From under the bus: Meet mechanic Sol Miller

Mechanic Sol Miller has been working on motorcoaches for more than 30 years. After earning his diploma from Lincoln Tech University in 1988, he started as a technician at Kurt Chevrolet the same year. His bus career began the following year, when he was hired by Cardinal Bus in Middlebury, Indiana.

“I started at the age of 21 as a technician and worked my way up to shop supervisor over all locations,” said Miller. “In 2011, I started at Premier Transportation in Knoxville, Tennessee, as Services Director. We have 50 buses and are mainly a Van Hool fleet.”

Sol Miller is the Services Director at Premier Transportation in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Launched in 1999, Premier Transportation is owned by Nick Cazana and serves all of East Tennessee. The company has two locations — in Knoxville and Chattanooga — and is a Member of the United Motorcoach Association (UMA), International Motorcoach Group (IMG), American Bus Association (ABA) and the Tennessee Motor Coach Association (TMCA).

Cazana and Nate Frederick, the company’s Chief Operating Officer, hold training, safety, maintenance, customer service and the Premier family as their highest priorities, according to Miller.

“I am proud to be a part of the team,” he said.

Miller’s successful professional life has been complemented by a happy personal life. He has been blessed with his wife of 34 years, Robin. They live in Maryville, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The couple has three grown sons, Chris, Bradly and Tyler, and two grandkids, C.J. and Bella. Outside of work, Miller stays active antiquing, hiking and fishing.

Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Miller to talk to him about why he loves working on motorcoaches, his career highs and lows, and his passion for the business.

How did you become a motorcoach mechanic?

In 1989, the economy slowed down. We were getting no work at Kurt Chevrolet. I started looking for another job. A family friend, Marv Borntrager, with whom I had milked cows as a young boy, was working at Cardinal bus and said I should come over and apply, so he introduced me to John and Dan Shoup.

Sol Miller
Motorcoach mechanic Sol Miller says his favorite repairs are rebuilding engines.

What is the repair that gives you the most satisfaction as a mechanic?

Multiplex and electronic problems. I find them very challenging and fun.

What is the most bizarre repair you’ve done?

In 2004, we had a bus breakdown in Lexington, Kentucky. The bus would shut down after running for about 45 minutes. After bringing the driver a new bus, I started back to the shop and the bus shut down after 45 minutes. I plugged the laptop in to read the codes and there were no codes. I restarted the bus and it continued to shut down every 15 minutes. After getting to a truck stop, I got a bag of ice and tie straps, and put them on the electronic control module (ECM). After waiting about 20 minutes I started to drive again. I drove about 150 miles to the next truck stop to get a second bag of ice. I continued on my way back to Middlebury. I called Cummins, the manufacturer of the ECM, and told them what had happened and they said that was impossible. We replaced the ECM, and the bus ran great.

What is your go-to phrase for drivers?

Did you write it up?

What is your favorite repair?

I like rebuilding engines — 6V92, 8V92, 8V71 Detroit Diesels — test running the engine on the engine floor stand and testing (really loud) jake brakes.

What is your least favorite repair?

That would be removing the toilet and replacing the pump and/or diaphragms and checking

What is your favorite bus feature as a mechanic?

The diagnostic features on the dash, which help pinpoint the problem.

Sol Miller works with the team at Premier Transportation in Knoxville, Tennessee.

What’s the best compliment you have received?

My last few days at Cardinal Bus, John Shoup came up to me and said, “Sol, you have always
done a good job for us. Thank you. You will be missed.”

What’s your funniest shop story?

In Holland, Michigan, during the Tulip Time Festival, an out-of-town motorcoach came into our shop and needed a power steering pump. I removed the power steering lines and drained the fluid, I removed the two bolts and removed the pump. Then I started working on the outside of the side engine compartment. My elbow hit the restroom dump valve, knocking it off. The next thing I knew, I was taking a shower in brown, yellow water and feces. I told the driver I would be right back.

What’s your advice for a newbie?

1. Stay updated. Go to training class and do online training.
2. Remember, you don’t know everything.
3. Have patience. Don’t get in a hurry.
4. Ask questions if you’re not sure.
5. Everyone has one good idea if you listen.
6. Keep your area clean and clean up after each job.

What’s your career highlight as a mechanic?

Passing the love of the bus industry to my middle son. Bradly is an excellent dispatcher for Premier Transportation. He started as a bus washer at age 13. He knows all the facets of the bus industry, from bus cleaning to parts, working in the shop and driving.

How did COVID-19 affect your company?

In my 30 years in the industry, I’ve never seen anything like it. It affected everything, everyone. We were approaching the busy season with all buses going out and, just like everyone else, on March 14, 2020, all of our trips were canceled and the bus world stopped. We came up with revised maintenance and cleaning plans. Managers had weekly meetings as the information changed from day to day. We did a companywide training covering driving, customer service, maintenance, office, management and cleaning. Then the layoffs began.

There were a few trips in June 2020, thanks to the National Guard. But tough decisions were being made on a regular basis. We ran 10 coaches. Maintenance staff parked the other 40 coaches, putting the A/C compressors in a vacuum, regenerating buses, disconnecting batteries and starting the buses every two months. Then came the second round of layoffs.

In September, trips started picking up as some fall college sports were starting. We started bringing back laid-off employees. Drivers were required to have weekly COVID-19 tests for some colleges. We put 10 buses back in service. In November, the building we were leasing in Greeneville, Tennessee, was sold. We had to move our Tri-Cities location to Knoxville in December. Premier is still looking for a permanent building.

In January, we started running fall and spring college sports together. We put 10 more motorcoaches back in service. The shop was running wide open again. In February, we brought back more personnel. We then put the last 10 buses back in service.

Now, we are averaging 100 to 130 bus days weekly. We have about 70% of the staff from when COVID-19 started. We look forward to the fall schedule returning to normal. Hopefully, we will be back to full strength in spring 2022.

Read more From Under the Bus columns.

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