By Paul Kavanaugh
While researching the RatRod phenomenon I had the opportunity to chat with Craig Lankki of RatRod Magazine. He told me of a very successful program in the Charlotte area that gets high school kids involved in making home built cars. I followed up with several folks down there and got the whole story.
It started with a guy named Jim Harper, a local philanthropist. He had stumbled across a RatRod at Max’s Speed Shop in Charlotte, was fascinated by it as it looked like a piece of art to him, and promptly acquired it. Then he got to thinking, creating one of these vehicles requires critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork, all skills he felt were lacking in a majority of the younger generation. So, he started challenging schools, whether they had an automotive (what we called shop) curricula or not. After a couple rejections, he got the local Applied Technology Center, a magnet school, to get on board, helped by a starter donation he and his wife made. From there the program has expanded to a number of high schools in the area, and there are now 16 or 17 different schools involved.
A perfect example is the program at Career Center HS spearheaded by instructor Mike Gaffner. He picked up right away on the skills that building these cars could foster. They started with 27 students on the team, and they had to do everything from planning and design to building to being able to demonstrate their finished product in public. Mike tells me that over the course of this build he saw many kids come out of their shell. Their finished product is called Junkmail – it is an old mail truck turned into a cool RatRod. You can see it for yourself as they are bringing it to the RatRod show next week at Holston River Brewing Company.
Another local educator, Scott Brown, is equally enthusiastic about what these projects are doing for students. He mentions the critical thinking and problem solving skills that are being developed as really major accomplishments. He cited one particular student that was shy, not outgoing at all. By the end of the project, he was the spokesman and was appearing in public at events like the local S.T.E.A.M event. Not only do the shop kids get involved, but so do the math students, art students and many others. It takes many skills and different talents to plan and build one of these; just getting the vehicle named is a challenge, so art and marketing students get involved as well as the math kids who need to work out all the computations. Truly it is a team effort, and many of these kids have never been on a team before.
These challenges started by Mr. Harper are expanding and bearing significant fruit. This is a good thing for many reasons. You know, as I talk to different garages and repair facilities in our area about The Loafer, I hear the same thing. We can’t handle any more business because we can’t find employees with some skills – but more importantly, the desire to work. In Charlotte, the local RatRod programs will help fill some of these openings. This is something that should get some consideration locally. It is a hit in Charlotte. Some of these educators will be attending our local RatRod gathering. Feel free to chat with them – they will fill your ear with praise for their programs. It’s nice to hear good things about our up and coming generation!