Editor’s note: “On the Job” is a series that profiles locals and the work they do. It runs every other week in The Aspen Times.
For 29 years, Fred Brooks has kept the Aspen School District buses running, often in conditions that would make a mailman cringe. Brooks has been driving and fixing buses for the district since 1985, and he has been the director of transportation since 1988.
“I used to do all the training for my drivers and still train them when time permits,” Brooks said. “In all the time I’ve worked here, there have been only two accidents that were the fault of my drivers.”
Brooks is a multitalented boss, according to several of his employees. He can not only fix and drive any of the buses; he also sets the schedules for his drivers and keeps his bus barn stocked with all the proper tools and equipment to keep his bus fleet in tip-top condition.
“Fred is a great guy to work for,” said Mike Pelletier, a mechanic for the district since 2001. “He trusts me and gives me the freedom to do my job the right way. He has one of the best-equipped shops I’ve ever been around. Fred is as fair as a person can ask a boss to be. There’s really nothing negative to say about Fred.”
Brooks grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and attended the University of Tennessee on a football scholarship, but a shoulder injury ended his football career prematurely. He ended up attending the Northrop University Institute of Technology in Los Angeles as an aerospace engineering major and graduated in 1975.
Northrop Corp. hired him as a quality-assurance engineer, and Brooks worked on the F-18 fighter-jet-development team.
Brooks also had a brother, nicknamed “Dr. Judd,” living in Aspen at the time with an auto shop at the Aspen Business Center. After his brother was diagnosed with cancer, Brooks moved to Aspen in 1978 to help his sibling.
“I took a year’s leave of absence from Northrop and never went back,” Brooks said.
After working at Aspen Highlands as a snowcat mechanic and for the city of Aspen Transportation Department as a mechanic, he accepted a job in 1985 with the Aspen School District as a mechanic.
“The district had just bought a diesel-powered bus, and nobody knew how to fix it,” he said. “I could, so they hired me. When I started here, the district had 12 buses. Now we have 22, and I’ve driven them all.”
Brooks does all the scheduling of drivers and has 15 routes that pick up between 1,000 and 1,200 kids a day. The buses now are much safer than the ones he drove in 1985. In fact, Brooks pushed to get seat belts on the school buses, and they were the first in Colorado to add them in 1986.
In 1988, Brooks was named the director of transportation for the district, a title he’s held since then.
The one thing that has remained consistent for Brooks in all his time with the district is his commitment to safety.
“That’s still my top priority,” Brooks said. “Some kids don’t like being told what to do, but I don’t care. Safety is paramount, and all the really good drivers feel the same way. We’re here to ensure the students’ safety, not be their friends.”
Brooks is proud of his current staff and calls it the best he’s ever worked with.
“They’re smart, dedicated, and they do things the way I want things done. I have rules, and the drivers understand that. Like I tell them, ‘These are my rules; they aren’t flexible, and neither am I.’”
One of his biggest concerns remains driving in winter conditions. He worries about other motorists but trusts that his drivers have been trained to react correctly in critical situations. Brooks does his best to keep his fleet of buses in top working order with the best and most current equipment.
“I can tell you this,” he said. “Everything on our buses is functional and up-to-date.”
In 2001, the Aspen School District earned the title of “Best Small Bus Fleet in Colorado” from School Bus Fleet magazine.
The 2014-15 school year is Brooks’ transitional year, meaning he’s planning to retire in June 2015. He’s ready to spend some quality time with his wife, Joy. They’ve been married for 35 years, and Joy is the senior bus driver for the district. She’s been driving the Ashcroft route for 25 years and has never had an accident on the road or at the bus barn.
In fact, driving buses for the district is a Brooks family affair. The couple have one son, Clayton, 24, and he’s also a part-time bus driver for the district.
“If I ever have to miss work, Joy is the one who will make sure everything runs as it should,” Brooks said. “We make a good team. I know she’s happy I’m retiring. This is a stressful job with all the trips, the scheduling, drivers coming and going and all the layers of government I deal with.”
Brooks owns a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, as does his wife and his son. Brooks hopes the family can find time to do some riding together. He wants to tour the East Coast in the fall and also hopes to visit Australia and New Zealand.
“If anyone wants to try and figure out if they can do this job, now’s the time to bring them on,” Brooks said. “This is a great district to work for.”