He didn’t pick up a wrench until his grandfather passed away in 2009.
“That’s when I really got interested,” says Mason Stormer, an East High School senior in one of Akron Public Schools’ three automotive programs.
It was the trips as a youngster to his grandfather’s shop, Stormer’s Corner in Cuyahoga Falls, that he remembers most. The gas pumps were removed some years ago, but his grandfather serviced vehicles there until he retired in 2008. He died a year later, and the Bailey Road garage changed hands and lost the family name — for the time being.
Stormer, 17, hopes to land a job at a new-car dealership after finishing the two-year Automotive Y.E.S. (Youth Educational Systems) program at East, where he’s earning college credits to transfer to Stark State College.
Then he vows to buy his grandfather’s old car-repair shop.
“I’m gonna keep the original name,” Stormer adds.
It’s a common story among the 25 juniors and seniors in Robert Joseph’s automotive technology class at East: students aspiring to do dirty work.
Joseph, the program’s instructor at East, graduated from Garfield High School with the aptitude to launch his lengthy career in the automotive business. That was before the electronic complexity of fuel-injected motors exploded in the early 1980s.
Now, he’s more of a straight-talking supervisor than a teacher. And the students are more like employees — rebuilding front ends, draining transmissions, changing tires and performing just about every adjustment in the books. They spend one day a week in class. Wrapped in thick khakis and denim shirts with name tags, they spend the rest of the time ripping apart pickup trucks.
The garage doesn’t accept vehicles off the street, for liability reasons.
The dozen vehicles on lifts are mostly demos from car dealerships. Some belong to Akron school employees. And some, like Colt Lockhart’s father’s white Chevy pickup in the corner, belong to a family member.
“Ever since my dad and I have been working on cars, I’ve just grown attached,” Lockhart, 17, says.
Lockhart works at Market Street Muffler, just around the corner from the high school. “It’s a pretty nice job,” he says of his entry-level, $8-an-hour passion. “Whenever I’m off school, I’m down there working.”
Joseph hopes that Lockhart and the other students land a job at a car dealership while they finish their education at Stark State College. East High’s automotive program, now 40 years old, is designed to knock six months off the two-year degree program there.
The machine-gun thuds subside as Lockhart sets down an air chisel, picks up a large ball-peen hammer and begins to wale on the front end of his father’s truck.
“I love a dirty job,” classmate Emmanuela Redman, 17, says, grinning behind safety glass next to him.
The students just want to know how things work, and they’re not afraid to stick their heads under a wheel well to figure it out.
Most of the grease-smeared faces and hands belong to the sons or daughters of practicing mechanics and handymen. Some are professionals working out of garages and dealerships. Others fill oil pans in driveways and backyards. But with each quart of oil, they forward a legacy passed down from generation to generation.
“Most of us had someone to look up to, and that’s why we got interested,” says Joe Kubeck, who has worked on classic Buicks with his father since he was 10 years old.
Kubeck and the others work together, passing tools back and forth or wrapping their collective hands around a pry bar to loosen a rusted bolt.
“We all learned this together,” Kubeck says. “And now they’re some of my closest friends.”
Rebuilding the truck isn’t easy work, “and I’ve got two today,” he says, rushing from one vehicle to the next, barking out instructions.
Kubeck arrives at the other truck, a dented Chevy 2500 that belongs to an Akron schoolteacher.
“One thing about these old rusty pickups: You gotta beat your brains out to get them apart,” Kubeck says, motioning to a 17-year-old girl with red hair pulled tightly into a pony tail.
“Knock yourself out,” he tells Amanda Hessick, who leans into the open wheel well where the tire has been removed. A rooster tail of sparks fly over her shoulder as she drives a grinder between the wheel studs on the truck’s rusty hub.
“It was either this or cosmetology,” Hessick says. “This pays better.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.