GLADWIN – Darren Haines, owner of Jag Motorcoach in Gladwin, won first place for the second year in a row at the UMA Motorcoach National Expo on Jan. 21 in Nashville, TN.
There were 700 different motorcoach companies represented at the convention. The expo lasts for five days, Jan. 19-23. The maintenance competition was held on Jan. 21 and featured three different levels of testing to accurately award the finalist. Before the maintenance portion of the competition, contestants must pass a 50 question written test that covers theory and the regular operation of a motorcoach.
Once on to the maintenance portion of the competition, Darren was among only 25 competitors to take part in the final two events. The next part of the competition was checking the underside of a motorcoach for defects.
“On the second day, one of the motorcoaches is on a lift and then he [the judge] says ‘everything underneath the bus is fair game, find the defects, there are eight defects and you have seven minutes to do it – go’” Darren said.
After the first, Darren was moved to another motorcoach on the ground and had to again find the eight defects. This time, the defects were not components underneath the bus, but instead inside or part of the electrical operations of the vehicle.
“They have the door open so you can see any defects at the driver’s seat,” Darren said. “They don’t make you look over the whole interior of the bus, just up front.”
Going over the electrical, checking the condition of the outside of the bus, and overlooking the dash of the motorcoach makes seven minutes feel like seven seconds for Darren.
Finding all eight defects on both buses is a perfect score, but according to Darren’s wife Mechelle, nobody has ever achieved a perfect score.
“I’ve had seven before on that portion of the test, but never a perfect score,” Darren said.
Darren recalls going to the expo and competing for six years. Mechelle added that other than the last two times, he has also placed second and fourth before in the competition.
At Jag Motorcoach, Darren works with only one brand of motorcoach, Motor Coach Industries (MCI). However, the competition features two Prevost motorcoaches that were much different than what Darren is use to working on.
“It was pretty neat that he was able to find the defects even though he is not familiar with these brands of motorcoaches,” Mechelle said.
The last two years have seen change with the competition according to Darren. Before the 2019 convention, the competition was held separately at different motorcoach shops around the country. The 2019 expo was the first to start hosting the competition during the actual convention.
“So while I’m doing this, there is a crowd of people standing there watching me, which makes me even more nervous,” Darren laughed.
Darren and Mechelle run Jag Motorcoach together with Darren handling more of the mechanical work and Mechelle managing more of the business and the clients.
“It’s great that we’re able to make things work as a husband and wife running the business,” Mechelle said. “Not many couples could make that sort of thing work in a professional way.”
During the expo, Darren and Mechelle went to different classes and panels about motorcoaches and business operation. During the convention, Darren went to a maintenance interchange while Michelle attended a business oriented class.
The expo was a learning experience for both Darren and Mechelle. They both expressed that they learned a lot of valuable information in Nashville for their business at home.
“My job around here is to make sure the buses stay running,” Darren said. “So when I go to this meeting down there, I learn a lot about the different issues and things other mechanics are finding out about their buses and every time I learned something new I made sure to write it down.”
At the interchange that Darren was a part of, the instructor went around to all the motorcoach maintenance workers and asked how long they had been working on motorcoaches specifically. According to Darren, there was a total of 1,486 years of motorcoach experience sitting in that conference room.
Mechelle recalled how amazed she was when so many strangers from the convention were approaching Darren for handshakes and introductions.
“It was really cool when he got to go on stage and meet all the people,” Mechelle looked to Darren with a smile. “I love it when you win.”
The Jag Motorcoach motto is “We don’t want to be the biggest, we want to be the best” according to Darren. The couple has no interest in expanding or relocating.
“We want to stay in Gladwin forever,” Mechelle said.
“I love Gladwin!” Darren smiled.