It’s easy for the city of Kent to find a good mechanic.
Robert Stone works as one of four vehicle-repair staffers at the city maintenance shop on West James Street just east of Russell Road. He helps keep nearly 565 city cars and trucks running smoothly as part of the fleet division of the Public Works Department.
Stone helps make sure residents as well as city officials benefit from his work.
“He’s very conscientious,” said Bob Haydock, fleet services supervisor, of Stone. “He’s really looking to help watch the taxpayers’ money. He realizes we are an internal city department, but all of the city is our customer.”
Stone, 42, a senior mechanic, started as a mechanic assistant with the city in 1987 at the age of 22.
“I’ve worked my way up through the ranks,” Stone said in an interview Wednesday after he walked to his office through a parking lot loaded with city vehicles.
From lawnmowers and police motorcycles to police cars and dump trucks, Stone stays plenty busy.
Fire trucks and aid cars, on the other hand, see repairs through the Kent Fire Department services support staff.
“He’s very knowledgeable and very well-rounded,” Haydock said. “He’s very self-driven to get a task accomplished.”
In addition to maintaining vehicles through oil changes, brake jobs and other repairs, Stone also works with a city radio technician to help prepare new vehicles for the various
city departments. That involves installing radios, overhead lights, tool boxes and any other features that might be needed.
“We sit down with department heads and find out their needs and wants for vehicles and what they have to have and what they can afford to have,” Stone said. “It flows pretty smooth.”
More than 40 new vehicles are expected to arrive in the fall. That can be a challenge to get so many set up with radios and other extras and ready for service.
“There are certain timelines in setting up vehicles,” Stone said. “But the real challenges are higher up in the ordering of parts.”
Most city vehicles last at least 10 years, except for the patrol cars. Right now patrol cars last for about three years because of the heavy use of the vehicles, Stone said. Mowers last anywhere from five to eight years.
The city does own a 1976 road grader and a 1982 dump truck that still get used.
“We try to do preventive maintenance,” Stone said.
City officials contract out to private businesses any bodywork needed by vehicles.
Stone grew up in Lake Tapps working on cars because his father worked on cars as a hobby. He took auto-shop classes at Sumner High School and Green River Community College and discovered he had a talent for car repairs. He started his first job at age 15 at Sumner Texaco and later worked for Al’s Auto Supply before a friend spotted a newspaper ad for the city of Kent mechanic assistant job.
Stone lives in Bonney Lake. He is single with an 18-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son. He commutes by bus between Bonney Lake and the Sumner Sounder train station, catching a Metro van pool between the Kent Sounder station and the city maintenance shop.
“It takes about an hour with the waits,” Stone said of his daily trek to work. “But to drive would take at least 45 minutes.”
Outside of work, Stone camps, fishes and likes to sing karaoke. He prefers to sing Elvis Presley songs and country songs.
“I’ve had people tell me I’ve got the voice,” Stone said of crooning Elvis tunes. “I’ve liked him since I was a kid.”
With space so tight at the city maintenance shop, Stone looks forward to an eventual move in the next few years to the city’s proposed East Hill operations center.
“We’ve outgrown this facility,” Stone said. “We have about 5 acres here and there will be 22 acres at the new site.”
Stone has seen many changes near the current site. The Lakes housing development across the street from the shop used to be a cornfield when he started work with the city. And he used to be able to walk down Russell Road to pick apples.
Stone also has watched improvements in the manufacturing of vehicles.
“They last a lot longer now,” Stone said. “We had some real junk in the past.”