Behind the Scenes: Dave Durrer, UTS Mechanic

August 19, 2008

At an institution as large as U.Va., it’s easy to forget that it consists of many individually moving parts. We may take for granted the roughly 13,500 employees who keep the whole operation humming every day. Who, for instance, keeps all the UTS buses on the road? Who watches what students eat? Who flies critically injured patients to the hospital? The fall issue of U.Va. Magazine highlights nine such employees -- a few of the small pictures that make up U.Va.’s big picture.

In anticipation of the new academic year, UVA Today will in the coming days publish excerpts of the profiles, which were written by Sierra Bellows, Michelle Cuevas and Paul Evans.

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"I don’t mind oil changes, and we do a lot of them," Dave Durrer says. "But what I really like is a challenge: trying to figure out what’s gone wrong with an engine or an electrical system and coming up with the best way to fix it." Both his expertise and ingenuity have been tested in the 22 years he’s sported the dark blue uniform of the University Transit Service, and he still enjoys coming to work every day at the roomy garage behind Parking and Transportation’s Millmont Street offices. "There’s always something new in this job," he explains. "That’s what keeps it interesting."

As maintenance shop foreman, Durrer not only wields a wicked wrench but oversees the work of three other ace mechanics. The requisite qualities in this line of work? "Initiative is first, I’d say," he comments. "It helps to have people who don’t wait on jobs, but try out things on their own. And patience, too, is necessary."

Given the grind on gears and the wear on tires produced by stop-and-go travel along the Blue and Orange routes, patience indeed comes in handy. The UTS fleet consists of 32 buses, and there are nearly always four or five in need of repair. Hoisted atop one of the shop’s expensive ton-sustaining lifts, they get turned out safely—but also swiftly enough to serve U.Va.’s 3 million annual riders. Durrer likes tinkering on them to the accompaniment of Toby Keith or Reba McIntire; the music, he says, helps him concentrate.

UTS gets its vehicles from the four major bus manufacturers: Gillig, Thomas, Blue Bird and Orion. While Durrer tends to favor the Gillig, either its classic Phantom or rider-friendly Low Floor model ("They’re very dependable," he says), he’s impressed with today’s rigs, even if their computer-heavy components make them trickier to service than their low-tech predecessors. Other transport innovations, such as the bus fleet’s switch to eco-conscious biodiesel fuel, please him. But he’s less than copacetic about Charlottesville’s traffic, a trickle when UTS began its service in 1972 compared with today’s torrent.

A lifelong fan of the marvels of internal combustion, Durrer remains fascinated with all things "engine," whether it’s the memory of his 1968 GTO, the muscle car of his high school days back in nearby Greene County, or with something bigger. "Airplanes," he muses. "I guess I’d like to work on them. Talk about a challenge."

Photo by Luca Dicecco