Doors on a Metro Transit bus had defects. An engine wouldn’t start. Heating, cooling and electrical systems failed, too.

Metro Transit mechanics and technicians competing in Thursday’s Maintenance Roadeo were charged with diagnosing the problems.

That was easier said than done, admitted mechanic Casey Schowalter, even though his full-time job entails identifying and fixing problems to ensure buses are safe to put on the streets. He was one of 15 Metro Transit workers who participated in the challenge of technical skills and problem-solving abilities required on the job every day.

Five teams with three members each competed in timed exercises that included finding defects large and small that were planted in the air brakes and electronic systems, engines and transmissions, doors, and the heating, cooling and ventilation systems. Judges awarded points for every fault teams found and deducted points for safety violations. Each team member also took a written test. The winning team of Trent Devries, Gary Gauthier and Chris Antholz won a trip to compete at the American Public Transportation Association’s national competition in May in San Antonio.

Schowalter’s team, nicknamed the Slednecks, finished third.

This was the first time since 2015 that Metro Transit held the competition, which is a “culmination of what mechanics do on a daily basis,” said Mike Joyce, assistant director bus maintenance. It allows mechanics to show off their strengths, share tips with one another and encourage teamwork, Joyce said, listing reasons for bringing the competition back.

Competitions like the roadeo also allow the agency to see where mechanics struggle and identify areas where additional training and expertise might be needed, especially as Metro Transit’s fleet has evolved in recent years to include diesel, hybrid and electric-powered buses, he said.

Metro Transit’s 706 mechanics, cleaners and other behind-the-scenes bus and rail workers are vital for keeping the agency’s fleet of more than 900 buses rolling, said spokesman John Komarek. That is a daunting task since the average bus is in service 13 years and endures lots of wear and tear traveling millions of miles a year.

“They are the backbone of operations,” said Brian Funk, Metro Transit’s deputy chief officer of operations. “It takes hard work and ingenuity from talented people. They are the reason buses continue to run.”

Construction trivia nights

Study up now if you want to win a prize during the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s I-35W Crosstown-to-Downtown trivia nights.

The questions might not really be that tough, but MnDOT representatives will award prizes for the right answers from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Finnegans Brew Co., 817 S. 5th Av., Minneapolis, and from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at LynLake Brewery, 2934 S. Lyndale Av.

But players don’t have to have all the answers.

Spokesman David Aeikens said attendees can also ask MnDOT staff questions at the events, which are meant to provide updates on the project that includes building a transit station at Lake Street, ramps at 28th Street and a flyover bridge over Interstate 94, and rebuilding the northbound lanes of Interstate 35W north of Lake Street.

Over the winter, MnDOT has built retaining walls and bridges near Lake Street.


Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.