Refurbishment center revitalizes Greyhound and Nappanee
ABC Companies puts local mechanics and vendors in rural Indiana to work overhauling 250 coaches
By Glenn Swain
Lee Loper, ABC Companies Midwest Region vice president and general manager, knows the two-lane rural roads of northern Indiana like the back of his hand. Last January he drove the farm roads passing horse-drawn Amish carriages and inspecting more than 20 properties in search of the ideal location for the company to establish its plant for the first phase in the refurbishment 250 Greyhound motorcoaches.
After months of looking Loper and Greyhound officials decided on a 110,000 square-foot facility in Nappanee, a small town of about 7,000 people southwest of Goshen that would be the site for the Nappanee Bus Refurbishment Center. Their decision was very fortunate for this rural area decimated by the economic downturn.
Greyhounds get a facelift
The Greyhound Fleet Revitalization Program was to get underway two years ago, but the companies elected to postpone the launch due to the depressed state of the economy.
The first MCI 102DL3 Greyhound coaches entered the facility last July with some of the more haggard vehicles needing a tow into the garage. Most had racked more than a million miles and needed immediate attention.
Each bus passed through 25 separate work stations to be stripped bare, axle assemblies and engines pulled, seats reupholstered and parts repaired or replaced. Upgrades to the original coaches include WiFi, power plug-ins, LED lighting, leatherette passenger seating and extra legroom, as well as new wheelchair lifts. ABC Companies has ample experience in refurbishing motorcoaches. However, according to Loper, until this project the company had never attempted to upgrade this many vehicles in the proposed 18-month time period.
“We have had a relationship with ABC Companies for decades,” says Chris Bordman, Greyhound general manager of technical operations. “ABC is at the forefront of expertise and experience. They were superior to anyone else we spoke to.”
The vehicles are first steam cleaned and then moved counter-clockwise around the cavernous building, passing through the different stations on the assembly line at the hands of trained mechanics and specialists.
“To strip every thing off the chassis, make the repairs and put it back together requires over one-thousand man hours for each bus,” says Loper. “The goal is to produce a reliable piece of equipment for at least another five to seven years.”
Loper adds that historically speaking, when the last coach rolls off the line, ABC Companies will have purchased and installed more parts for this program than any other bus company.
The first of the modernized Greyhound coaches rolled out of the facility in September, entirely refurbished for about one-third the cost of a new motorcoach that can run as much as $450,000.
A revitalized community
A ribbon cutting ceremony in September commemorated the first Greyhound coach readied for the road. During the event, Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson wore a broad politician’s smile. The decision to open the facility in his town produced more than 120 much needed jobs.
“Employing a hundred people is a big very deal for us here in Nappanee,” says Mayor Thompson. “The ABC Companies executives are down-to-earth, common sense people. You would think they have lived their years in Nappanee.”
During the economic slowdown, Elkhart County had seen unemployment rise to over 18 percent. More than 2,000 applications flooded in after the facility was announced. ABC Companies pulled several key technicians from its Florida and California shops.
“We wanted to help support the Elkhart County area,” Loper says. “We are trying to develop as many local vendors as possible.”
Proof of the promise to use local suppliers lies with the new seating the company is installing. Loper says the leather fabric comes directly from a distributor in Elkhart.
Loper, along with ABC Companies production manager Matt Irvin and Louis Hotard, director of technical services in Winter Garden, FL, began the process of training area workers.
They had to bring the workforce up to standards in a very short period of time. When the refurbishing program was in its infancy the idea was to initiate the repairs at three separate locations in California, Minnesota and Florida. Loper says eventually the stand-alone facility made the most sense.
ABC Companies maintains a parts inventory dedicated to this specific program, which Loper says is easier to manage as far as having what it needs for the technicians and mechanics on-site.
Loper says the workers in Nappanee see a new problem every day and are getting an education they would never receive anywhere else.
Surrounded by RV industry mechanics and specialists, Irvin found that the local workforce adapted easily to their new assignments on motorcoaches.
“In their own shops, these mechanics may pull six engines in a year,” says Irvin. “Here they may do that number in one week.”
Hotard says ABC Companies has worked to make the program very production friendly and as repetitious as possible.
“The individuals in leadership roles required some ASE certification,” Loper adds. “We had to administer brake testing and issue A/C certifications as master mechanics. We have called in several high-end master mechanics from the Bosch testing ground in South Bend, IN. A former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator with expertise in bus and motorcoach accidents does our final inspections before the buses go out. We have a lot of talent in the building.”
Greyhound game changers
A number of the refurbished Greyhounds are now on the road, much to the delight of Greyhound officials.
“This program is a game changer for us,” Bordman says. “It’s a rebrand of Greyhound. We are trying to keep up with what passengers want.”
ABC Companies chose to deliver the first 25 refurbished coaches to one facility in California, and for good reason according to Loper.
“A large number of vehicles at one location makes it easier to assess customer satisfaction and how the refurbished vehicles are performing,” he says. “If we string them out across the country we will not be able to focus on how they are doing as a fleet.”
While ABC and Greyhound have a five-year business plan to refurbish more coaches, all is contingent on the cost of parts, labor and overhead. Loper is working on controlling the cost per unit as it leaves the building. He says it’s imperative to meet the set goals to prove to Greyhound’s parent company, FirstGroup America, that the project is viable and worth continuing. The Greyhound fleet includes 2,200 buses, and includes more than 600 MCI 102DL3 motorcoaches. Many of which, if not all of the 600 MCI vehicles, could roll out of Nappanee in the future.
Loper hints that the Nappanee facility could become an ongoing motorcoach repair industrial park for ABC Companies.
“Even if the names on the side of the bus change,” he says, “we plan to use the facility for other refurbishing jobs.” BR