Archive for Thursday, December 2, 2004

Auto body students driven to please

Class flooded with customers’ cars used for hands-on learning

December 2, 2004

They may not have a "before" photo of their latest project, but students in the Eudora Community Learning Center's auto body repair program can paint a picture with words.

"It was really bad," said De Soto High School student Jesse Payne. "It looked like an old farm truck. It looked like it had been abused."

The mental picture the students create looks nothing like the shiny blue pick-up truck recently parked outside the center's garage doors. Except for some wear-and-tear in the bed and the telltale vintage style, the 1984 Ford F-250 looked nearly as good as new.

And that's why auto body repair instructor Heath Daniel is so proud. The students fixed various aspects of the truck from tires and wheels to the back fender and the paint job, which required custom mixing and customizing pinstripes on the 1980s truck.

Daniel said he made the students re-do the body work around the wheel well, grinding it down and making them start over seven times until the job was perfect. The instructor also bragged about the painting expertise of Eudora High School student Hanna Niedens.

"Hanna had never had a paint gun in her hand," Daniel said. "She's a natural."

Payne said the Ford pick-up was the biggest project he and his fellow students had done thus far, but it's certainly not the first or last. The students said they had a bevy of vehicles waiting for their touch. The program gets vehicles from as close as Eudora and from as far away as Nebraska and Missouri.

Niedens said her fellow students at Eudora High School asked her to squeeze in their cars for repair in the class. Jordan Born, who goes to Free State High School in Lawrence, said he got hit up for estimates.

"People ask me how much it's going to cost," he said.

Payne said he and his fellow students were learning to do estimates in addition to the mechanics of auto body repair, as well as working with customers' preferences.

The students repair cars for the cost of materials plus a requested donation to the program. Although the program has more than enough projects -- Daniel fields calls from potential customers at home as late as 10 o'clock at night and on weekends -- the instructor said he was always looking for projects that had something to teach the students.

"If you have something we can use as a learning tool, we're always open to new ideas," he said.

Those interested in having their car repaired can call the auto body repair program at 423-5911. Daniel said he often took as many as two or three calls a day while students were there.

He said the students had already repaired the hood of a Saturn and straightened the frame of a 1993 Nissan. But the students also have a few classics to look forward to, including a 1947 Dodge Coupe, a 1968 Dodge Road Runner, and a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Aire.

Working on classic cars, Payne said, would provide a little different experience.

"The metals are so different," he said. "There's a lot you can get away with."

The students said their experiences and completion of the auto body repair program made them eligible to work after high school or to continue studying the trade. Eudora High School student Phil Lister said they would have the opportunity to do on-the-job training.

"A lot of us probably will," he said. "But we'll have to wait until the third quarter."

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