William Earl Dorsey started work with the Southern California Rapid Transit District in 1969 as a service attendant. Shortly thereafter, he began taking mechanic classes during his days off in order to push his limits and acquire new skills. This year he retired from his position as a senior mechanic with Metro, capping an incredible 53-year career. His coworkers call him “Mr. Positivity,” “Mr. Dependable” and “our ambassador to transportation.” Keep reading to learn about his journey and why he calls Division 18 home.
By William Earl Dorsey
I grew up in Rosedale, Louisiana, a town that’s real small, in between Lafayette and Baton Rouge. It’s so small that if you happened to sneeze driving by the Rosedale city limits sign and someone said, “bless you,” you’d already be in the next town! My daddy worked for Kaiser Aluminum; he worked there for 32 years. My mom stayed home to raise my brothers and sisters.
I still have an old phone book for Rosedale, Louisiana. It’s 12 pages long.
I moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, looking for steady work. When I got here, I didn’t like it at first. I grew up around the swamps and bayous in a town of 650 people. It was something new for me to live in a big city. It was congested! It took some time to get used to.
I got a job at a phone company, working in shipping and receiving. But the company moved everything out to Pomona, and I decided I didn’t want to commute out there. An old classmate from Louisiana who had moved out to Long Beach –– we played ball together, shot marbles together, and graduated together with the class of ‘65 –– told me about RTD. Said they were hiring a utility man.
When he told me what RTD was paying, I thought he was joking. $3.45 an hour! A lot of folks don’t know how far the dollar went then but that was good money at the time.
I applied for the job and the next thing I know they were calling me in for an interview. And a week after that, they were calling me in to take a physical. I’ve been here ever since.
I started work in September 1969. This was at Division 8 in Van Nuys. My job was to clean the interiors of the buses as they came off the line. Later on, I started to refuel them. The buses weren’t air conditioned when I first started. You might get 80 buses in one shift. When shakeup time came, I started working the third shift, which began at 11:30 at night and got off at 8:30 in the morning. I had no seniority at the time. But I came to like it after a time because I could get weekends off.
In 1972, I heard that RTD was offering free mechanic classes. The pay was better as a mechanic, so I decided to go for it. I took eight weeks of classes followed by a few months of training, where I worked out in the field. I started my new role as a mechanic with RTD in 1973.
In 1993, the RTD became the MTA, but it didn’t make much of a difference in my day to day. Lots of folks don’t realize that the bus divisions are much older than the RTD or Metro. Each division has its own culture.
For the last fifteen years, I’ve been the senior mechanic in the yard at Division 18 in Carson, which is Metro’s most southerly division. When buses pull in, I check the fuel –– they have to have at least 25 on the pound –– and make sure they’re in good operating condition. If something is wrong, I send them to the shop. I also check the buses when they’re pulling out, making sure everything’s running the way it’s supposed to. There are over 240 buses here at Division 18, and they start rolling in at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. in the morning.
Now that I’ve retired, lots of folks have asked about what I liked most about working for the MTA. I hadn’t thought about that much until now, but I come back to two things.
First, working for the MTA has been steady work. When I worked in construction back in Louisiana, it usually paid good, but it wasn’t very steady. If it rained, you couldn’t work. And if you couldn’t work, you don’t get paid either. Transportation is different. No matter what’s going on in the world, everyone needs to move around. It’s dependable. Good working conditions. Good benefits. And you can build a good retirement.
Second, Division 18 has been like home to me. Even though it’s the biggest division, it’s close knit, like a family. We all know each other. We all need each other to get rollout made. In the yard, you get to know everyone –– that means the maintenance side, which includes the mechanics and service attendants, and the transportation side, which includes the drivers. We’ve done barbecues and pizza and sometimes a big fish fry. I’ve made some good friends here.
It makes a place as big as Los Angeles feel more like the small Louisiana town where I grew up.
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Categories: Transportation News