Maintenance

Remembering Years Past

May 2013, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

As fleet management has become considerably more complex, and fleet managers take on increasing responsibilities, we asked a few fleet veterans tell us about their early fleet days and what they miss most. It’s clear from their responses that while the “good old days” may induce nostalgia, most fleet managers are happy with the evolution and increased professionalism of fleet.


“I think ‘the past’ in fleet management can somewhat be compared to watching Ozzie and Harriet versus an action show with computer-generated graphics on TV. It is not that one is better or worse, calmer or faster paced and/or old versus new. It seems that many times we all want to return to a calmer time. But, we need to strive for continuous improvement and that means keeping up with the times. There is a place for the time-proven things, but there is also a definite place for new ideas, new thoughts, and better methods. The key to success is getting the blend of old and new in just the right amounts.”

- John Clements, Deputy Director, Fleet Services, City of San Diego (36 years in fleet)



“In my early days in the ‘80s, I was a field service mechanic for a heavy equipment dealership. Sometimes I miss the travel as I would move all over the five-state area repairing construction equipment. This was before cell phones and the internet, so you were on your own. If you didn’t bring the manual with you, you had to figure it out without that resource. It would not be uncommon to be a half-hour drive to get to a phone to call in for help. Nowadays I spend my day with e-mails, budgets, and computers. Sometimes I miss the challenges and satisfaction of fixing something. But then I think back about freezing in the snow storms, being soaked in the thunderstorms, and being sand-blasted with gravel by high winds, I count my blessings each day for what I have.”

- Kevin Schlangen, CPFP, CAFM, CEM, Dakota County Fleet Management, Minn. (31 years in fleet)



“The biggest thing I miss from my early days is the low-hanging fruit when it comes to saving the City money. We picked that a long time ago. When I started, we separated fuel bids by cents per gallon. Now, 23 years later, we award fuel pricing contracts set apart by the fourth decimal point. One of our customers once told me that our division (Fleet Services) ‘has done so much with so little for so long, that we are now qualified to do the impossible with nothing.’ If that saying is our moniker, then we wear it like a badge of honor.”

- J.D. Schulte, CAFM, CPFP, Fleet Manager, City of Moline, Ill. (23 years in fleet)



“In 1988, all we did was fix broken vehicles. ‘Management’ in those days was budgeting when a vehicle needed to be purchased. The department needing the vehicle picked the model they wanted and simply ordered it, and the old one was always kept for a backup vehicle. ‘Fleet-creep’ wasn’t wrong — it was expected. Preventive maintenance management consisted of a piece of masking tape on the dash with the next PM mileage written on it. Technology was a blue key-punch fuel card shoved into a photo cell reader. The only customer complaint we heard was: ‘AC and an FM radio would be nice!’ Do I ‘miss it’? No, Fleet management has gained credibility only because of ­purpose-built technology used by experienced fleet managers who knew what to do with it.”

- Steve Kibler, ACFM, Fleet Manager, City of Loveland, Colo. (25 years in fleet)



“We didn’t have very much “real data” in the old days. And there were distinct advantages in that shortcoming — you could usually BS your way through almost anything! Seldom could anyone prove you wrong — because there was no data. Usually, the only data that was available was what we produced. And as nice as that was, I was always frustrated that I really didn’t know everything I needed to know to be a truly effective manager. In today’s technology-intensive ‘fleet world’ we know 1,000% more than ‘back in the day’ — I for one, love it. I don’t need to (and can’t) BS anymore!”

- Roger Weaver, CAFM, CPFP, CPM, Director, Fleet Management, County of San Bernardino, Calif. (46 years in fleet)



“What I miss most is that for fleet managers, it’s not as hands-on within the shops as it used to be. When I first started, I actually would come in in my second shift and work on the equipment with the technicians.”

- Jeffrey Jeter, Fleet Manager, Chesterfield County, Va. (28 years in fleet)




“Today’s fleet is much more efficient and effective. Computerized software has greatly simplified record-keeping and diagnostics. Just-in-time inventory protocol no longer means going to the parts supplier after the vehicle pulls into the shop.”

- Bob Patterson, retired Director of Facilities & Fleet Management, Arapahoe County, Colo. (37 years in fleet)


“We didn’t have as many pieces to take care of 30+ years ago. Services were done in a parking lot or bay, and parts were similar from one truck to the next. There were not as many choices when a purchase was made for vehicles or apparatus. A lot of times, you had two choices, take it or leave it.”

- Keith Condra, Director of Fleet Management, Town of Fishers, Ind. (33 years)




“When I first started in fleet, I worked for an asphalt contractor. I was assigned to the traveling asphalt plant. We would take down the plant and move to a gravel pit in the area where we have a contract, set up, and go to work. All the trucks and equipment would be stored outside at this gravel pit. Staff would live in campers, buses, and tents. The trucks and equipment ran all day, so you would patch them up to keep them moving and do the complete repair at night. So, every night all night long, I would be in the dark, outside, alone with very limited light, repairing equipment. Many nights as you repaired equipment, you would hear movement in the dark, and your mind would run wild. Visions of ‘when animals attack’ would enter your mind. One night as I was changing a dump truck spring brake chamber, a possum ran over my pant leg and I almost had a heart attack. I still have nightmares about what could have happened alone in the dark.”

- Kevin Schlangen

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