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Rusbuldt takes shine to Kent street signs

Tom Rusbuldt is a sign-maintenance worker for the city of Kent. “You don’t get bored,” he said. - Charles Cortes/Reporter
Tom Rusbuldt is a sign-maintenance worker for the city of Kent. “You don’t get bored,” he said.
— image credit: Charles Cortes/Reporter

Sign, sign, everywhere a Kent city street sign.

With more than 14,000 street signs in Kent, Tom Rusbuldt, a city street-sign maintenance worker, stays plenty busy. From stop signs to school-zone signs to street-name signs, Rusbuldt is part of a three-man crew that installs and repairs the signs for the city’s public works department.

But Rusbuldt and the rest of the crew do much more than install and fix signs. They also repair guardrails, paint curbs, crosswalks, loading zones and parking stalls, and install the raised pavement markings on street lanes.

“You don’t get bored,” said Rusbuldt, who has worked for the city since 1990. “You get a challenge almost every single day.”

The city maintains a database with the installation date of every sign in the city. Most street signs last for about eight years before the reflective paint wears off.

While the city orders stop, yield and other traffic signs from a company in North Dakota, the street-name signs are made by Rusbuldt and the rest of the street-sign crew.

Rusbuldt, 38, tried carpentry work for about two months after he graduated in 1989 from Kent-Meridian High School. But he disliked the work and took on a summer job with the city as a street-sign maintenance worker.

“I came in with experience from painting cars, so they gave me a job in the sign shop and I’ve been here ever since,” Rusbuldt said.

Tom Kelly, supervisor of the street-sign employees, has watched Rusbuldt become a top-notch city worker. Rusbuldt earned city employee of the month honors in January.

“If there’s a job to do after work, he’s one of the first to volunteer,” Kelly said. “And I can send him out on a job and not have to worry about a job not being done right.”

Rusbuldt even saved the city more than $100,000 on a job last year to re-stripe the three-story Centennial Center parking garage next to City Hall.

Kelly said they heard that a company had bid nearly $140,000 to do the job. Rusbuldt walked through the garage and figured his crew could do the project for under $10,000.

“We came in at $9,800 and the contractor bid more than 100 grand,” Rusbuldt said. “When I heard that, I thought I had messed up the math.”

But Rusbuldt had the math right, and saved the city a bundle.

The crew recently finished a new 50-spot parking lot downtown on Harrison Street and will soon re-stripe the Kent Commons recreational facility parking lot, as well as the Kent Police Station parking lot.

Outside of work, Rusbuldt, who is single and lives on the East Hill, drag races boats and cars and loves to snowmobile. He and his father built a 19-foot race boat and a 1927 T Roadster drag racer.

“He’s very talented,” Kelly said. “He’s been throwing a wrench since he was 5 years old. He knows engines inside and out. He reminds me of Tim Allen on Tool Time (on the “Home Improvement” television series) because something is not quite good enough and he can make it go faster.”

Rusbuldt raced last month in a drag boat competition on the Columbia River in Moses Lake. He also drag races the T Roadster at Pacific Raceways in Kent. He started racing cars about 22 years ago and has been racing boats for 18 years.

“You just pray you beat the guy to the other end,” Rusbuldt said.

Rusbuldt plans to eventually retire at a home he owns in Vantage in Central Washington. But first he has thousands more street signs in Kent to oversee.

“I promoted him two years ago to a maintenance 4 lead position and I want him to sit where I am,” said Kelly, who plans to retire in a few more years after more than 25 years with the city. “I’m grooming him for that.”

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.

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