said. “No more watches for me.”
> Great People
> Star Tribune: Metro Transit driver makes final run of his 36-year career
> WCCO: Metro Transit driver retires to surprise after 36 years
> Know Your Operator
> A unique career: 50 years in transit