Above: Walt Woodward with a CNG (compressed natural gas) bus at the new CNG fueling station. Alternative fuels and energy are among the myriad of changes Woodward has helped KCATA make in his 45 years at the agency.
Bus riders probably know Walt Woodward more from his work than his name.
Need a bus to get around? Woodward was a big reason why riders had one.
As the head of the authority’s maintenance department and its 128 employees, Woodward kept the KCATA’s 250-vehicle fleet on the road 21 hours a day every day.
Now after 45 years at the KCATA, the last five as the head of maintenance, Woodward is retiring from the authority. His retirement capped a career that began on Nov. 23, 1970, just five years after the KCATA was created by Congress in a bi-state compact.
“I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to be surrounded by so many talented, devoted and dedicated people over the years,” Woodward said. “It’s amazing the craftsmanship that goes on here. Just to be a part of all that has really been amazing.”
Over the years, Woodward was always a dependable wheel in the ATA’s operations. Whether it was managing a department with a $13.7 million budget or pitching in to help clean or repair a bus, Woodward gave his all to the Authority.
“Employees like Walt are hard to come by,” said Sam Desue, the agency’s chief operating officer. “Walt has been the anchor of our maintenance department for years. He gave us 100 percent and much, much more. He always lived up to his commitment to keep our fleet sound and clean at all times. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for keeping Kansas City moving.”
Nowhere was Woodward’s leadership more telling than his crack staff of mechanics, including a team of technicians that won the maintenance competition at the American Public Transportation Association’s International Bus Roadeo last year.
After competing in the event for at least 25 years without great success, 2015 was a breakthrough.
“That was a great moment,” Woodward said. “I’ve always bragged on what we do here. We could literally build a bus from scratch. Not just put one together, but build a good, quality bus.”
Woodward came to the KCATA in 1970 from a Mobile full-service gas station where he worked 60 to 70 hours, seven days a week pumping gas, mounting tires and checking fluids under the hood.
Eighteen years old, married with a small child, Woodward chose the KCATA over a job at ARMCO Steel at the urging of a friend who worked at the agency as a diesel mechanic. He left the gas station job looking for better pay and benefits to help protect his family. He thought his time at the KCATA would be brief.
“I thought when I came here it would be for five or six years and I would be on to something else.”
Woodward started at the agency as a hostler in the bus barn at 26th and Harrison, a site just southwest of Crown Center where condominiums are now located. When Woodward arrived at the KCATA, its main offices were at 1616 Main Street, about two blocks east of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and several blocks west of its current location at 18th and Forest.
The world was different for transit then. Buses weren’t air conditioned. They didn’t have power steering. And the destinations were painted on white canvas and a crank was used to change the bus sign.
Now, bus technicians need to know as much about computers as how an engines function.
“The technology has changed and has gotten a lot more sophisticated with all the electronics and computerization. All that stuff has gotten really crazy,” Woodward said.
Years ago, technicians had to troubleshoot shoot problems by carefully listening to the humming engine and running a series of tests to diagnose malfunctions. Now, the bus returns to the barn and it’s plugged into a computer, which assesses the engine problem. “It’ totally different.”
But what’s not different is the customer.
“The core of the job is to make sure every single morning that operators have clean, serviced buses,” Woodward said. “The drivers can’t do their job if we don’t have buses ready for them. Our customer is the bus driver but the bus driver’s customer is the passenger. Everything we do in maintenance is about serving the public.”
Woodward (bottom left) with KCATA mechanics.
Woodward gets ready to tow a bus during a major snow storm.
Woodward (left) worked a variety of maintenance jobs in his 45 years at KCATA. Here he and a coworker get ready to tow a disabled bus.
Woodward recieves recognition from Dick Davis, General Manager of the KCATA. (Third and second from the left.)