Editor’s Note: This is the speech that Louis Hotard gave at the UMA Motorcoach Association during a luncheon celebrating the 25th anniversary of the UMA Maintenance Interchange.
I began my career at Hotard coaches in the mid-1960s doing maintenance with my dad. Our fleet consisted of 1947 and 1949 GMC 3703s. Well, things have changed a little bit since then. In 1993, with over 100 coaches in our fleet, I ventured out to the manufacturer side of the industry, spending several years with MCI and then 26 years with ABC/Van Hool. And now, thanks to Covid, I am back full circle at Hotard Coaches as the director of maintenance, with nearly 200 vehicles and four shops. Go figure!
While the Maintenance Competition is a series of written and hands-on skills tests, the Maintenance Interchange is more of an exchange of ideas and interactions with fellow technicians on how to perform the tasks of keeping our motorcoaches safely on the road. Technicians are expected to have all the answers when it comes to vehicle repairs. While this is true, it is more about who to call to get the answers!
There are a couple of notable people who realized the important role maintenance plays in our industry. The first that I recall was Bill Luke.
Bill provided regional Maintenance Forums for years through his Bus Ride Magazine sponsorship. Many of the relationships that I have today began from those meetings.
UMA picked up that baton for the past 25 years, and there is no better successor to Bill Luke’s passion than Kevin Whitworth. The success of the Interchange lies squarely with Kevin and UMA. Kevin’s history as a bus operator, as well as a bus dealer, has given him the understanding of how important a well-trained technician is.
Kevin not only developed the Interchange format but continues to enhance and improve the Maintenance Interchange. Kevin enjoys great relationships with industry vendors and experts for support and sponsorship of this important program.
In 2010, Kevin approached me to help him develop the General Knowledge Skills Test. Over the years, the test has grown from 30 questions to over 50 questions today. With the help of ABC’s technical staff, this test continues to provide head-scratching questions for participants. The hands-on part of the test is just as important. Moving this part of the competition to the show floor is designed to showcase the level of expertise needed to inspect and maintain our coaches.
Finding the answers
Engineers, regulators and manufacturers are always one step ahead of our technicians in the field. Therefore, it is so important to know where to find answers.
The key part of the Maintenance Interchange for me is that Kevin understands the importance of relationships and the fact that there is always a friend to call when a particular question needs answering. By attending the Interchange, attendees have each developed their own nationwide list of phone-a-friend, or today, text-a-friend technicians, which is priceless.
Relationships are the common thread, as you can tell. Yes, there is a winner, and that is a true accomplishment for a contestant and his or her company. However, the transfer of knowledge and friendships are the backbone of this Interchange!
Thanks to UMA and most of all thanks to Kevin for his friendship!
Louis Hotard is the Director of Maintenance at Hotard Coaches Inc in Louisiana, a multi-generation business. Previously he worked for ABC Companies. He’s also a longtime volunteer for the UMA Motorcoach EXPO.