JAY — Students in the automotive class at Spruce Mountain High School are learning much more than welding, grinding and other car repair techniques, while restoring a 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air.

It may not be completed before graduation next year, junior Hervie Davenport said.

The students are committed to the project and talk about returning for pictures, once the car is finished.

“I’m trying to teach them how to do it the cheap way, because we don’t have money yet,” instructor Nathan Dana said during class Dec. 1. “We’re making all of our panels from scratch.”

Paper templates of the three-dimensional parts are created using heavy duty construction paper, then flattened out and traced onto flat steel, Dana said. The steel is later cut and formed to replace rusted-out sections, he noted.

Some students are currently working on body-mount panels — parts of the car that attach to the frame. Davenport and Garrett Hunt, who have more experience than others in the class of juniors, are replacing the floor pan on the driver’s side.

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For the floor pan, the same process of making paper templates first was used, Dana said.

“They’re finding their original pattern was a little short in some places, so they are adding little pieces to fix the holes,” he said. “The goal is to make it so it looks the way it is supposed to.

“There’s a lot of work still to do,” Dana noted. “Little bit by little bit, it will get done eventually.”

“I like that Mr. Dana lets us be independent on this project,” Hunt said. “He allows us to have hands-on and really work at it.”

Being patient is one thing Hunt has learned. “It’s a very tedious process of making things perfect, reaching for that goal.”

“Mr. Dana’s showed us how to do things and everything he told us that would happen is happening,” Hunt noted.

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Most of the car is in really good shape, except for the floor, Dana said. The floor is being done before work on other sections, although some Bondo work has been done on the outside to teach students that, he noted.

The students have been working on the car since school started in September. Dana purchased it in Athens, while he was a senior in high school.

“I took my wife to our high school prom in it and then I started tearing it apart,” Dana said. “I went off to college, ran out of money and couldn’t finish it. I’ve been working on this particular car for quite a while.”

“I have service receipts from the early 1960s of oil changes, what-not,” Dana said. “When I bought it, it was just about original. I’ve got the original hubcaps, owner’s manual, everything. It probably won’t be original when we’re done, but we’ll do what makes sense.”

The students have done a lot of work on the front end, he said. A whole new suspension was put in, because the old one was outdated and the car originally didn’t have power steering, Dana noted.

“We bought a kit to put a new front end on before we tore it all apart,” he said. “There’s an awesome picture of everybody in here pushing the car around the parking lot while Caleb Parlin sits on a milk crate holding a steering wheel, like he’s driving,” Dana added.

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“Even though it wasn’t running, we found out we still need a license to drive it,” Davenport said.

Welding has stood out the most for him in the process of restoring the car. How loud it gets, even with protective earmuffs, is something he dislikes at times.

“It’s challenging, but like a good challenge. You want to get better at it,” he said. “Sometimes it can get really hot. It just like drains your energy.”

How to cut steel, use a box brake and weld things together have also been learned by Jakobe Herrera. Lately, he’s been working on the body mount.

“The passenger side is worse than the driver’s side,” Herrera noted when asked to name something unusual or unexpected. “That just means more work we have to do.”

“It’s really engaging,” Casey Gould said. “I didn’t know much about how to weld or grind anything. In the short time that I’ve been here I’ve learned quite a bit.”

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He has been working on the driver’s side body mount piece. His group took out the old, rusted part, made a 3-D model, cut it out of sheet metal, molded it, then welded it back together.

“The welding has been challenging. This being my first time ever touching a welder,” Gould said.

“I like to do this kind of stuff,” Cole Berry said. “It doesn’t really feel like a class, it feels like doing it at home.” He has learned how to bend and work with sheet metal.

“The most challenging for me is the cutting part, cutting with a grinder,” Berry noted. “I haven’t cut very much until this class.”

When the car is fully restored, raffle tickets will be sold.

“My hope is that after we raffle the car off, we can get enough money to buy another one and try to keep going,” Dana said. “At that point, maybe [we will] have enough to afford stamped steel parts, instead of making them starting from absolute square one.”


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