Photo by Diane Cox
Alton city garage supervisor John Mitchell stands next to his crew, Wayne Miller, who is in charge of parts; and mechanics Terry Crawford, Eric McKee and Eric Landuyt.
ALTON — The Alton city garage workers are local unsung heroes who have been hidden in the shadows of city vehicles in their eight-bay location on Emma Kaus Lane.
“No one thinks of the guy who changes the oil in the truck until it needs it,” Alton Mayor Brant Walker said. “The fleet in this city is phenomenal. Considering how many different departments they serve, those guys at the city garage do an unbelievable job. For a staff that small with Eric (McKee), Terry (Crawford) and Eric (Landuyt) working as mechanics, Wayne (Miller) in charge of parts and John (Mitchell) supervising, the amount of work they get done is outstanding.”
The primary purpose of the city garage is preventative maintenance on city-owned vehicles. From small repairs to complete engine overhauls on big trucks, garage employees take pride in their ability to get the job done while cutting costs for taxpayers.
“Having a dedicated, knowledgeable staff at the city garage has allowed me to sell some aging fire apparatus and purchase some newer, quality used fire apparatus,” Alton Fire Chief Bernie Siebold said. “Having the newer apparatus has allowed us to standardize our fleet to Spartan chassis, which have many of the same parts that the garage can keep in stock. The cost of a new pumper ranges from $350,000 to $550,000. The used pumpers that we have purchased have cost us at most $90,000. I very much appreciate the hard work they all do at the garage.”
With purse strings tightening across the state, cost-cutting has become a popular topic among city governments.
“The thing with our job that we have the most pride in is cost savings,” Mitchell said. “We save the city a lot of money that most people don’t realize. That’s why we’re here and that’s what we do. We know that.”
Mitchell gave an example on how his employees find ways to cut costs and pointed out it’s not much different than what the average middle-class household needs to do while budgeting its own finances when times are tight.
“We have a truck in the shop right now that needs brakes,” Mitchell said. “Our parts man, Wayne, called a company that does that kind of work to get a price for parts. Parts alone was going to cost the city roughly $4,500. Wayne is good at what he does and is good about getting us the best value for our dollar. He found us the exact same part with a different supplier for $2,100. That’s the kind of money we’re saving our taxpayers on every single job. We take the time to find the best deal and work to get the job done right the first time. Honestly, that keeps our suppliers competitive.”
Having more than 220 vehicles to serve and maintain, the city garage workers keep their education up to date for the constant flow of different machinery coming through the bays.
“Each one of our mechanics are ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified,” Mitchell said. “We also have continued education a few times a year to keep current on technology. We have a fairly young crew, but they’re really smart and really well-trained. What I really like about them is that they work really well together ... When there is a problem, they put their heads together and figure out the solution and it really helps to get things done in the shop.”
The city garage workers are required to live in Alton because they are on call on a regular basis.
“In the winter time, when it’s snowing, we have someone here 24 hours a day,” Mitchell said. “We divide the shifts up so that the garage is staffed any time it’s snowing. If a plow truck breaks down, we’re able to get right on it and get it fixed and get it back out on the street.”