For T.J. New, getting to class most days still means relying on a school bus.
On Tuesday, school buses were reliant on him.
The Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center sophomore and his fellow diesel technology classmates were mid-way through a project to replace rusting bumpers on 20 Blue Bird Corporation school buses – a favor for neighboring Richland School District and a rare chance to do warranty work for an outside customer, their instructor Pat Wallet said.
Richland’s students are carried to school daily through a contract with Miller Transportation, which has an almost-new fleet of yellow Blue Bird buses.
But the front and rear bumpers on those buses weren’t rust-proofed well enough when they were delivered to Miller, causing them to deteriorate to the point they need swapped – a scenario that prompted Richland Superintendent Arnold Nadonley to reach out to the district’s career and technology center neighbor for help.
“We definitely appreciate it,” Wallet said.
Because projects like these usually require weekend work, it’s not easy to get outside jobs, he said.
He described the school bus project as a valuable experience for the class of 17 students.
The young mechanics keep logs of their work while removing old bumpers and installing new ones, which are covered with a thick, bed liner-style coating.
On the front end, that involves disconnecting an air-powered “Stop arm” used to control traffic and then reinstall it once the new bumper is added, sophomore Michael Rosey said.
“It’s pretty neat. Some of us still ride school buses. I didn’t think we’d be working on one,” said Rosey of Conemaugh Township, standing next to a Blue Bird bus he helped repair that morning.
New, a Forest Hills sophomore, said he’s repaired cars, trucks and even bull-dozers – “but never one of these.”
Wallet said the Georgia-based Blue Bird Corporation sent a certified technician to teach a dozen of his student how to repair the buses.
After a few days of practicing, they were able to instruct their peers, Wallet added.
He noted that the sharp-eyed students discovered a pinched air line while repairing one bus and an oil leak with another.
“They’re being observant.
“Once they pull the bumper off they’re looking to see if anything else is wrong,” he said.
“This has been a great project for them”
Nadonley said Richland school officials were glad it worked out.
“It’s a win-win – for us and their students,” Nadonley said, crediting Greater Johnstown CTC Administrative Director John Augustine for quickly figuring out a way to make the project work.
The bus repairs are real-life experience for the diesel technology students, while the career and technology center program itself receives the $20 per-hour contractor payment through Blue Bird to do the work, Nadonley added.
“They know what they’re doing. When it’s time to get to work, they get going like a NASCAR pit crew – but without rushing,” he said.
Wallet said his students have already repaired 14 buses.
If all goes well, the project will be complete next week, he said.