PARIS – Students at the Oxford Hills Technical High School have helped put the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department’s latest vehicle on the road.

“The experience was priceless. Now the vehicle is priceless,” Chief Deputy Dane Tripp said of the work students in Fred Steeves’ auto collision repair class did on a former military truck the department acquired.

Insiders call the 1987 diesel Chevrolet truck the “war wagon,” but it never saw action in any war, Tripp said. Instead, the former military ambulance plowed snow at a base in Chicopee, Mass., until the Marines decided it was an eyesore.

“The sergeant said it was an eyesore because the rest (of the plows) were Humvees. I’m grateful it was an eyesore, but I don’t think it is. It runs slick as a button,” Tripp said. The truck had only 7,500 miles on it when he and another Sheriff’s Department employee drove to Massachusetts more than a year ago to pick it up. “We brought it back on its own power.”

With the equipment safe in Maine, Tripp said the next step was to upgrade it to become a part of the department’s fleet of vehicles.

“We wanted it to be the same color scheme as our vehicles, so we went to see Fred (Steeves.) We both thought it would be a good project for the kids and more cost efficient for us,” Tripp said of the plan to have the students repaint the truck white for $700. “They had it for two or three months. They worked on it and did an excellent, excellent job. There was lots of painstaking painting.”

One of the first things the students did was take the big Red Cross sign off the vehicle.

“It was Army green, and we painted it white,” Steeves said. “There was minor damage but nothing too serious.”

Steeves said it was one of the biggest vehicles the students have worked on in his class. “The nose is the size of a pickup truck,” he said.

The truck’s aluminum and steel panels made it a little different from other projects the students have done. “It was a time-consuming project. It had lots of decals,” he said.

The class is geared toward collision repairs on late model vehicles rather than jobs such as this.

“We don’t usually do complete paint jobs. We went above and beyond to help out the sheriff’s office,” Steeves said.

The job was considered a community service project for the students who worked on it. “Everyone had a little piece of it,” he said. The work was done primarily by second- and third-year students and one first-year student who had a particular interest in the vehicle.

Tripp said the truck is still getting some last-minute touches, including a trailer hitch being added this week.

The vehicle can be used as a command center, because it’s big enough to hold desks and chairs and at least several officers, he said. It can pull equipment, haul bulky items, such as a large confiscation of pot plants, or hide a small swat team.

“It’s built like a tank,” he said.

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