“Everyone should know how to change a tire and put brakes on your car,” according to Kevin Thigpen, one of the four district mechanics that works on the school’s bus fleet and service vehicles at the Lufkin ISD Transportation Building. Mr. Thigpen is beginning his third year with the district but has been putting things together to make things work for more than 20 years.
He attended Angelina College after graduating from Hudson High School to learn how to work on air conditioners, but ended up learning about diesel mechanics from his uncle’s recommendation. His first job in high school was at Pineywoods Tractor where he was a clean up boy. After he received his certification in diesel mechanics, he went back to Pineywoods Tractor to work as a mechanic. Before working at Lufkin ISD, he was employed with Rush Truck Center where he gained experience as a mechanic doing engine overhauls and working on emission issues on 18-wheelers and buses.
He says his uncle, Kent Fowler, inspired him to work in the mechanics field. He was a service manager at Pineywoods Tractor when Kevin worked there, and he also worked with him at Rush Truck Center where his uncle retired.
“My uncle was a service manager and my father was a pattern maker at Lufkin Industries. My dad could build anything. I sometimes tinker with woodworking on my down time. I also hunt and fish,” he said.
Mr. Thigpen arrives at 5 a.m. depending on which shift he has. There are two shifts, one beginning at 5 a.m. until 2 p.m., and the other 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Some days are longer than others if they need to pitch in to drive a bus route. After a cup of coffee, Mr. Thigpen starts his day.
He said, “I have 19 buses assigned to me which is nice because you’re accountable for your buses. I can fix it like I want to. I’ve been factory trained from Cummins when I was at Rush Truck Center.”
If a bus breaks down, it’s the mechanics’ job to bring an extra bus to the driver and try to fix the bus roadside. If that’s not possible, they will call a wrecker to take the bus to the transportation building. Mr. Thigpen says the key to keeping the buses on the road is maintaining them properly. He is licensed to do inspections, replace tires and brakes, work on air conditioners and some engine repairs.
He said, “We run a paperless shop. Once an order comes in, Lydia puts it in the computer and puts it under my tech number. Safety issues always come first like tires, brakes. From there we make a game plan.”
Mr. Thigpen is married to Alison who works as a first grade teacher at Central ISD, and they have two children Abbee, age 10 and Landon, age 6. Mr. Thigpen and his family enjoy hunting together and even told how his daughter killed her first deer at age five without any help. This year he plans on trying some crossbow hunting. Mr. Thigpen claims to be a homebody but living on 30 acres of the 100 acre-family land plot facing a pond can easily explain why he enjoys being home with his family. On the land, he has a garden, a few cows and a workshop perfect for working in on rainy days.
He said, “I bought my grandparents’ home that was built in the 40’s. My grandmother always wanted it facing the pond and that’s where I moved it.”
Mr. Thigpen says he would promote being a mechanic to students today. As he popped the hood on one of the buses to show the engine and air conditioning mechanism he was working on, he commented how mechanics use computers for everything now.
“Being a mechanic is a good profession right now, if you get your education and you’re not scared to work. Before I worked at Rush Truck Center it was all by hand. Now when a bus comes in, you hook it up to the diagnostic computer,” he said.
As he looked over the components of the bus under the hood with wires and hoses everywhere, he pointed to what makes a bus run and keep cool. When asked how does he know all of this complicated process of mechanics, his answer was simple: “It’s second nature.”
Thank you, Keven Thigpen, for knowing a lot about what our buses need to keep on the road so that our kids can get to school safe and sound. Your job is necessary and much appreciated!