Working behind the scenes to keep our fleet running

By Joseph Calabro

Imagine you're one of our maintenance crews. It's 20 degrees outside and you're driving a snow plow during this past February's snow storm. And then, boom, a flat tire! Snow is building up, conditions are getting worse and you need to get moving. Who do you call?

Our fantastic group of mechanics, of course.

Referred to internally as "TEF" (Transportation Equipment Fund), our mechanics are one of our true unsung heroes, especially during our most recent winter storms.
A dump truck ready to be outfitted with a plow

Our mechanics keep the equipment our Incident Response Team (IRT) and maintenance crews use in good working order. The group also maintains equipment used by our ferries, our traffic signals and highway lighting.

Using 35 repair shops and 130 fuel stations statewide, staff is available 24/7 to keep our equipment up, running and ready to respond to whatever weather comes our way. Yes, this even means the occasional call-out in the middle of a storm. This happened several times during February's storms.

Our mechanics maintain approximately 14,000 equipment items. This includes, among other things, 4,800 vehicles ranging from tractors to dump trucks, 1,300 equipment attachments like sanders and plows, and 4,500 radios. Much of the equipment was utilized this winter.

The relationship between our maintenance groups and mechanics is similar to that of a lessee and lessor. Our maintenance offices rent the equipment and vehicles you see out on the roads from TEF, and in turn, our mechanics do most of the repair work and caretaking. This is a standard procedure that allows TEF, a non-appropriated program, to pay for equipment replacement, fuel, employee wages and more.
This truck is in the midst of engine repairs.

By early November, the mechanics in each shop have already done much of the work that goes into preparing for the winter. They've outfitted trucks with plows and attached hopper-sanders and tailgate sanders. End-of-summer inspections require mechanics to go through checklist after checklist evaluating every inch of a dump truck and sander. They encounter familiar issues each year. If it isn't properly cleaned after a winter operation, a truck with salt left in it can see corrosion. Other equipment, like sanders and plows, accumulate rust. The hydraulics associated with the sanders are also evaluated so maintenance crews don't have to deal with unresponsive equipment in the field.
Rust and corrosion are more visible on vehicles that see a lot of action in the winter months.

There is also the challenge of new equipment. Newer trucks often come with a new computing system, including an AVL (Automatic Vehicle Locator) that monitors how much sand, salt or liquid was dropped and where. Even the most seasoned operators can have a difficult time figuring out how to use a new system. Part of the equipment technician's job is to test the system and pass along tips to the maintenance side on how to use it.
Side-by-side comparison of an older application controller (left) and a new model put into service this year (right)

It's been a very busy winter for our crews, including our mechanics team. So the next time you see a snow plow on Stevens Pass, or a mower in a highway median this summer, take a second to appreciate the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to make sure all of our equipment stays moving.

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