When students walk into Walter Love’s auto shop class, they might not know anything about the cars and trucks they’ll be working on, but by the time they leave, they’ll be prepared to take on everything from basic repairs to advanced jobs. However, the program continues to come at a hefty cost while education funding around state dwindles. Love has not only been able to keep the self-funded program going, but he’s expanding the class’ offerings.
Love, a former millwright, is teaching Homer High School’s auto shop class for his second year. About a dozen students listen intently as Love explains how to dismount and re-mount tires.
He starts the kids off with the basics, but by the time they leave the class, Love hopes future auto mechanics will be walking out the door. Currently, he’s standing next to a pale blue Ford Ranger the kids will work on throughout the semester.
“We talk about oil changes, we talk about different oils, why we use them and where,” Love explained. “The advanced students by the time they get done, we are actually pulling this Ford here and are going to pull the motor on it and do a tear down and rebuild on it.”
Community members donate the cars the students work on and others are dropped off for simple to moderate repairs. Love said every car is an opportunity for learning.
“Last year one of the teachers here at Homer high, their spouse hit a moose with a Subaru and they were kind enough to leave it here with us. They are looking for a replacement Subaru, well a body, a non-running vehicle,” he said. “So, what we are going to do is we are going to talk about the Subaru, and dismantle it system by system and place it in the new car. So, we actually get a hands-on look of how a car is connected from the frame out.”
Once the students get comfortable, Love provides his students with real work experience. They can do oil changes and replace belts and hoses. Each job typically runs cheap, about $10 plus the cost of parts, and that money is what keeps the program going during a time when education funding is nickel and dimed.
The Ford Ranger Love mentioned earlier, he plans to sell it after it is rebuilt, generating valuable revenue to keep the class working into future years. Right now, Love said his students are almost ready to open shop.
“Two weeks from now, they’ll be ready to start actually getting their hands on,” he explains, “There’s a pretty good number of students this year. So, we have to work our way through the system on moving cars in and out of the shop safely, putting them on the lift safely.”
It’s been just a year since Love arrived, and things are going well. He was able to find funds for new equipment, expanding the jobs the shop is able to perform and in turn what students will learn.
“When I got here, there were no diagnostic tools in the shop,” Love recalled. “So, we got some diagnostic tools so we can actually do some advanced diagnostic. It‘s kind of like the same thing you are going to get if you go to the O’reilly and plug the thing in. This does more than pull code, it actually lets us go system per system in the vehicle
, and find out exactly what’s wrong with it.”
Love hopes students walk away with more than another grade on their transcript. He wants what he teaches to land kids, who are looking to get into the auto industry, jobs.
“Right now I’m going to balance the front tires because they are starting to wobble. The front end wobbles around 45 mph,” Jacob Socha said as he worked on a Ford F-150 with four friends.
Socha one of several former students who come back to use the high school shop when there is space available. He said he was able to find work in Sunny’s Service after graduating last year, which is just the outcome Love wants.