MTA mechanics ready for 'Roadeo' Nasty Boys vie for national honors

June 07, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Bruce Owens is reeling off the long list of defects he's found inside MTA Bus No. 9002 in a mere seven minutes, "Graffiti, ashtray missing, trash bag not secure. . .," when fellow mechanic Tom Ogden interrupts.

"Did you get that mirror?" Mr. Ogden asks, pointing to the chipped rear-view mirror.

Mr. Owens looks aghast. A mistake. That oversight could have meant 25 points, the difference between winning or losing an all-expenses-paid trip to Denver and a shot at another national bus maintenance championship.

"Damn," Mr. Owens replies, "I missed that mirror."

He shakes his head and gets ready for some good-natured gibes. Fortunately, this was only a practice session, not the real thing. For the three mechanics known as the Nasty Boys, even the slightest oversight could end their reign as the nation's top bus repairmen.

"It just about comes to that -- they're the best bus mechanics in the country," says Harold "Rock" Hudson, a fellow Mass Transit Administration repairman and Nasty Boys admirer. "We knew they were good. We just didn't know how good."

In November, the three-member team of MTA bus mechanics won the International Bus Maintenance Roadeo sponsored by the American Public Transit Association. Held in Orlando, Fla., the competition featured representatives of 51 transit agencies from across North America.

Super Bowl

For the people who repair buses, the Roadeo is the Super Bowl. And in the parlance of football, the Nasty Boys won it by a field goal.

They scored 849 points, three more than the second-place finisher, Miami Valley Regional Transit Authority from Dayton, Ohio, and only 20 more than the team from Cleveland. It was the closest finish in the competition's five-year history.

But that was last year. Now the Nasty Boys are practicing and plotting strategies to grab the first back-to-back national championships.

Their first obstacle: Their fellow MTA mechanics. The showdown: Next weekend's MTA Roadeo in a parking lot next to the Reisterstown Plaza Metro station.

Their competitors include the "Grave Diggers," "Skeleton's," and "Crunch." The winning bus mechanics and operators (the Ralph Kramdens of the MTA are judged in a separate contest) will get a free trip to Denver for the national.

"It's a lot of pressure," says team member Dan Hoff. "We had a positive feeling when we went to Orlando. We felt good working together."

You must forgive Mr. Hoff if he sounds a bit like a professional athlete being interviewed before the Big Game. He and his teammates take the competition that seriously.

Good at what they do

Friends joke that after their triumphant return from Orlando last year, they had to use the garage bay doors to go to work because their heads had swelled so big.

"The Nasty Boys are characters," says James F. Buckley, the MTA's assistant general manager for operations. "They're also good at what they do and we're lucky to have them."

Meet the Boys starting lineup:

Mr. Owens, 37, is team captain and the designated driver. A 10-year veteran of the MVA, the Lochearn resident is the most outgoing of the group. His smile reveals a gold front tooth with a heart-shaped inlay.

Mr. Ogden, 43, of Dundalk is a brake and engine specialist. An 11-year MVA veteran, he is quiet, straightforward and stoic, the John Wayne of bus repairmen. He sports a beard and cowboy boots.

Mr. Hoff, 37, has worked at the MVA for only a few weeks less than Mr. Ogden and also loves engines. With glasses and long hair, that give him the air of a 60s activist, the

Westminster resident is the finicky member of the team -- with a dry wit and high standards. The word is that foremen don't like him to inspect buses. He spots too many problems.

"We all love to joke around and kid," says Mr. Hoff. "But we're also very different. That's what makes it so good."

Four events

The team was formed last year. Mr. Owens and Mr. Hoff both work nights at the MTA's Northwest bus maintenance facility; Mr. Ogden works a day shift at Eastern.

The maintenance competition features four events: Driving an obstacle course, trouble-shooting a specially prepared engine as well as an air brake system, and inspecting a bus with 25 prearranged defects.

The Nasty Boys practice twice weekly after work or on their days off.

With Mr. Owens on the inside, Mr. Hoff on the outside and Mr. Ogden at the engine, the three men find 60 minor problems in an MTA bus in seven minutes -- and that's with an ordinary bus picked at random.

"You got guys who think they know how engines work and they don't, or at least not as much as they think," said Mr. Owens. "In real life you might get four hours to diagnose a problem. We get minutes."

In the obstacle course, Mr. Owens must stop the bus from a 20 mph run to within six inches of a traffic cone. He must be able to zig and zag and squeeze through narrow openings -- although the exact width is sometimes a matter of debate.

"You have an inch of clearance on each side," Mr. Owens says.

"You have more like three inches," Mr. Hoff interjects.

"I'm driving," Mr. Owens says, chiding his teammate. "I only see an inch."

Serious labor

Their tone may be light, but their labors are serious. Each member of the winning team gets four days off or a $500 savings bond. At the national, the prize increases to a $1,000 savings bond an all-expenses paid trip to the Marlboro 500 auto race in Detroit, the same as last year.

But it also is an opportunity for some anonymous, regular guys to get a little recognition. Most people, even regular bus riders, probably are unaware that the MTA's fleet of 854 buses gets nearly constant attention from the agency's 260 mechanics.

"You'd be surprised by the number of people who think the buses pull in and pull out without anyone looking them over or performing regular maintenance," said David R. Soth, the MTA's superintendent of bus maintenance.

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