From Autos to Railcars: She’s Got the Fix
When Bridget Kirk, 48, of Newark was learning how to fix automobiles in a New Community training program, it took the challenge of changing a water pump in a V-6 engine to teach her the importance of endurance. She had to dismantle the pump three times before finally getting it right.
“It took me four weeks before I got everything fixed and put back together. When I got finished, I was crying like a baby and throwing tools all over the place,” she said, leading her to announce that she was quitting.
The program instructor, Ed Netherland, would not let it happen.
The veteran technician who runs NCC’s Youth and Adult Automotive Training Center simply sat his oldest and only female student down, advised her to take a deep breath and gave her a quick reality check.
“I told her this was not going to be the roughest job you come across. You are going to have jobs rougher than this one,” Netherland recalled. “If you want to stay in this field, you have to deal with this.”
Kirk did and ended up graduating as one of the top three students in the program back in March of 2008. Today, Kirk is still repairing cars, but not the kind she expected.
Soon after graduation, she was hired to inspect and repair railcars by Progress Rail, one of the leading providers of rail and transit products in North America. While she had to be retrained in locomotive mechanics, Kirk says her days of troubleshooting in the New Community program helped prepare her for the freight cars she now fixes out in the yards of the Elizabeth Seaport.
“I love it,” she said of her job at Progress, which is a subsidiary of Caterpiller. “It’s very challenging.”
Kirk, a single mother with one grown daughter who lost her own mother shortly before her second birthday, must work outside in all kinds of weather, including rain, extreme heat and sub-freezing temperatures. She wears a uniform consisting of a hard hat, goggles, steel toe shoes and jump suit, but came to work dressed in a skirt on the very first day.
“Everyone was so surprised when they saw me, but I’m still a lady,” she said.
Her supervisor, Dustin Cook, said she is the only female working in her capacity at the Elizabeth site. Two other graduates of New Community’s automotive program, Daquan Butler and Kent Brown, also work there. Kirk is older than they are and most of the other employees.
“She gets along with everybody. She’s well liked,” Cook said.
Kirk’s ultimate dream may seem a little offbeat, but it’s not surprising given her current work. She wants to become a long-distance truck driver.
“Since I was a little girl, one of my goals was to drive an 18-wheeler,” she said.
But before doing that, she is hoping her next job will be with NJ Transit.