Hands-on experience, high school credit

On Friday, the hoods were up and a crowd was gathering.

Despite the rain, dozens of teenage boys were gathered around two reconditioned El Caminos, speaking a language foreign to the uninitiated -- the language of gearheads.

For the past year, five Steamboat Springs High School seniors have been learning to the basics of auto mechanics under the instruction of men already in the industry. Teal Taylor and Danny Holloway went to work for Al Tuck at Elk Mountain Automotive. They got paid for the work they did, picked up some real-life experience and got school credit.

Holloway would go to school in the morning and show up for work at Elk Mountain Automotive in the early afternoon. When the work day ends at 5 p.m., after hours in Tuck's shop, Holloway focused on his senior project -- rebuilding the engine of an old El Camino.

"Al knows a lot," Holloway said. "He's been working on cars for years and knows his stuff."

Tuck taught the seniors how to perform basic repairs, from tuning brakes to changing oil, and had them working on cars a couple of days into their apprenticeships.

"He taught us how to learn," Holloway said. "You have to pay attention to everything. When you take something apart, you have to lay it out in such a way that you can put it together."

"It's such a challenge," Taylor said. "You learn something new every day."

Holloway and Taylor both plan to pursue careers in auto mechanics. Holloway will major in auto mechanics at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling and Taylor will do the same at Pitkins Tech in Aurora.

Holloway got the grease bug when he was young and working on dirtbikes. He liked working with his hands and can't picture himself behind a desk.

"It's definitely for people who are visual and hands-on learners," he said.

Taylor got his first taste under the hood when he restored an El Camino "from the ground up" with his dad and grandfather.

Pierce Delhaute is more interested in the simple engines of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.

"My dad put me on a three-wheeler when I was 3 and I never stopped," he said. Delhaute plans to study at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix, Ariz.

Delhaute approached Travis King at Action Motorsports on his own, asking for help with a four-wheeler he wanted to strip and rebuild.

King, who learned how to be a mechanic in the classroom, saw this as a great opportunity to start someone off in the business the right way -- with hands-on experience.

Delhaute took out the engine and replaced it. He put in new suspension and designed a new body.

He took it apart in November and finished it Tuesday, just in time for the SSHS Car Show. He did engine work at Action Motorsports and the rest at home in his parent's garage.

"I was more of a guide for him," King said. "I just pointed him in the correct direction. He did all the work himself.

"Pierce was really easy to work with. He was so enthusiastic and I think that's why he did a good job, because this is what he wanted to do."

To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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