FARGO — The longest-serving city bus driver for MATBUS is celebrating his 30th year this month with a stellar work and driving record — he has never caused an accident and has missed only four days of work.
And it isn't the end of the road for lifelong Fargo resident Marvin Mickelson Jr., 66, as he isn't planning to retire anytime soon.
"If I work six more years, I'll have driven (city bus) half my life," said the friendly Mickelson, who is known for greeting his riders.
That spotless record of never causing an accident and missing a minuscule number of work days has a few caveats to it.
Despite never causing an accident with the 35-foot or 40-foot buses that can carry about 60 or possibly more passengers, he has been hit four times, three from behind and one time on the side.
"Some of the drivers sure like to tailgate us," said Mickelson, who added he still sees many people driving while on their cellphones as he makes his way down the city's streets. Adding to the headaches is the ever-increasing traffic, and Mickelson believes many drivers are going too fast.
'A decent driver'
Another notable statistic from his many years on the street is that he has only had his buses break down probably about 10 times over the 30 years.
"We have some good mechanics," he said. "They take good care of things."
One of the breakdowns was because of a flat tire, but he estimated that was about 20 years ago. He's also been stuck in the snow only once.
As for his health and that respectable work record, he simply said "so far, so good."
He said he had the flu when he called in sick those four days. However, he did miss some work because of two accidents when he broke his wrists, one time work-related. He said he fell down while he was helping in a city bus operation to move residents away from danger in the flood of 2009. He injured his other wrist while doing yardwork at home.
Otherwise he's been navigating the streets of Fargo day after day, and during that time he said he's met "a lot of nice people," which he lists as the "best part" of his job.
He said it's been "rare" to have any riders cause problems on his bus routes. The vast majority of riders, he said, have simply been "great people."
Riders who were on Mickelson's bus last Tuesday afternoon feel the same about him. As his bus wound through north Fargo streets, they smiled broadly when talking about the longtime driver.
"He's really nice. I get along with him really well," said Becky Schlichting, who said he drops her off and picks her up at her job as a dishwasher at North Dakota State University every day on his route.
Heidi Ulven and her boyfriend, Tim Haaby, both had kind words about Mickelson after he got out of his seat to carefully strap Ulven's wheelchair into the specially equipped area on the bus.
Ulven was on her way to a medical appointment from her north Fargo apartment to south Fargo.
"I've known him a long time," Haaby said as he accompanied his girlfriend to her appointment. "He's always been good to me."
Rose Lease, who doesn't have a vehicle and rides the bus to and from her job at Taco John's on 10th Street North where she's worked for 23 years, said she's seen Mickelson "many, many, many times."
"He's a decent driver," she said.
Mickelson has been doing this Route 13 for about 10 years in north Fargo in a New Flyer bus that still has that "new smell" to it and really fills up in the fall when NDSU students return. The route starts downtown with several stops and heads up 10th Street with more stops at NDSU, the Fargodome and even to the far northern reaches of the city.
Mickelson, however, has spent the longest time — about 12 years — driving a 13th Avenue South route that included stops in the West Acres shopping mall area. He had another route that lasted seven years from the Lashkowitz High-Rise Senior Center to South High School and West Acres.
It's not always good times, though, on the various routes. The worst part, Mickelson said, is driving when the city's streets turn icy. Driving on muddy roads during floods is almost worse, he added.
After graduating from Fargo North High, he worked for a manufacturing company for about 11 years before he got a job driving a school bus. After about a year in that position, he started 30 years ago last May as a part-time driver for the city bus service.
"I guess at first I wanted to see if I liked it," he said. He did. And on Aug. 21, 1989, he became a full-time driver.
He hasn't stopped since. He said his wife, Chris, is still working as a registered nurse, and he doesn't know when the West Fargo couple will hang it up.
He just might make it those six more years.