By Suzanne Stempinski
“What a great truck!”
“Did you do that?”
“How long did it take?”
“Where did you come up with that idea?”
Those questions and hundreds more were fired at a group of 30 high school students gathered on the Pride & Polish lot at the Mid-America Trucking Show this past March.
Show attendees wanted to know more about “The Educator,” a refurbished 1993 Peterbilt 379 holding its own with some of the most imaginative show trucks in the industry. They wanted to hear the story of the top-to-bottom rebuilt truck that was once a tattered wreck. Taken on as a school project, the truck wound up uniting the students, their families, their school and their community.
The Clarion County Career Center, in Shippenville, PA, opened in 1976 and draws both mainstream and special education high school students from seven school districts.
The school offers a variety of vocational programs, including health industries, automotive technologies, police science, tourism, welding, cosmetology and diesel technology.
Don Doverspike, the current diesel technology instructor, graduated from the school in 1987 and returned there to teach in 2004 with a wealth of knowledge and life experiences to share.
After graduation, Doverspike, who grew up in a trucking family, worked for a while as a “grease monkey” in a truck garage, then later in a trailer factory and hauling modular housing.
Eventually, he went back to work in a shop where he spent eight years fine-tuning his wrenching skills. He received extensive training on Caterpillar and Cummins engines, along with some on medium-duty, light-duty and pickup trucks. That well-rounded education served him in good stead when the job of diesel technology instructor came open at his old school.
Meanwhile, after Doverspike graduated, but before he returned as an instructor, the future show-stopping truck arrived at the school.
The Peterbilt 379 short hood with a 60-inch standup sleeper was a former crash truck used to test air bags donated in 1998 by Peterbilt Motors Co. and Hunters Truck Sales of Eau Claire, PA.
It was considered totaled. The frame was bent about four feet to the right, the hood was gone, the motor was sideways, and it was missing the radiator. It was an ideal long-term educational project. The Pete came with a legal limitation letter from Peterbilt officials specifying that the truck could never be licensed to haul a load.
Between 1998 and 2000, students in the diesel technology program straightened the frame, rebuilt the motor, found a radiator and hood, and made it minimally roadworthy. It was then used to teach preventive maintenance checks. Otherwise, it just took up space.
When Doverspike returned to the school as an instructor in 2004, he was determined to teach his students in a “live” shop environment – where area residents brought their equipment to be repaired.
His classroom included three open bays; one with a truck lift. The program’s first customer was a fleet of about 20 trucks and roughly the same number of trailers. Shop services ranged from oil changes to full rebuilds of transmissions, brakes, rear ends and engines.
In the program, students focus on specialty areas while expanding their skills and knowledge base. They learn how to read a service manual, how to tear things apart and put them back together again. Some even become service writers, keeping track of time, looking up parts, writing repair orders.
Inspired by the “Trick My Truck” cable television series, Doverspike identified great educational potential for the old Pete. To motivate his students even more, he set the goal of taking the finished truck to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY.
It was by no means a short-term project. And it turned into one that would take almost four years to complete.
Collectively, the students identified things they wanted to do, what they needed to do, what they’d like to do, and what they could afford to do. Doverspike handed out a rough sketch of the truck to each student for them to create their own design. The students voted on which design to use.
The graduating class of 2007 was the first group Doverspike had under his wing working on the project. They did a lot of work on the truck, but there was still more to do to get it ready for the big show.
A project of the magnitude of “The Educator” isn’t cheap. So the students went looking for sponsors and raised money for the trip to Louisville by selling hoagies, all the while learning techniques and skills they never knew they could acquire.
As “The Educator” was taking shape, the students were busy with their “normal” class work in the live shop environment.
“This year we did seven engine overhauls, four transmission rebuilds, three rear ends and four clutches in addition to routine maintenance like oil changes,” Doverspike said.
Students became so passionate about “The Educator” that they worked on it long after school hours, on their own time, nights and weekends.
“Almost everything was done in-house and included help from other shops within the school,” Doverspike said.
“We stripped the truck down to the frame rails and took off the sleeper. We made a rolling chassis and went to work. All the wiring was redone; the rear ends, transmission and motor were rebuilt. The rear fenders were hand built; so was the fifth wheel cover. The interior was gutted; the dash was painted; students made toggle switches out of aluminum rod; they took birch and made a wood floor. They made a console and panels for the back wall of the cab.
“One of the students built the new exterior wall of the cab at a nearby shop (Central Machine and Tool). The gearshift was (made from) a piece of 2-by-3 steel tubing – with the word Educator cut in it.”
They did all of the work without formal plans; they just figured out how to get things done.
To give them some perspective on the project, Doverspike took 14 students to MATS in 2007 to give them an idea of what they would need to do to finish whipping the truck into shape. They were blown away.
So, when they got back to school, they rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
“They came back absolutely in awe of what they had seen,” Doverspike said.
One of the few projects left was to paint the truck.
“There was no painting done at the school. We don’t have a paint booth. The kids did all the prep work, taping and sanding. It took us a long time to get ready for the paint job. We had to send out the back bumper to get the steel bent – but that work was another donation to our project. I can’t believe the support we got from the trucking community,” Doverspike said.
Donations came in the form of products, shop time or checks from companies like Truk-Rodz by Jones Performance, Alcoa Wheel Products, Maxima Lights, Bauer Truck Repair, API, Valco Machine, Brocious Autobody, JoJo’s Variety, Greenland Forestry, Sherman Autobody, Good Tire Service, Ron Kirkpatrick Customs and Mike Kennemuth.
“We took fundraiser money to paint the frame, and bought a dropped visor, 8-inch stacks, green neon lights and a 22-inch west coast bumper. One student really wanted the truck to have a stereo, but we didn’t have the money. He went out and bought a stereo system for the truck out of his own money, brought it in and hooked it up.”
The result? A cool, sleek stylin’ ride that turned heads and created a huge buzz at its debut at MATS.
“We borrowed a truck and trailer from the guy I haul for as a side job (Chip Zeigler of Rhodes Trucking), loaded it up and drove to Louisville the weekend before the show,” Doverspike said. “Chip and two of the students who will be seniors in the coming school year went along to help.”
A total of 30 current and past students made the trip to Louisville to display their truck.
There wasn’t a class to enter the truck in competition. Pride & Polish rules require that a truck be licensed to haul, and this truck was specifically excluded from that possibility.
But that didn’t stop the kids of Clarion County Career Center from receiving plenty of attention.
At the show truck competition awards, the students were given two awards. One was a special trophy recognizing their extraordinary efforts.
The second award was from Carl Carstens of Rockwood Products – the creator and designer of the Pride and Polish Best of Show trophies. He wanted to recognize their efforts and great job, so he gave them a Mid-America Big Rig Build-Off Trophy.
“We need to inspire young people to make a career in the transportation industry. It’s a tough time to be a part of this industry, and it’s inspiring to see young people so capable and motivated,” Carstens said.
Doverspike, his assistant LouNeda Troutman, and more than 40 students poured their hearts and hopes into this truck and learned a lot along the way.
“The students learned about teamwork. They worked side by side with guys they might never have even spoken to and figured out how to get the job done,” Doverspike said. “They had an ultimate goal, and they achieved it. It comes down to this: If you can see where you want to go, you can get there.”
So what’s left on “The Educator” for the next class at Clarion County to work on?
“We’re looking for a seamstress to show us how to redo upholstery. If we can’t find one, I guess we’ll just jump in and figure it out,” Doverspike said.
That’s a sure bet. LL
Suzanne Stempinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.