FAIRBANKS, Alaska—It’s 10 in the morning, but it’s still dark. The thermometer on the sign at the bank reads -31 degrees Fahrenheit. To many people, those are enough excuses to say, “It can wait.” Thankfully for U-Haul customers in Alaska and neighboring Canadian provinces, Don Koerner doesn’t think that way. In fact, he’s the exact opposite. He relishes the opportunity to serve, and you could say that he’s unstoppable.
“It’s certainly not easy to do repairs on U-Haul trucks when it’s minus 31,” emphasized Koerner, preventive maintenance technician at the Fairbanks U-Haul Repair Shop. “I’ll wear a base layer and a couple warm jackets, snow pants over my work uniform, arctic boots that are good down to minus 60 and warm gloves. But even with all that on, it’s still cold! I lay down some cardboard on the ground and have a kerosene heater that I lay next to in order to stay warm.
“You do what you need to do to fight the elements,” he added. “But I refuse to fail. That’s always been my mentality.”
It’s a mentality shaped by Koerner’s 30 years in the U.S. Army, including six overseas deployments. He served as a 1st sergeant before retiring as a master sergeant in 2012. He joined the U-Haul Team in August 2013.
Like any U-Haul repair shop, Koerner adheres to the Company’s strict policies and procedures to ensure that customers receive clean and well-maintained equipment. But that’s where most of the similarities end. At a typical U-Haul repair shop, a pre-inspection specialist looks over the equipment, diagnoses what work needs to be done and orders the parts; a parts specialist pulls the parts and gets them ready for the job; technicians perform the necessary repair work; and a post-inspection specialist looks over everything and does a road test to make sure the equipment is ready to rent. That process is the same at the Fairbanks Shop, except for one important detail: Koerner is the person doing all of those jobs.
“He’s a one-man show!” Anchorage U-Haul Shop Manager Brent Pelkey exclaimed. “He’s six hours away from our shop in Anchorage, so he has a lot of unique challenges, but he welcomes that. He takes a lot of pride in the fact that his shop is the farthest north in the Company.”
“I was in Detroit for training with other U-Haul technicians, and everyone stood up to describe what they do and I said, ‘I do everything all of you do, but I do it alone,’” Koerner observed. “It’s a badge of honor for me.
“This is my shop,” Koerner continued. “It’s set up the way I want it, and I have the only two keys to the facility. The responsibility for everything that leaves my shop starts and ends with me.”
That willingness to take ownership of his shop is another example of Koerner’s military mentality. One of his responsibilities in the military was to run a motor pool of Stryker combat vehicles.
“When I was on a deployment and I put someone else’s kid in a Stryker, I had to be sure it would get them out on their mission and back safely,” he noted. “I have that same mind-set when a U-Haul truck leaves my shop. Someone’s kid could be driving it, so I make sure it can get anywhere, whether that’s to Anchorage or anywhere in the Lower 48.”