As Olympic champions compete in London, a few Omnitrans employees are thinking back to 2002 and the roles they played at the winter Olympics in Utah.
“I had forgotten how cold Utah can be,” said Al Mooney, who grew up in that area before he moved to California. “It was freezing all the time–you’d feel it right down to your bones. I was lucky to be working night dispatch, so at least I was indoors.”
But inclement weather wasn’t about to stop these Omnitrans employees from volunteering when Olympics organizers began recruiting dispatchers, coach operators and mechanics for the winter games. They each jumped at the chance to be part of history!
Those who were hired received a special Olympic uniform to keep, complete with a heavy parka, gloves and a hat. In addition to an hourly wage, room and meal allowance, they were also given free transportation to and from events when not working.
“The whole thing was extremely well organized,” said Olympic veteran and Field Supervisor Dennis Jones. Dennis worked as a driver for the Olympic games in both Utah and Vancouver. “And security was incredibly tight. No one was taking any chances after 9/11 which had occurred just 5 months prior. They even had Black Hawk snipers in the air, to secure the parameters of the event. It was quite the sight!”
For Coach Operator Clifton Williams one of the highlights of the event was seeing the Presidential helicoptor land. “It was really neat ,” chuckled Clifford. “I was so excited to be there. We were working almost all the time, so we really didn’t much of a chance to see the games. But we still met a lot of interesting people from all over the world. I would do it again in a heartbeat!”
Maintenance Supervisor Veto Espinoza recalls the preparation involved for the event. “All of us had to undergo an intensive background check and drug testing before they would even consider us. I was hired as a mechanic. I remember every morning we had to take off jumpsuits and coats and strip down to street clothes each day to pass through security checks before we were allowed near the buses. The bus yards were locked down tightly, and they weren’t taking any chances of a breach.”
Veto and the other mechanics arrived a couple of weeks prior to the games in order to get the the buses prepped for travel. For the most part, the buses were retired vehicles that were donated by various transit agencies, and it was anticipated that they would need a lot of work to keep them running smoothly. Since the vehicles had been sitting there for a month, the first big challenge was to dig them out of the huge snow piles surrounding them.
“It took four guys over an hour just to dig out one vehicle,” explained Veto. “And there were five hundred buses. At that time, the exhaust pipes were below the bus instead of on top, so we had to make sure they were clear before we started the vehicles. They had been sitting there for a while, so we had to stick a little ether down the throat of the engines just to get them started.”
Field Supervisor Dennis Jones drove buses during the event, and was impressed with the efficiency and precision of the organizers. When they first arrived on site, Olympic hires received an orientation on the rules and guidelines for the organization as well as state work requirements. This was followed by extensive classroom training. Coach operators received route training to get them familiar with driving the snowy streets and mountain roads. They were taught just two routes each to prevent them from getting lost.
“Every detail was planned. Nothing was left to chance,” said Dennis. “If a bus broke down or you deviated from your designated route in any way, an officer was there immediately to find why. That’s how closely things were guarded.”
If their off hours, our crew enjoyed meeting people from all over the world. A particular favorite was the Jamaican bobsled team.
“They were definitely party guys,” laughed Dennis. “And they were always surrounded by beautiful women. Remember that movie about them? Cool Runnings? It was exactly like that.”
Veto Espinoza agreed. “We had a good time hanging out with those guys before they competed. They had no money, no nothing. It really was like the movie. All the other bobsled teams had these fancy truck beds to carry their sled up the mountain. But not the Jamaican team. We helped them load their bobsled into the back of a pickup truck!”