Gene Sheldon’s father spent several decades as a bus operator with the Metropolitan Transit Commission. Growing up in St. Paul, that meant he could occasionally ride with his father to and from school. So it wasn’t altogether surprising that, after graduating from St. Paul College and jobs with Cummins and Caterpillar, Sheldon applied at the MTC. In 1980, as the trucking industry suffered, he began working in bus maintenance at the old Northside Garage. While he thought it’d be a short stay, Sheldon would go on to build a 39-year career in bus and rail maintenance at Metro Transit.
Sheldon’s time at the old Northside Garage was short. Within a month, he moved to the old Snelling Garage where he worked in the brake shop. In the following years, he worked at Nicollet, South and old Snelling, where he repaired lifts, worked in the body shop and maintained HVAC systems, among other responsibilities. Sheldon also spent time outside the shop as a miscellaneous bus operator, occasionally picking up open work so he could “get out and see why we do what we do.”
In 2003, as Metro Transit prepared to open its first light rail line, Sheldon was among the first 12 technicians to begin learning what it would be light to maintain light rail vehicles. He spent several months studying electro mechanics at Dunwoody College, and several more months training in Metro Transit’s fledgling operations and maintenance facility. At first, the new light vehicles didn’t require much maintenance. But Sheldon and others learned how to operate them and were involved in nightly tests that occurred before service began in 2004. When the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit line, now the METRO Blue Line, opened, Sheldon and his peers were ready to step in if any mechanical issues arose. After the successful opening, things never seemed to slow down. “We had 24 vehicles and they wanted all of them out there every day,” Sheldon remembered.
That experience led Sheldon to take on more responsibility as the light rail vehicle maintenance department grew. After serving as a foreperson he became a supervisor and helped created training programs for new hires. In 2007, he became a manager and began overseeing the production of new light rail vehicles in Mexico and California. He also helped develop the specifications for 27 new light rail vehicles that were ordered for the METRO Green Line Extension.
Sheldon retired in September 2019 with plans to do some contract work, travel and enjoy time with his family, including his wife, two children and four grandchildren. Shortly before his retirement, Sheldon said he was grateful to have been able to build a career at Metro Transit. “As I look back, I can say that I really enjoyed working here and that I’m happy with the road I chose,” he said.