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Show Jeff Your Work Day Comes to Courtland

Kristin Mestre-Velez
Public Information Manager

Nestled deep within a North Philadelphia neighborhood are rows of cars, trucks and larger than life-sized equipment displaying the SEPTA logo. These vehicles only provide a small clue as to what "it" is, and unless you're looking for "it", you may not even realize that "it" is there. "It" is SEPTA's Courtland Car Shop and "it" is a place where employees are proud to say "We do it all". On an average day, this maintenance facility is a busy place, but the shop was buzzing with excitement on Oct. 9 when SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel shadowed Paul Lochel and Brandon Mattingly as part of the Authority's biannual "Show Jeff Your Work Day," initiative.

"Show Jeff Your Work Day" is part of a Building A SEPTA Culture of Service and Creativity (BASCSC) Action Team Three program to build camaraderie between top management and employees. As part of the program, an Authority-wide contest is created for employees to submit compelling reasons why the GM should shadow them. Lochel and Mattingly both entered the contest and were selected. By pure happenstance, they're both from the same location, were able to split their day in half and followed a family legacy to work for SEPTA.

With Courtland Director of Maintenance Charlie Bennett by his side, Paul greeted the general manager with a handshake and welcomed him to the car shop.

"Nice to meet you," Knueppel said. "I'm glad to be here and am excited to learn more about Courtland".

"We're glad to have you here," Bennett responded. "Paul has a unique job. He's responsible for parts but is also an experienced mechanic. If you need anything, I'll be around."

Lochel wasted no time showing Jeff around. After introductions, he walked Knueppel to his area, explaining what he does along the way. As a 1st class mechanic, he's responsible for communicating with vendors about parts needed to perform SEPTA vehicle repairs and inspections. In addition to ordering parts, he unpacks material, keeps track of all available parts in the shop and takes care of mechanics by ensuring software and special tools are available when needed. He's also been with SEPTA for almost 19 years and takes great pride in what he does.

They arrive at Lochel's desk. Books and binders are neatly lined up along shelves throughout the room. Paul explained that he works out of the Courtland Car Shop Library. The books and binders are filled with information about each vehicle that the shop performs maintenance on. He says that the information comes in handy, especially when an older vehicle comes in for maintenance and a part is hard to find. When that happens, Paul relies on the library to find information about parts so that he can locate vendors who have it.

"One time, I found a part we needed all the way up in Yonkers, New York," Lochel said. "We had an older service truck in for repair. Without finding that part, the vehicle would have been out of service for three weeks."

Throughout the morning, Courtland mechanics were in and out of Lochel's workspace, asking about parts. Lochel explained that it doesn't take long for a vehicle part to become obsolete since dealerships only stock parts for specific lengths of time. He added that smaller part warehouses often carry the older parts they need, and having the ability to work with large and small part retailers allows shop mechanics to repair vehicles faster. To get parts for repairs, Courtland Shop mechanics complete a form while working on a vehicle. The form lists all the parts that they need to complete the repair. Paul receives a copy of the form which lets him know which parts are needed and when.

"Parts for buses are kept on hand whereas parts for service vehicles are so different that we have to source them from all over so things can be challenging," Lochel said.

As Lochel explained his daily duties, Knueppel listened and asked him if there was anything that could make his job better. Lochel pointed out how much the shop relies on internet-based technology for vehicle maintenance. He explained how diagnostic checks are performed on newer cars by connecting with software that is only accessible through a laptop. The laptops at the shop are older and are not always capable of downloading new software versions or keeping up with the updates. Knueppel made a phone call to SEPTA's Chief Information Officer Bill Zebrowski to look into it. Zebrowski promised to come out the next day to assess the shop's needs.

While walking around the shop, the General Manager stopped to introduce himself to employees and to explain why he was there. In addition to spending time in Lochel's workspace, he walked around the shop's storeroom. The well-organized space utilizes every inch for storage. Jeff noticed that the shop could use more space and said that he would start looking into a solution. As they walked out of the storeroom, a parts delivery arrived. Lochel started showing Knueppel the process for receiving items into the shop before realizing that the first part of "Show Jeff Your Work Day" had come to an end.

"I always enjoy being around the workforce," Knueppel said. "I've seen a number of things here that I want to help you with and I am going to work with you to get you what you need."

Knueppel thanked Lochel for the opportunity to shadow him and walked over to meet Brandon Mattingly, his second shadow for the day. Bennett stopped by to see how the General Manager was enjoying his day at Courtland.

"Brandon is a diesel technician who came to us from a Ford dealership," said Bennett. "He knows so much about mechanical work. This afternoon, he's going to show you how to put an engine in."

Bennett pointed to the engine dangling from the shop's manual crane. Putting an engine into a big work truck is no easy feat. The engine being installed was so heavy that Mattingly had to call on a fellow mechanic for help. While waiting for his help to arrive, Mattingly told Knueppel why he enjoys working for SEPTA, specifically at Courtland. He said that the management team plays a part into his job satisfaction. Mattingly added, the work environment is good at Courtland because they "get us" and understand what we do.

"Production at Courtland is high because everybody can do everything and it runs smoothly," Mattingly said. "I landed in the right department."

As a diesel technician, Mattingly is responsible for fleet maintenance in SEPTA's non-revenue department. In addition to servicing these vehicles at Courtland, Brandon takes his skills on the road with him when he has to travel to accident scenes or stay onsite during a construction job in case there are equipment issues. Smiling, he said that getting out of the shop gives him a chance to meet different people, see new things and to broaden his skill set.

While reflecting on his SEPTA career, a colleague arrived to help Mattingly with the engine installation. Throughout the entire process, Mattingly provided details about each step involved in the process and paused so the General Manager could see exactly what he was talking about. The engine finally made its way inside of the truck but the work didn't stop there. Once the engine was firmly mounted onto the truck chassis, Mattingly walked to his toolbox and started grabbing tools to begin connecting the engine to all of the parts that make it run.

Knueppel leaned in to look under the hood and stepped back. He asked Brandon if there was anything that he needed to make his job better. Mattingly walked Knueppel over to a different car bay where rail vehicles are inspected and asked him about improving the quality of the hi-rail inspection track at Courtland. Mechanics use the track to inspect hi-rail vehicles. These vehicles are outfitted with special equipment that gives them the ability to operate on both conventional roadways and railroad tracks. Mattingly pointed to the high rail vehicle being worked on in the car bay and said that a longer test track with a simulated railroad crossing would enhance Courtland's current capabilities. He added that it would help to make things easier and more efficient for mechanics at his location. Knueppel listened and promised to have the test track built this winter.

"I'm impressed," Knueppel said. "The team here does great work."

Forty-two employees are responsible for servicing, repairing, and maintaining SEPTA's 1,100 vehicles and equipment that make up its massive non-revenue fleet. They work on everything without a fare box. In addition to traditional rubber tired vehicles such as cars and trucks, generators, railroad maintenance of way equipment, cranes, bus wreckers and other non-traditional vehicles are maintained and serviced at the busy work location. Each vehicle must visit the shop at least once a year for maintenance. To ensure that all vehicles are serviced on schedule, Courtland operates around the clock on weekdays.

"We have a small staff that services a large fleet," Bennett said, "At Courtland, we do it all."

Knueppel nodded in agreement. "You have a great team. I'm going to make sure you have what you need to make your work experience even better. Some of the items that you requested are big in nature, but we will start to study their feasibility, right away. Thank you for all that you do to keep our vehicles and equipment running."

Paul Lochel, a 1st Class Maintenance Mechanic (left) shows SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel (right) the paperwork he reviews each day to check the availability of vehicle parts for Courtland Shop Mechanics.

SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel (center), Courtland Director of Maintenance Charlie Bennett (left) and Diesel Technician Brandon Mattingly (left) discuss the installation of an engine into one of the Authority's massive construction vehicles.