Parts Storekeeper – Meet Evelyn Cotton

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Evelyn smiles from her seat on a forklift. We see boxes of mechanical parts behind her.Evelyn Cotton operates a forklift to place and retrieve parts for the SFMTA.

Parts Storekeeper -- Meet Evelyn Cotton 

Evelyn Cotton is a parts storekeeper who helps keep our Muni Metro trains running. Learn how nearly 20 years working at a military base in Oakland set her up for success at the SFMTA. Find out the key skills she applies in her role and what the typical workday looks like. See what she enjoys most about the job. 

Coursework and jobs before current role:  

Evelyn’s story:   

Before joining the SFMTA, Cotton worked for 19 years at an exchange service for the U.S. Army and Airforce on a military base in Oakland.  

“We handled all different types of equipment and supplies – from automotive to appliances and clothing,” Cotton said. “They were all sent to exchange stores and grocery stores at army bases around the world.” 

In her early days at the exchange service, Cotton identified, labeled and palatized items. At 18, she took a course on how to operate a forklift. This helped her advance to become a full-time forklift operator. She was one of few women at the site to do the job. 

After the army base closed, Cotton discovered a role that was a great match for her skills: Parts Storekeeper at the SFMTA. 

Coursework: Forklift Operator Course 

Previous jobs: 

  • Warehouse worker at army base. Helped service military exchange stores around the world 

  • Forklift operator at army base. Helped move goods bound for military exchange stores  

Cotton smiles from her desk chair with her hands on the keyboard. We see shelves full of parts behind her.Cotton at her desk, where she researches parts and manages requests for them. 

Key skills required for current role: 

  • Identify, store and issue parts  

“Every part has its own way of being identified – from a part number to a manufacture number. We might use a catalogue or a computer system. From there, we transfer parts, store them and get them to mechanics. All of this work keeps Muni Metro trains rolling.”  

  • Monitor supply and usage of parts  

“A big thing is that you have to review supply and usage for parts. You have to make sure everything is balanced, which means monitoring for the minimum and maximum. This way, you always have enough parts to keep trains moving.” 

  • Research required parts 

“I use the computer to search for manufacturer part numbers or primary part numbers. We have a special database of parts as well. Each one has a stock number, but sometimes you need more than that to move forward. So, I find that research interesting.” 

  • Use spatial awareness 

“It’s helpful if you can quickly look at a freight and know how to get it in a safe position. That way, you can assess if it needs to be strapped or wrapped and what height it needs to be placed before lifting.” 

  • Provide quality customer service  

“We have a counter where we take in requests for parts. Sometimes that might be a fuse or some other part a person needs really fast. I tend to them as fast as I can, and I always show respect to get respect. I find it goes a long way if you can smile and greet a person and say, ‘Good morning!’” 

What a typical workday looks like: 

  • Review order requests and updates 

“When I first get in, I log in to my computer and look at my emails. That way, I can see if there are parts requests from other facilities that we need to transfer. Or, if there’s an order coming in for the day.” 

  • Support walk-in requests for parts 

“We have a counter, just like if you go to an O’Reilly’s. Staff request what they want, and if they have a stock number, we look it up. If not, we go off the description and work to find what they need. Sometimes, they might need a whole kit. That could be 20 items that we look for and arrange as a packet for them.” 

Sometimes, she even uses her early training on a forklift to move goods. 

  • Research parts not available on-site 

“I enjoy coming in and being able to research and find parts. I’ve also had to find them for historic cars. They don’t even make some of those parts anymore, so you have to do a lot of research. I used to have to contact people in museums, like trolley museums, to get parts!” 

What she likes most about the job: 

  • Grateful to keep our trains rolling 

“I just think it’s wonderful that I'm instrumental in helping to keep the trains rolling – especially for San Francisco because transit is so important here. I learn my parts and the freights that I have. So, if somebody approaches me with something they’re trying to work on, I have a knack for finding that part quickly so they can repair that and get it on the train. I really enjoy being able to do that!”