These champions keep the buses running

Darren Haines earned the title of 2019 Maintenance Challenge Grand Champion at Motorcoach EXPO but still thinks he gained experience by watching his competitors at work.

“These guys are tough,” he said. “After I finished the challenge I could watch the following competitors and see how they were looking at the bus for defects. Some of those folks have 300 motorcoaches. They knew exactly where to look.”

This year’s other finalists also were previous champions: Greg Lammers of Cavalier Coaches in Owatonna, Minnesota; and Dave Meyerhofer of Kobussen Buses in Kaukauna, Minnesota.

Haines oversees 190 MCI coaches at the shop of JAG Motorcoach in Gladwin, Michigan. He has been a bus mechanic for 28 years and was competing in his fifth Maintenance Challenge. His previous best finish was first runner-up.

The challenge keeps getting tougher, he said. “Of course, they don’t want it to be easy, but wow! The written test detailed a lot of electric stuff, such as the difference between batteries in parallel and in series and the volts you would get. There were a lot of questions about refrigerants and compatibility.”

His edge this year was sleuthing over and under the two Van Hool motorcoaches that had been tampered with intentionally. “I don’t think it was the written test, finding the defects, was where I think I was shining. On the bus in the air I found six of eight defects, and on the bus on the ground I found seven of eight. The fellas that put those defects in there did a super job.”

 One defect he did not find was . . . embarrassing, he said. The bus didn’t have a tailpipe. And he didn’t notice.

 Previous Maintenance Challenges have been held during Motorcoach EXPO at an off-site shop. This year it was set up on the convention center floor and visitors were invited to stop by and watch.

“At first I was scared to death,” Haines said. “I thought I was going to be distracted by people watching. Then I liked it, actually, being right there in the middle of the EXPO.”

Meyerhofer, the second runner-up and twice a prior champion, enjoyed the opportunity for mechanics to work within EXPO. He also liked what Roman Cornell (of ABC Companies) said in the event’s introductory speech, that mechanics are the unsung heroes who keep the wheels turning.

The Maintenance Challenge has been a feature of Motorcoach EXPO since 2003. This year sponsor ABC Companies awarded custom trophies and checks of $2,500, $1,000 and $500 to the finalists. Stertil-Koni lift company supplied lifts for the competition. Kevin Whitworth of Whitworth Bus Sales has been the challenge coordinator.

While becoming a Grand Champion is an honor, Haines says his career is rewarding—most every day.

“When a motorcoach comes in from a trip and the driver says it is doing something, I get the parts from the shelf and dig into it. The next morning I hear the engine start up and away it goes like nothing happened. That is a sense of accomplishment.”

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