Mechanics keep IU Campus Bus engines running in the dark and cold
Jan. 25, 2017
Bright bus headlights guide the way for Doug Shelton, Campus Bus Service lead mechanic, as he walks in the dark through IU’s bus fleet early in the morning.
When winter temperatures dip into single digits, Shelton’s up at 4 a.m. to make it to the bus barn by 5 a.m. to start the engines for 25 buses in the fleet, so drivers can hit their routes on time for the day.
He has to shout to be heard over the roar of their combined running engines. Most days those buses will transport about 25,000 passengers to various locations on the IU Bloomington campus. In a year, a total of about 3 million passengers will ride the buses. It’s thanks to 22 full-time bus drivers, about 30 part-time student drivers, four mechanics and two managers that those passengers get to where they need to go.
“When I came here I was 19. Now, I’m 58,” Shelton said.
He started as a member of the wash crew. Now, he leads Campus Bus Service’s three other mechanics: Eddie Ray, Alan Thomas and Don Inman.
Of the four of them, Inman has worked at Campus Bus for the shortest time: 29 years.
“It’s my home away from home,” Shelton said. “I’ve got some good guys. We all work pretty well together.”
The four-man crew keeps the buses running in all kinds of weather, but winter is the worst.
They dress in layers.
“Long john’s, coveralls, whatever you’ve got,” Shelton said.
As they walk out to the bus barn -- “where the buses sleep at night,” he said with a laugh -- the mechanics are careful not to slip on ice or snow frozen to the concrete.
Shelton knows how to rebuild a bus from its frame and has done so to get a bus on the road for a sports team or choir to reach the weekend competition in time.
He has an office with a desk complete with a rolodex and stapler, but much of his time is spent underneath a bus. Opposite his office are rows of enormous bus tires. The view from his office window is a garage with hoses hanging from the ceiling for changing or adding grease, motor oil, transmission fluid and antifreeze. Next door is a parts room with shelves filled with belts, pipes, brake pads, hose clamps, batteries and various drawers of screws, nuts and bolts.
“I don’t care how many parts you have, there’s never enough,” he said.
All around him is the odor of oil and grease -- a scent Shelton’s nose doesn’t catch anymore.
His day is punctuated by sporadic sounds. Taking the lug nuts off a bus tire sounds like a jack hammer. A bus door opens with an airy hiss. At any moment the voice of a bus driver could crackle through his walkie-talkie. Careful listening is also important for his job, to help him diagnose an engine problem.
Shelton sometimes feels sore from all the lifting, pushing and bending that are part of the physically demanding job.
“Everything you do on a bus, for the most part, is heavy,” he said.
He doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon, though. He’s been at IU for 38 years and still thinks it’s a good place to work.
Shelton will be looking under the hoods of buses "as long as my body will let me," he said.