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Retired Mechanic Honored By Student Transportation Association of Kentucky

State Award: Mechanic Ratchets Up Resumé, By Matt Pedigo, The Citizen-Times, Augsut 16, 2018 Used with permission
 
The rain has quit, but some August humidity lingers as bus drivers gather at the Allen County School District’s bus lot.
 
It’s the first day of the new 2018-2019 school year, and they’re gathering for some fellowship before departing for their after-school routes. 
 
Among them is a familiar that once kept those busses running—very well, judging by the fact that he’s just won the Student Transportation Association of Kentucky’s statewide Mechanic of the Year honors. 
 
“I’d heard they had an award for me,” says James Osborne in a substantial understatement, recalling when he was invited to come to STAK’s state event at the Galt House in Louisville in June.  
 
“I’m glad they (his current and former co-workers) thought enough of me to nominate me, that they thought I did a good enough job for this,” he said. 
 
Another understatement, for a man who’s been keeping the wheels turning since his own school years. An Allen County native, Osborne took former instructor Henry Williams’ Auto Mechanics classes at the old Allen County Vocational School as an Allen County-Scottsville High School student. 
 
“He (Williams) said I had a knack for it,” Osborne recalls when asked what led him toward mechanics as a career. 
 
After graduating AC-S in 1985, Osborne went on to study diesel mechanics at the Bowling Green State Vocational School, now the Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College. 
 
He graduated that in 1987, having worked for a transmission shop while still in school. He worked a series of mechanics jobs in Bowling Green establishments including the M &H Automotive machine shop, and Guarantee Auto. 
 
As James E. Bazzell was known to do when he knew people had talent in some area, the late Allen County Schools superintendent  at stopped by G Auto and told Osborne about an opening for a bus mechanic for the Allen County School District.
 
“If you’re interested and think you might like it, go by and put your application in,” Bazzell had said. “They’ve got an opening coming up.”  
 
Osborne joined the District’s bus mechanic corps in 1989. At that time, Dennis Graves led the garage, and Larry Williams—later to become superintendent as well—was the transportation director. Osborne was beginning a career that would see him serve under four different transportation directors: Larry Williams, Bobby Williams, Wendell Spears and today’s director, Roger Weaver.
 
Today’s bus fleet numbers about 40, plus substitute busses should a breakdown occur. When Osbone started his local career, the total fleet was about 40, including the spares.
 
He saw some changes in the trade almost immediately. Gasoline-powered school busses were no longer available after 1989, and the fleet   began to transition to diesel. More recently, he’s seen hybrid diesel/electric busses and even propane-powered busses be mixed in. School bus mechanics already spend some classroom time annually to keep up with changes in the trade, but training for the hybrids and propane busses was even more specialized. 
 
Automotive computers are another big change Osborne seen in his career.
 
“It’s all electronic now,” he said. “Transmissions and engines were all analog and mechanical when I started.”
 
Osborne also became half of the fleet mechanics corps quickly. When he was hired, another mechanic left temporarily to work for Weyerhauser, but soon came back: Doyle Blankenship. 
 
“By that time, Dennis (Graves) had retired, and it was just me and Doyle, Osborne recalls. “We went from three to two.” 
 
Osborne and Blankenship—also neighbors to one another on Kay Brown Road—formed a top-notch team, working together for 26 years before Blankenship’s retirement. In 2015, Blankenship had won the same STAK recognition Osborne has now earned. 
 
What was the most rewarding thing about his career? Osborne has a quick answer—the people. He says he’s enjoyed working with Blankenship, the drivers and many others over the years, and adds that the drivers were always very prompt in reporting any issues with the busses.
 
To others just entering their mechanical careers or considering the field, Osborne has straightforward advice.
 
“Hang in there,” he said. “Do what you need to do to go after it. It’s been a good career for me.”
 
Osborne retired last October, and is enjoying more time with Kim, his wife of 27 years (28 this November 17). The couple has three children—son Logan, a junior at AC-S; and daughters Megan, a 2010 AC-S graduate who went on to Berea College and Eastern Kentucky University; and Katelyn, a 2013 AC-S graduate now at Western Kentucky University. 
 
Though retired as a bus mechanic, Osborne is now a substitute bus driver, and his mechanics career has taken a new turn: He’s gained certification to work on pools, too. He works part-time for The CORE of Scottsville, maintaining their indoor and outdoor pool machinery. 
 
And Osborne’s retirement isn’t all about work. He’s eyeing an adventure with his neighbor and former co-worker. The Citizen-Times has featured Blankenship’s motorcycle journeys, first with his son Toby across the western US, and, more recently, from Scottsville to above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Now, he wants Osborne to make the Alaska motorcycle trip with him. Osborne said he’s thinking seriously about it. 
 
Chances are, they’ll make their destination.  If anything goes wrong with their rides along the way, there’s not much that a pair of STAK Mechanics of the Year can’t fix.
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