From under the bus: Meet mechanic Doug Thomas

Doug Thomas began at Amador Stage Lines in 1991 washing buses. Three decades later, he’s running the company’s shop in Reno, Nevada. He’s the lead mechanic/supervisor reporting to his boss, who is the maintenance manager at Amador’s main location in Sacramento, California.

He credits his parents for encouraging him to leave his dead-end hotel job for a position that had growth potential.

“My parents were bus drivers, and they both actually worked for this company at one point, and they told me there was an opening,” Thomas said. “I started as a bus cleaner and worked my way into the shop. And 30 years later, I’m running the shop. I worked with a guy, pretty much by his side, who taught me everything. His philosophy was that you learn by doing.”

What repair or job gives you the most satisfaction when completed?

Electrical, because no two jobs are ever the same. It takes some knowledge, some troubleshooting and diagnostic skills. It can be very fascinating. We’ve found a lot of strange things over the years that you wouldn’t think would be normal, but it happens. Different wiring gets rubbed through, or you can get a bad connection. When you are talking 45 feet of wires throughout the coach, it can take awhile to troubleshoot those things and track them down. I just find it fascinating. It keeps you motivated.

Doug Thomas
Doug Thomas runs Amador Stage Lines shop in Reno, Nevada. (Photo: Shandra Martinez)

What’s least favorite repair to do and why?

Going on a road call is frustrating but we do it. Even with preventive maintenance, buses are mechanical and we run 24 hours a day, seven days a week so something’s going to break eventually.

What’s your funniest or most bizarre shop/repair story?

I can’t think of anything. We come across bizarre stuff all the time so, to me, it’s kind of normal.

What’s your go-to phrase?

It’s more of a motto. There’s nothing I would ask the crew to do that I’m not willing to do or haven’t done myself. So, that way, they don’t feel like I’m making them do the dirty work all of the time. I get in there and do it, too.

What’s your favorite bus feature?

It’s the electronics because, now, the buses are getting to a point where they’re smarter than us. I spend a lot more time on a computer compared to a wrench in my hand. A bus sometimes will tell me what’s wrong before I know there’s anything wrong with it.

Doug Thomas
Doug Thomas has been working for Amador Stage Lines since 1991. (Shandra Martinez)

What makes you proud about the work you do?

We’re a full-service shop. We do transmission and rear-end engines. A lot of places have basic techs, but they send their big stuff out. We pride ourselves on doing everything in-house. We have the skilled labor to be able to do it, although sometimes it’s a matter of time because we run a small crew of two, so we run lean and mean.

How much of your time do you spend on preventative maintenance?

Quite a bit. We have one guy, that’s basically his full-time job. We do preventive maintenance with 45-day inspections and 3,000-mile inspections. So preventive is very, very important.

What are the challenges of the job?

We have a variety of fleet vehicles, so we’re not just zeroed in on one thing. Our fleet is mostly Prevosts with some Temsa TS30s and TS45s. We have to be very broad.

We are in some extreme environments: The weather gets very hot, and we get very cold. So we just have to watch things like belts, bearings and so forth. They get a beating, going back and forth in different elements. So that’s part of the burden of maintenance. We just like to keep an eye on everything. We are in Northern Nevada and Northern California. The biggest challenge is just making sure that our maintenance is up to par and we’re doing everything we need to do to keep the equipment going.

What’s your best piece of advice for a newbie?

The best piece of advice is to have patience. I’ve seen a lot of guys come out of tech programs thinking they know everything. School is a lot different than the real world. Pay attention and ask questions. I’ve seen how that attitude of knowing everything can ruin some guys because then they just get frustrated. They get down on themselves and they ended up finding another occupation. Always ask questions. Nobody knows everything. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I still learn things every day.

What’s your career highlight?

Just working my way through the ranks. I literally started as a bus washer and now I am lead tech after 30 years. I have my own crew, so I think I’ve done all right.

Why do you like your career?

I enjoy what I do. No two days are the same. I’m not going to an office and sitting in a cubicle. Some days, I’ll be outside in the sunshine. Some days, I’ll be in the shop. Some days, I might be on the road somewhere chasing a coach. Hopefully not. That’s what maintenance is for.

Read more From Under the Bus columns.

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