Neal Camper’s father-in-law worked as a Twin City Lines operator. So when Camper found himself looking for work, he was encouraged to check the Sunday newspaper to see if the Metropolitan Transit Commission was hiring. As it happens, they were. He put on a suit and tie, interviewed and was hired. And so began a career in transit that would ultimately last more than 34 years.
Camper’s first stop was at the Martin J. Ruter Garage, where he was among the first part-time bus operators. Within months, he had the opportunity to go full time. Over his 13 years as an operator, Camper worked out of the South, Nicollet and old Snelling garages. Working the extraboard, he came to learn nearly every route in the system. “That was something I was really proud of because I could answer any question customers had,” he said. Camper was also proud of the unique role he played in Minneapolis’ annual Aquatennial festivities. For several years, he was hand-picked to transport the Aquatennial queen candidates in a specially-decorated bus.
As he gained experience, Camper also became a role model for newer operators. He served as a part-time instructor and was among Metro Transit’s first group of full-time instructors. Camper spent seven years in this role, working with his peers to introduce new operators to the position. He was also among a small group who could test new hires seeking Commercial Drivers Licenses.
In 2004, as Metro Transit was opening its first light rail line, Camper saw another opportunity to try something different. He was among the first to operate Blue Line trains, putting in 160 hours of testing, as he prepared to become a Rail Supervisor. After a year in the Rail Control Center, he moved to the Transit Control Center (TCC) where he would spend the final 14 years of his career.
As a TCC supervisor, Camper spent his days problem-solving, assisting bus operators who called in looking for help, dispatching police officers and doing whatever else was needed to keep service running smoothly. Camper liked that his days always brought new challenges and appreciated working alongside people who supported one another. “I was always blown away by the way people would teach me things,” he said. “I learned something new ever day.” One of his most memorable experience was the day the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed. Working as a police dispatcher, Camper had to make sure all of Metro Transit’s police officers and buses were accounted for and help establish a command center where response efforts could be coordinated. “I’m sitting there doing my regular routine and then to get that call – it was an interesting day for sure,” Camper said.
Camper retired in September 2018 with plans to relocate to Tucson, Ariz., where he hoped to spend time volunteering. A father of two, Camper also looked forward to spending time with friend and family and traveling.