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Bus Mechanics Work Behind the Scenes To Keep Marshall County Students Safe

Marshall County Schools mechanic Malachi Kendzierski inspects one of the district’s 87 buses. (Photo by Alan Olson)

MOUNDSVILLE — The first step in the safety of students coming to Marshall County’s schools begins long before the buses come on the first day of school – it starts with the mechanics ensuring the buses start up each morning.

The mechanics at the county’s bus depot work like their kids’ lives depend on it — because in many cases, they do.

Many of the employees have children who either currently attend Marshall County Schools or have since graduated, meaning the care they put into their work is derived from more than just a job well done, it’s a labor of love.

Chief mechanic Tom Gorby said the culture of the garage was such that no mechanic would think twice about looking to fix something that they suspect was unsafe, and that he’s had late nights where he’d lie awake worrying that he’d forgotten some crucial fix.

“We’re pretty much all about safety, here. The golden rule is, if there’s even a question, just change it,” said Malachi Kendzierski. “You’re hauling peoples’ precious cargo. … A lot of our loved ones are on this. We treat this that way — if our kid was on there, would it be safe enough for us?”

“There’s babies on every bus,” added Lance Masters. “We all have loved ones that ride these. We treat everyone as if they were on it.”

The summertime, Gorby said, was the busiest season for the garage as the mechanics worked to get the buses ready to hit the road again in the fall.

“Not only do we bring every bus in and do our (safety) inspection on it, but anything that’s work, we replace. We check brakes every time they come in, tires, suspension, lights, the body of the bus, frame, seat, seat foam, the bolts that anchor them down.

“We also perform a West Virginia vehicle inspection every summer,” he added. “… Every time they come in here exceeds West Virginia state inspection.”

The district operates 87 buses in its fleet. When school is in, Gorby said the garage checks out four buses a day, five days a week, which works out an inspection every 20 days.

Kendzierski said the role of the transportation department is often overlooked when it comes to making sure students get to and from school safely, and that the county’s drivers do great work to help the garage crew out, too.

“That makes a difference. It takes everybody working as a team — mechanics, drivers, everybody working together, makes a big difference,” he said.

Marshall County’s extensive bus routes go far abroad, including down a number of roads that have seen better days, as anyone who’s driven them can attest. Maintaining their structural integrity is a full-time task.

“This county beats a bus up,” Gorby said. “You know what the roads are like — this is a large county, we have nothing but hills, and the roads are in bad shape. We do a fair amount of suspension work, loosens stuff up, and it’s tough.”

“Our tire specs are well above any they have in the trucking industry, or anything like that,” Kendzierski added. “They never, ever get close to worn out. If they get down, we’ll change them out.”

The mechanics credited their ability to keep on top of maintenance as well as they can to the county board of education, which allocates enough funding to make repairs when they become a concern, before they become an issue. The ability to fund the transportation department so well, they said, comes from the excess levy, which sees continuing support from voters.

“We’re pretty lucky as far as the county goes, in this state, as far as having finances to be able to do this stuff. There’s a lot of counties that don’t have that opportunity. I’m not saying their buses are unsafe, but we’re just able to go above and beyond because of that,” Masters said. “We probably have one of the cleanest, most-equipped shops in the state.”

The Marshall County bus depot was built in 1988.

“Some of the counties can’t even get a full bus in their garage,” Gorby added.

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