From Brakes to Buckets: Keeping the Co-op Fleet Rolling

With a fleet of 194 vehicles under their care, Baldwin EMC’s transportation team never slows down. And thanks to them, the cars, trucks and equipment the cooperative relies on don’t either. At least, not for long.

Their role is vital to Baldwin EMC’s operations, and became even more significant when the Covid-19 pandemic introduced new transportation procedures for the co-op.

“The health and safety guidelines we were following during the pandemic limited how many employees could ride together,” says Gary Robinson, a 31-year co-op employee and transportation supervisor for Baldwin EMC. “We had to repurpose almost all of our backup vehicles and incorporate them into our everyday fleet, and continually maintain them.”

In addition to Robinson, four mechanics make up the cooperative’s transportation team. A quick math calculation equates to one mechanic for every 38 vehicles. The team handles almost all of the fleet’s maintenance and repairs in-house – everything from oil changes to engine failures – with only a few exceptions. “If a vehicle is still under warranty, it goes to the dealership for repairs,” Robinson says.” And every so often, if we get swamped with repairs, we’ll send a vehicle out to minimize the amount of time it’s out of service.”

The transportation department also holds the responsibility of purchasing vehicles and large equipment. Meticulous mileage and maintenance records are kept so that Robinson and his team also know when it’s time to retire a vehicle. “We try to maintain a relatively new fleet so that our employees are able to carry out their work in dependable vehicles,” Robinson says. “This also cuts down on the amount of repairs we’re keeping up with.”

Recently, one of Baldwin EMC’s mechanics, Jason Day, who’s been with the co-op since 2015, has also taken on the role of teacher. Any operations employee who does not have a commercial drivers license (CDL) is required to obtain one within six months of starting employment. Day is often called on to work with these new employees in preparation for the testing they’ll complete as part of the CDL process.

Robinson and Day, along with fellow mechanics Derrick Johnson, John Shiver and Mike Morrow bring a combined total of 105 years of service to Baldwin EMC’s transportation department. While Baldwin EMC’s bucket trucks and the uniformed employees who drive them are among the cooperative’s most visible symbols, the team that keeps them moving stay behind the scenes. However, they’re just as important to the co-op’s daily operations.

“Dependable vehicles and equipment are a necessity,” Robinson says. “We can’t do much of the work we do without them.”

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