Keeping things moving

Veteran bus station manager enjoys bus culture

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Tucked neatly behind the Smoker Friendly shop and Outdoor Connections sits an unassuming one-story building where migrant farm workers, residents and people just passing through all cross paths.

The three-room building takes up less than 500 square feet and has served as the Craig Greyhound bus station for 17 years. Harold Ratzlaff and his wife, Nancy, run the show. Harold sells tickets, greets passengers, connects people with wayward luggage and chats with the drivers. Nancy, who also is an artist, takes care of the books.

"I sit and she works," Ratzlaff joked.

The best thing about his job is the people he meets -- all kinds of people, he said.

"The people, no question about it; the good, the bad and the ugly -- mostly good," he said.

Groups of men from Mexico, Peru, Chile and some from Mongolia come to herd sheep and work on ranches. Depending on the ranch they're working for, Ratzlaff said there might be someone waiting to pick them up when they arrive, and there might be no one. Some ranchers take good care of their men, Ratzlaff said.

"John Raftopolous is probably the best when it comes to looking after his workers," Ratzlaff said. He always sits with them and makes sure they understand their bus schedule, he said.

Steve Raftopolous described the bus as a valuable tool. Many of the men who come to work for him travel by bus because it's affordable, he said. If ranchers need workers immediately, and the visa process is taking too long, workers already in the states often transfer from one ranch to another by bus.

Ratzlaff said language can sometimes be a challenge, but he's gotten by fine without speaking Spanish.

In general, Ratzlaff said travelers are good-natured.

One time, a bus pulled into the Craig station two hours late and promptly broke down. A novice driver in Denver attempted to deliver a rescue bus but got lost on the way to Craig. That night, 29 people squeezed into the tiny station and napped or sat until the bus finally arrived at 1 a.m., Ratzlaff said.

"Everyone was in a good mood," Ratzlaff said. They realized they couldn't do anything about it and made the best of it."

But the most memorable moment was a time when the riders weren't so patient, Ratzlaff said. In a scene reminiscent of a reality TV show, the bus driver buckled to pressure from passengers and kicked an older woman off the bus at 11:30 p.m. in Craig.

"She spoke in a high-pitched monotone constantly. She was so ... she wouldn't stop," Ratzlaff said of the ejected passenger.

She had to wait until afternoon to catch the next bus, Ratzlaff said. He said she was traveling with nine boxes when only two were allowed.

"I think they put her on the bus just to get her out of the station she came from," Ratzlaff said.

The talkative passenger may have been annoying, but she didn't pose a threat to other passengers as some have. Take, for example, the hijacking of a Greyhound bus headed to Grand Junction by a man with a knife May 31. In cases such as that, drivers try to call police.

Ratzlaff said once there was a man waving a gun on a bus from Salt Lake City. The driver called the Craig Police Department, whose officers were able to board the bus and remove the gun without waking any sleeping passengers, Ratzlaff said.

The worst thing about the job, said Ratzlaff, is lost luggage.

"Delayed luggage isn't a problem; missing is a problem," he said.

If passengers check luggage to the wrong destination, it will be delayed. Or if passengers have a tight connection, they might make it onto their next bus, while their luggage is left behind. The luggage eventually is reunited with its owner, but in rare cases, luggage is lost altogether.

Ratzlaff estimates they lose three pieces of luggage a year out of about 3,000.

The Craig station also performs well when it comes to bookkeeping. The company regularly audits regional offices and rewarded Nancy Ratzlaff with a plaque for her consistent accuracy.

The station receives buses twice a day, six days a week and so the pair often can't get away for a vacation. Harold Ratzlaff recalled with fondness traveling by bus and train during his time off in the Navy. He said he's only ridden a Greyhound bus once in the past 20 years.

He said he and his wife are able to get away to bird watch, on occasion.

They've lived in Craig for 25 years. Not surprisingly; Harold says it's the people who keep him here.

"The greatest people in the world are in Craig, Colorado," he said.

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