Just two days on the job, Jeff Lockard stood aboard one of Moore County’s two new school buses reading an operating manual. As rain fell gently outside, Lockard took shelter inside the bus as he tried to get the new vehicle ready for the upcoming school year.
Lockard has been in charge of Moore County’s 17-bus fleet since taking over the position on July 22. He replaced Lee Millaway, whose last day was June 30.
“We went for two or three weeks there without anyone there, but our buses had already passed the state inspection for the start of the school year, so we were ready to go.,” said Moore County Director of Schools Chad Moorehead.
On that rainy July day, Lockard was trying to get one of the school system’s two new buses — two of five in the last five years — road ready. With school set to begin Aug. 1, Lockard hardly had time to make himself at home.
Among his top priorities were cleaning out the undersized garage and making last-minute checks to Moore County’s buses before the new school year began.
Moore County’s school bus garage isn’t like most. It’s tiny and cramped, a one-bus stall just big enough to squeeze the big yellow vehicle through the door to make necessary oil changes and do routine maintenance. In fact, many days, the technicians would just as soon work outside.
“At one time, several years ago they actually had two mechanics, so it’s probably more than a full-time job,” added Moorehead.
Of the 17 buses the school system has, 15 of them run regular routes daily. There are two spare buses on standby if one gets grounded.
“Any bus that we have beyond 15 years is required more inspections,” said Moorehead. “We actually went a couple of years without having to buy one when the law changed. Buses can now stay in service for 17 years, so we were able to get a reprieve (from the state) for a couple of years.”
State inspections are rigorous as they work to ensure the safety of school children. Among the problem areas most likely to show up are bad tires; dangerous brakes; broken headlights and tail lights; missing or malfunctioning safety devices; and fuel leaks, oil leaks and exhaust leaks.
Moorehead said the system is fortunate to have a qualified mechanic on hand to help stave off any of those potentially hazardous problems.
“It’s very important,” he said. “We keep somebody busy, making sure the buses are up to (code), not just for the (state) inspections. I think we are very lucky in that (Lockard) is an ASE Certified Mechanic, as was Millaway. That helps a lot, especially when we are making repairs on the diesel engines. Not only do they know their way around the buses, but they are able to make other repairs as well. Before we had to farm a lot of that work out in Huntsville.”
—ROBERT HOLMAN, editor & publisher (Robert Holman is the publisher of The Moore County News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)