With the addition of the new sign, installed on Saturday, October 20, 2018, the the new bus shed is complete. Some landscaping around the building is the only remaining project.
BY NIKKI MEYER
My phone kept ringing. I wouldn’t answer it.
“I don’t answer it, unless it’s a driver,” said Truman Bus Service, Inc owner Ron Lenz, whose phone kept waking him up sometime between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. “It was an unknown number, so I didn’t answer it. Then my wife heard the dogs barking...” Waiting at the door was deputy Matt Owens. “You’d better get Ron up,” he told her. “The bus shed’s on fire.”
We’ve got to breach the doors.
It wasn’t long before Lenz, whose day normally starts at 3:00 a.m., arrived at the bus shed. “I stood there and watched them,” he said. Truman Fire Chief Dave Bentz told him,“We’ve got to breach the doors.” Power to the building had already been cut, and fire department needed to use a forklift to manually raise the doors. “Yeah. Whatever you’ve gotta do,” Lenz replied.
The fire department got the bus out that was burning, but the insulated shed had gotten so hot that anything made of plastic had melted. “Lens covers. Roof hatches. Wiring—it all melted. It was bad,” Lenz said. His dad and his brothers, also bus company owners, joined him. They all just watched.
We’re not going to make morning routes.
“I called Ginny, the superintendent,” Lenz said. “I told her, ‘We’re not going to make morning routes. I don’t know when we’ll be back on, to be honest.’ I had to get a hold of all the drivers to say we weren’t running.” The company was still able to run its Granada routes, and Ron’s brothers brought vans from the family’s companies in Madelia and St. James, so the five van routes also ran.
It’s not what you know in life, it’s who you know.
A supplier had buses lined up for Lenz, but they would have to be retrieved from Monticello, MN—two and a half hours away. “Then Curt Luetgers from Minnesota Motor Bus (in Fairmont) called,” said Lenz. “Word gets around fast.” Lenz explained that the people who own the bus company that serves Fairmont also own buses that service Marshall and Jackson. “Jackson dissolved their contract, so nine buses were sitting there doing nothing.”
The Hey brothers, who owned the buses, were contacted about leasing some of the buses. “We got drivers together, took a van to Jackson, brought six buses back and ran afternoon routes,” said Lenz. “I always tell my kids: it’s not what you know in life, it’s who you know.”
You think you’ve seen everything.
“I’ve been doing this for 41 years,” Lenz said. “You think you’ve seen everything...” As it turns out, the cause of the fire had been seen a number of times before. “It’s a fairly common thing, in Minnesota at least—maybe nation-wide. A power cable for the batter runs through the chassis from frame and towards the starter and there’s a rubber grommet that surrounds that hole that goes through the chassis and it wore off and then wore through the cable and sparked and caused the fire.”
A summary from the Second International Conference on Fires in Vehicles (September 2012, Chicago) notes that “approximately 60% of all of our bus fires begin in the engine compartment,” and that, “grommet failure which causes wear on insulation of wires, and failure of other electrical components because of design or other installation problems, are fairly typical examples of this fire starter.”
It was controlled mass confusion.
Lenz’ insurance agent, Jeff Frey, from Profinium Insurance, was out of town when the fire happened. “I called up Jeff and said, ‘You’d better get back here ‘cause I need you.’” One insurance adjuster came to handle the building. Another came to handle the vehicles.
It was the very beginning of the school year, and Lenz was too busy to think about trying to handle all of the decisions and coordination he knew would need to happen in order to get affairs taken care of and a new building constructed. Lenz’ father is the president of the company, and Ron told him, “Dad, I need you to run with it.” Ron was clear on the fact that they would be using all local contractors to do the work, and that he wanted his dad to handle everything.
We’re going to be doing business.
The night of the fire, Jake Ebert, a member of the Truman Fire Department and one of the owners of SCS Construction and its building just across the street from the Truman Bus shed, met with Lenz. “I think he was afraid it was his building when the page when out,” said Lenz. “He came walking across the parking lot and I said, ‘Jake, hang tough ‘cause we’ve got to build a building here.’ He said he didn’t come over to do business and I told him, ‘Well, we’re going to be doing some business, so I suggest you coordinate with the adjuster and Jeff and make it happen.” Lenz gave Ebert a list of the local businesses he wanted involved in the demolition of the destroyed shed and construction of the new building.
It was a tough, tough year.
“Some of those guys when they were putting up the building—I felt sorry for them because there were some pretty cold days. But they hung right in there,” Lenz said. The company waited for engineering plans to be approved, zoning issues to be sorted and insurance wrinkles sorted out. In the meantime, the buses sat outside in the cold. “You can tell the difference between a stored bus and a bus that sits outside,” said Lenz. According to him, the shell was completed in January.
“Greg Leiferman (from G&D Electric) came and ran temporary power so we could still plug the buses in while they were outside,” Lenz stated. “Finally the excavating was done and the footings were poured and then they got the shell up and we could put the buses inside.” Leiferman ran more temporary power into the building. “Greg took care of us real well.”
Lack of a building left more than just the buses displaced. With the drivers’ lounge gone, Lenz looked for an alternative option. “My brother Tony brought in a camper. It’s not bad when it’s warm, but it didn’t heat real well in the winter.”
The lack of tools and workspace were some of the toughest challenges for Lenz. “Curtis Jones was nice enough to let us use the wash bay out there when we needed to, whether to wash the vehicles or to work on vehicles. But sometimes we needed a pit so we’d run a bus up to St. James and our shop up there or we’d go to my brother Galen’s in Madelia and use their shop. So we had access, but we had to travel for everything.”
Lenz found himself running all over and at a standstill all at the same time. “We didn’t have any tools—air jacks, air compressors, we didn’t have anything. We had to wait until the shop got done before we could buy any replacement tools because, what’s the point? We didn’t have any place to put them. We had to wait on all that.”
While the shell of the building was up in January, the work bay—a separate dedicated area in the new building—wasn’t usable until April. “Sure is nice to have a shop again.”
It was starting all over again.
“You’re spoiled in your routine and then you’re taken out of your routine and, Boom. What do I do now? Where do I go with this?” Lenz said. “There were a lot of headaches, but we got past it.”
“The insurance company treated us good,” Lenz said. He noted the two parties weren’t without disagreements during the process, but in the end he was satisfied.
“We had the place paid for a long time ago, but then we decided that since we’re building new that we’re going to add on to it and make it better.” One of the new features includes the 40’x60’ shop with a wash bay and work bay. “Greg put all of bus plug-ins on timers now,” stated Lenz; another new feature, “They go on at 3:00 a.m. and off at 6:00 a.m. It’s really slick. It works out nice so I don’t have to worry about it now.”
The new timed plug-ins were one of a number of ideas Leiferman, and others, had. “Sometimes you have an idea for something and then you have a contingency and then you go above that contingency because you say, ‘Well you know we could do this,’ and you say, ‘Yeah, we might as well do it as long as we’re there,’” Lenz laughed, noting he now has a building payment for the first time since 1994.
Everybody did really well.
Lenz credits his employees, contractors and the school districts for making everything continue to happen as smoothly as it did. “The drivers all hung together. They’re really good. We have loyal employees, we really do.” Those employees are no longer using the camper as a lounge; their now-larger lounge was among the items added to the new building.
“The cooperation between our company and Truman Schools and Granada is second to none.” Lenz also stated that “parents were real understanding that first day. We went off without a glitch that afternoon.”
Lenz said the family company spent well over $300,000 with local contractors. “We’ve always used them and get along well with them and that’s how we support locally.” He noted that even the city was willing to redo some utilities on the north side of town to make the new building work.
“I feel things are going well,” Lenz concluded. “Things are going smooth.”
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