“When you come up with an idea, even if you’re not sure it’s a good one, you should bring it up,” says Omnitrans Maintenance Mechanic Ralph Ligon. “You never know what can happen. Other people might think it’s great. Even it’s just a piece of an idea, someone else could come along with another part that could actually make the whole thing work.”
That’s exactly the reason Omnitrans chose Ralph to be its Employee of the Quarter. This innovative mechanic came up with the idea to remove viable CNG tanks from decommissioned Thomas coaches and install them into current New Flyer buses whose tanks were ready to expire. This extended the life of the current coaches for seven more years, and saved the agency approximately $588,000. His suggestion also allowed Omnitrans to maintain consistent service for customers.
“It’s just about paying attention to detail,” Ralph explains. “The length, width and general dimensions of the tanks in the Thomases and New Flyers seemed similar enough to work. My supervisor Craig Chance took the idea to the manufacturer and fine-tuned the details so we could proceed. As it turned out, it worked.”
Ralph has always had a knack for knowing how things work, whether it’s repairing vehicles or doing air conditioning and plumbing. In his off time, he likes working on and riding motorcycles and fixing things up around the house.
“I’ve always been like that. I have the ability to sit there, look at something, figure out how it works and repair it. Something just clicks, you know? I used to take apart my dad’s drills and things to see how they worked. He wasn’t too happy about that,” he laughs. “My dad used to dabble with things too, but I took it one step further. I could pretty much tear down the whole car engine and rebuild it—no problem. He’s pretty proud of me.”
Ralph’s interest in maintenance started back during vocational training in high school. In career placement tests, his scored highest in technical skills. After graduation, he decided to join the Air Force because he felt it was the most technical of the military branches. For four years, he worked as a special purpose mechanic and served during Desert Storm for 6 ½ months.
“When I used to work on machines in the desert, it was a totally different environment. I was stationed on the Saudi Arabia Air Force base, and for a while I worked out in the desert in a place called Al-Kharj. The base was 20 miles from the road in the middle of the desert, and it was 120 degrees in the shade. A lot of times we had a three mile long line of vehicles waiting for parts to come in from the states, so we had to rob parts from one piece of equipment to fix another. You learned how to switch things around and prioritize.”
When he came out of the military, Ralph struggled for a while to find work. The first man who gave him a chance was Joe Manista at Valley Equipment in Hemet. Ralph was excited by the opportunity. Every day was interesting, and he was able to work on machines he never even knew existed. A year later business began to slow down, and the company was forced to let him go.
Later, Ralph went on to work for Complete Coach Works in Riverside. Although he enjoyed the job and excelled at his work, he eventually topped out at the company. Ralph’s supervisor knew that their client, Omnitrans, was hiring and encouraged him to apply for the job. The young mechanic tested for the position and was quickly hired.
“That was back in late 2000. There were three of us hired. It was me, Art Yanez, and Robert Martinez. The maintenance manager back then, Mr. Larry Richards, told me that we three were the first mechanics the agency had hired off the street in over 20 years. Everybody in those positions had stayed until the day they retired.”
Ralph smiles. “I plan on doing the same. I’m getting too old to be bouncing around. It’s now 14 years later, and the three of us are still here. I’m glad it worked out. You have a place here as long as you want it really. It’s all up to you. There’s really a great group of people who work here. They try to get you all the things that you need.”
“I like that each day is different. Of course there are always some things that you expect to do, but no two days are the same. And it’s not all about a paycheck. It’s about liking what you do and knowing that your work helps people. When I was coming up, I used to ride the bus to school. If it didn’t make it there, then I’d be late. It’s the same with our patrons. They depend on our buses to get to hospitals, work, and school. If it doesn’t come, the riders suffer. So I go the extra mile to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to make sure these buses roll out.
“The most challenging part is keeping that consistency day to day—keeping that mind frame and knowing who you’re doing it for. Sometimes it’s really hot out there, and it gets pretty unbearable. There’s no air conditioning in the shop, so we’re catching all of it—especially the humidity. And when you open up one of these buses, you add another 30 or 50 degrees to that. You just have to push through.”
Ralph says he was surprised to be told that he was selected as Employee of the Quarter.
“I never even remotely thought about anything like that. I’m just doing what I can to basically keep these things on the road. If you’re parking 15 buses, you’re losing routes. You’re losing ridership. And the people who drive them—what are they going to do? Situations come up, and you need to find a solution. I had an idea, and if I hadn’t said anything then it may not have happened.
“It’s a good feeling to be appreciated. With everything going on in this world, I’m just blessed to be here, talking and breathing. There are a lot of people that aren’t. I appreciate everything that comes to me, and I take everything one day at a time.”
– Juno Kughler Carlson
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