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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Student mechanics repower double-decker buses

UC Davis has a reputation as the “bike school,” but there is another icon that sets it apart: its vintage double-decker buses.

Built in the late 1940s and 1950s, these buses were retired from the streets of Great Britain in the 1960s, when ASUCD decided to buy them for transportation of students.

Since then, the fleet of four buses (with three currently in service) has been rebuilt and repaired countless times, the most recent accomplishment being the replacement of an old engine with a new compressed natural gas (CNG) engine in a double decker called 2819.

“Technology has come so far and environmental and emission restrictions have become much more aggressive that we couldn’t run [the old] engine anymore,” Andy Wyly, Unitrans maintenance manager said.

“We wanted to go for something that helps us breathe a little bit better and helps our water stay a little bit cleaner. CNG is an alternative fuel and it’s the same stuff that comes from your stove at home.”

Wyly has worked with Unitrans since he was a student driver in 1998. He later began to work in the shop and has been the maintenance manager for the past year. He said that after the success of the first repowering, they plan to do the same on the “3123” double decker. The plans are in the process of getting approved and the bus has already been partially dismantled to prepare for the massive undertaking.

Junior biotechnology major Rebeccah Warmack has been a student mechanic for over two years and with her interest in alternative fuels, she looks forward to being involved in this project.

“Since I am going into alternative fuels, or want to, it would be a great experience to get the mechanical side of it and also so [I] better understand how the machine works,” Warmack said. “Having the opportunity to rebuild an engine is pretty awesome. It’s a useful skill and it’s also just really interesting to learn how things work and how to fix them, more importantly.”

Wyly said that he likes Unitrans because of the student involvement and he considers this to be a good learning opportunity for any student.

“Most of this work is done by our student employee staff. We couldn’t survive without their help,” Wyly said. “They come in not really knowing anything and they leave with some very unique skills and abilities. One of the only things they have most in common is that most of the time, they don’t know much coming in.”

Unitrans Assistant General Manager Scott Weintrab has been a part of Unitrans for six years and sees the job of student mechanics as a great addition to what students learn in classes.

“We provide an important complement to the academic classroom education,” Weintrab said. “We’ve got students who are getting leadership skills, they’re getting work experience and they’re making money to help pay for fees that are going up. It’s really important to what the university’s core mission is. They are getting a lot of experience that they don’t get elsewhere.”

Another student mechanic, Nick Warnock, senior civil engineering major, said that students come in that don’t know the difference between a wrench and a socket and the mechanics on the floor teach them everything they need to know, which is especially important in regard to the double deckers, as they present a challenge with their old age.

“The most complicated jobs are the double deckers,” Warnock said. “The parts are really old and we don’t always have those parts in stock.”

This then leads to students prefabricating their own pieces for the buses. The double deckers are made of wood beneath the metal panels, leading to even more difficulty because the wood often needs to be replaced because it rots, Weintrab said. This, however, teaches students skills such as problem solving that help them in other facets of their lives.

“You can troubleshoot a bus, but it also teaches you how to troubleshoot problems in life and there’s really so many aspects of the job that you can apply to your everyday life,” Warnock said.

Despite the fact that there are such challenges caused by the repairing of these 60-year-old buses, student are allowed and even encouraged to work on new projects to continue to learn.

“There’s nothing we don’t let students do or that we don’t teach them,” Wyly said. “The sky’s the limit.”

The vintage double deckers can only run certain routes, historically running on G, B, F and E due to height restrictions and the amounts of people that need to be transported.

“There are areas where there are dense apartment units, so instead of running two buses, we can send out a single double decker. It lets us be a lot more efficient,” Weintrab said.

This goal of efficiency makes the repowering of the 3123 very important, however it takes an estimated two years to complete the job.

“Because we are also maintaining the rest of the fleet while we are rebuilding it, we can’t devote all of our time to it,” Wyly said.

However, students and staff alike have said they have felt a sense of accomplishment after finishing such a project.

“You’re constantly accomplishing something, so it’s a great feeling,” Warmack said. “Having the pride to know that you are helping these buses run all over the city is pretty satisfying.”

DEVON BOHART can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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