James Kudlak has seen a lot of changes in the 32 years he has been a part of the Moundsville Police Department.
None of them, however, are more noticeable than the cars he and other officers drive on a daily basis.
"The cars came straight off of a lot somewhere, and they were all different colors and had different set-ups," he said. "You never knew when you got into a car what was going to happen."
That uncertainty, equal parts exciting and nerve wracking, interested Kudlak, a Moundsville native who will retire today after serving for nine years as police chief. However, becoming a career police officer was never in his plans, Kudlak said.
"When I first came to the department, I had no desire to be a police officer," he said, adding he was 18 at the time and looking for a job after graduating from high school.
Unofficially, Kudlak was the youngest civil service worker in West Virginia at that time. He said he intended to try the position for a few months before moving on to another job, but he came to enjoy it very quickly. Now, three decades later, he hopes to impart his knowledge to new officers facing a common situation.
"When you first start out, you feel like you are wearing a cape, like you are invincible," he said. "You have to realize pretty quickly that isn't the case."
For Kudlak, that realization came the hard way, as in the early 1980s he was badly injured after being rear-ended during a high-speed chase on W.Va. 2 in Moundsville.
Though he spent three months recuperating, he said he was saved by the air bag in the vehicle - the only vehicle the department owned at that time that had such protective devices.
"I wasn't wearing my seat belt because we just didn't do that at the time," he said. "Needless to say I was very lucky, and I realized that everything could change in the blink of an eye."
Kudlak said he has seen safety for officers change drastically over the years, from specially equipped vehicles to the way officers respond to calls.
He has also seen a change in the way the department becomes involved with community residents, as he has overseen the implementation of Moundsville's city website. Moundsville City Manager Allen Hendershot, who was the chief of police prior to Kudlak's term and has been Kudlak's boss for his entire career, said the city was lucky to have Kudlak come into the police chief position when he did.
"Not only is he an excellent officer who knows how to manage a department, but we were lucky to be able to take advantage of his other skills," Hendershot said, adding Kudlak volunteers his time to operating the website.
Upon his retirement, Kudlak plans to drive a bus for Marshall County Schools - a job he has done part time for the past five years. He said the job allows him to continue working with people and looking after their safety, but with one major change.
"I won't have to worry about making schedules, handling budgets or making personnel decisions," he said. "The only thing that will matter is the safety of those 40 kids on that bus."
Still, Kudlak said he hopes officers in the department will contact him if they have questions or problems, much the way he was able to when he took over for Hendershot, who moved down the hall to take the city manger's position.
"When I worked midnight shifts, the older guys on the force would sit there and tell stories all night, and I always said I would never do that," he said. "Now, I've become that guy. I wish I would have kept a diary of all of those stories. It would have been a best-seller, I'm sure."