Ralph Mason spent more than a decade cleaning passenger and freight trains that stopped in St. Paul. When he was unexpectedly let go, Mason quickly set out to find a new line of work and spotted a newspaper ad about vault puller openings at Metro Transit. Despite thinking he faced long odds, he applied and was hired. Mason never had to look for another job again, retiring in early 2019 with just over 30 years of service.
As a vault puller, Mason emptied cash- and coin-filled fareboxes as they came into the garage. A year after taking the job, a cleaner opening came up at Nicollet Garage and Mason seized the opportunity to try something new. The move would end up being his last – Mason spent more than 28 of his 30 years at Metro Transit as a cleaner at the south Minneapolis garage. From the start, Mason took pride in his work, carefully cleaning the seats, floors and other areas of buses so customers could feel comfortable riding. His attention to detail was matched by an equally keen sense of the individual needs of each bus. Mason was individually responsible for up to a third of the garage’s 150 buses at a time. “The buses almost became like a little family,” Mason said. “What I always said was that if you take care of your buses, your buses will take care of you.”
While the job may have seemed repetitive, Mason said he enjoyed his work routine. “People would ask, ‘Don’t you get tired of it?’” Mason said. “And honestly, I don’t. If you’re comfortable with something why not stay with it.” That doesn’t mean he was complacent, though. Born in St. Paul and raised in North Minneapolis, Mason said he was proud to be a public servant. He also credited his longevity to having good managers and co-workers who supported and looked out for one another. Mason especially admired Sy Sharp, Nicollet’s longtime bus maintenance manager who retired with more than 50 years of service. “All my life I’ve been into sports, which are all about teamwork,” Mason said. “And that’s what we had here – a strong team.”
Mason retired in March 2019 with plans to take some long-overdue vacations and to spend more time with family, including a son and two daughters. “I’ve really been tethered to this job but it’s all been worth it,” he said. “Whenever I get the chance, I tell new people this is a great place to be, and a great time to be here."