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.