9th year: County buses earn perfect marks

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Every year for the last nine years, the transportation department of Covington County Schools has had perfect inspections from the state department.

The department includes Ricky Messick, transportation coordinator; David Windham, shop foreman; Jerry Merrill, head mechanic; and BoBo McVay, mechanic.

“The state department does a yearly inspection of all bus systems,” Messick said. “Since 2008, we have had perfect inspections.”

Messick attributes the county’s success to his skilled mechanics.

“We’ve got some great mechanics,” he said. “It’s all about the safety of our kids.”

Messick also said it helps to have bus drivers who take care of their buses, as well.

Windham became the foreman in 2007, and the very next year they earned a perfect score.

That’s quite the accomplishment on a 65-bus fleet.

“We have two of the best bus mechanics in the state of Alabama,” Messick said. “They make my job a whole lot easier.”

But a yearly inspection isn’t good enough for the men who work on the county’s buses.

“We do inspections of each bus once a month on site,” Windham said.

Their local school bus safety inspection form is long and tedious.

“It’s for the safety of our kids,” Windham said. “There are 73 items that are checked once a month.”

It may take time, but the team knows when the state comes that their buses are in good shape.

They check monthly for things such as visible leakage, master cylinder, brake fluid and coolant, power steering fluid, belts, etc.

In the interior, they check the entrance door, step well and handrail; the horn and gauges, camera and phone, etc.

On the exterior, the make sure that all the lights and flashers are working properly and check the tires and tread depth, wheels and lug nuts and bearings, etc.

Under the bus, they check the tie rod ends, king pins, bushings and bearings, shocks, and anything else that is listed.

There’s a whole checklist for the brake system, and the special needs wheelchair lift component as well.

“We check it from top to bottom,” Windham said.

Getting that sticker from the state and a perfect score is what they strive for each and every year.

“It feels good,” Windham said. “That’s what the goal is.”

Windham said another thing that helps them is the fact that the school system has invested in the diagnostic tools they need to better perform their jobs.

“A lot of systems don’t have the diagnostic tools we have,” he said.

Messick said the shop has a great set up.

“And we have the guys to do it,” he said. “I don’t have to worry with these two guys.”

To become a bus mechanic, one has to receive certification through the state.

Windham said you have to have six years prior experience, have completed a diesel mechanic school or work at a shop for three years.

In addition to maintaining the large fleet of buses, the crew also keeps the county school system’s fleet of vehicles running.

Windham and Messick said they always need substitute bus drivers.