Three teenage girls twist wrenches and peer inside the engine of a Chevrolet Malibu on a Friday afternoon at the Regional Rural Technical Center at LaHarpe.

They’ve replaced the engine. Now, they need to finish connecting all the parts and get it running again.

“That’s the girls’ project,” George Shove said. He’s the instructor for a new automotive technology class at the RRTC, offered in partnership with Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia.

The girls are just a few of the 28 students taking the beginning automotive course, which offers a morning and afternoon session. Students come from area high schools including Iola, Marmaton Valley, Uniontown and Humboldt.

Jenna Adair is a senior at Iola High School who is taking the class. She never really looked inside an engine before, let alone got her hands dirty replacing one.

“I just kind of wanted to know a little bit about cars,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to change a tire.”

As vehicles become more reliant on computers and technology, more and more girls are entering the automotive repair industry, Shove said. 

“There’s not only a need but a place for female technicians because it’s gotten so high tech,” he said. “It’s not just manual labor anymore. There are so many computers that interface with each other. There are no limitations for just about anyone.”

Sometimes it can be a little challenging to do some of the heavy lifting, Jenna said. 

“But we have tools to overcome that,” Shove responded. “I know a lady who is a diesel mechanic. I encourage girls to take this class.”

He continued: “All the students are doing really well. The more vehicles we get in here and the more they get hands-on experience, the more they’re going to learn.”

Shove’s enthusiasm and positive attitude are infectious. Six students spoke to the Register about their experiences in the class. They were excited and eager to talk about what they’ve learned. 

Not all of them plan to become mechanics. Many of them, like Jenna, took the class to learn more about vehicles so they can make basic repairs to their own cars and save money. 

That’s the case for George Moore, a senior from Marmaton Valley. He also lacked experience working on cars. 

“I took this class mostly to see how to do automotive work. It fits my interests. I’ve also done welding for three years,” he said. 

He was surprised to learn how long it takes to remove parts from an engine.

“It’s kind of cool how important all the sensors are. I never knew how much stuff is part of an engine.”

George Shove, a certified technician and instructor for Flint Hills Technical College, talks with students Kolby Knavel, left, and Tristan Cary, both seniors at Marmaton Valley High School. They’re trying to figure out why cylinder No. 3 isn’t firing in Knavel’s 2000 GMC Jimmy. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
George Shove, a certified technician and instructor for Flint Hills Technical College, talks about the repairs needed for a vehicle with students Tristan Cary and Kolby Knavel, both seniors at Marmaton Valley High School. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

TRISTAN CARY and Kolby Knavel, both seniors from Marmaton Valley, are working on Kolby’s 2000 GMC Jimmy. It has a problem with a cylinder, and the repair process is complicated because the spark plugs are located at the bottom of the engine. For most vehicles, spark plugs are found on top.

“The drive shaft is in the way,” Kolby explains while studying the engine.

“It takes a minute to figure out the problem,” Tristan said. “That’s the fun of it.”

The boys have worked on vehicles before.

“Even if I don’t go into a career with it, I’ll have a nice hobby and I’ll know how to repair my own vehicle,” Tristan said.

“I’ve always liked working on cars. It gets me out of the house,” Kolby said. “I might do something with it in the future. I’m thinking more about motorsports. This gives me the basics.”

As they talk, the two continue to study the vehicle, using tools to twist and turn various components.

“We’re making sure it’s firing and doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” Tristan said. “We have wiring diagrams but there are so many wires, it gets really complicated. A lot of this class is about diagnostics — figuring out what the problem is before we can go in and fix it.”

Trey Wallace examines the wiring to a vehicle during a recent automotive repair class at the Regional Rural Technical Center in LaHarpe.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

IHS STUDENTS Trey Wallace, a senior, and Samuel Sturgeon, a junior, represent both sides of the spectrum when it comes to what students can get out of the class.

Wallace has been around vehicles most of his life and hopes to open his own shop some day. After graduation, he plans to join his father’s towing business. 

His experience in the classroom helped him land a job at Auto Zone, and he’s now considering continuing his education at the FHTC campus in Emporia.

“I was not planning on going to college, but this did open my eyes to maybe going to college in automotive,” he said.

Sturgeon took the class out of curiosity. It helped him realize that an automotive career isn’t right for him. It’s better to learn that now, while in high school, than to invest in college or tech classes later.

“I do like figuring out how parts work, but it’s not something I’d like to do every day,” he said. “I’m still figuring out what I want to do.”

Students Tristan Carey, from left, and Kolby Knavel show tools to USD 257 school board member Tony Leavitt and Iolan Ken Rowe at the Regional Rural Technical Center in LaHarpe. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

SHOVE, the instructor, is assisted by Don Hatch. Both have decades of experience in the automotive industry.

Shove has been working on cars since 1979 as a mechanic at dealerships and independent garages. He joined FHTC at Emporia as an adjunct instructor a few years ago before applying for the position at LaHarpe.

He enjoys teaching.

“It’s important to pass things on to another generation, so they can take the lead,” he said. 

“There’s quite a lot of advanced technology now. We’re working with computers and it’s only getting more complex and complicated. This is a technological field.”

Hatch worked with Shove at an automotive repair shop in Emporia. 

“We worked quite well together in thepast, and I was looking for a career change,” Hatch said.

Life as a mechanic can be physically and mentally demanding. His wife encouraged him to consider the job at RHTC. It’s been a good fit, Hatch said.

Shove teaches both classroom instruction and hands-on training. Students typically spend an hour in the classroom, then an hour-and-a-half to two hours working on vehicles. 

When students are in the shop, Hatch helps them identify the right tool for the job. He keeps careful track of inventory, checking in and out tools as needed, as well as ordering parts.

He’s also in charge of scheduling and finding vehicles for students to work on. If someone has a vehicle that needs repaired — and they aren’t in a hurry — Hatch and Shove encourage area residents to contact them to see if students can take on the project.

Hands-on instruction is vital to student success, Shove said. All repairs are supervised by a certified mechanic. 

Currently, the morning class has the most need for vehicles. In the afternoon class, most of the students are working on their own vehicles. 

Vehicle owners will pay for parts, but there is no charge for labor.

For more information, call Hatch at 620-343-4724 or email [email protected]

Ray Maloney, center, cuts the ribbon Dec. 2 with Karen Daugherty, president of Flint Hills Technical College, at his left, and instructor George Shove, to his right, along with students and other dignitaries at the new automotive repair center at the Regional Rural Technical Center in LaHarpe.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

THE AUTO TECH course is the latest offering at the RRTC and the second-most popular, after welding. 

The automotive program was made possible by generous donations from the Barbara and Herschel Perry Charitable Trust and the Patterson Foundation in Kansas City.

The Perry Trust donated $200,000 for all of the equipment, including lifts and tools. 

Herschel and Barbara owned and operated Perry’s Restaurant on the west side of the square in Iola for many years. Herschel also owned and operated Perry’s Refrigeration in Iola.  

Herschel died on Nov. 23, 2019, at the age of 86; Barbara died June 20, 2021, at the age of 88. 

The Patterson Foundation paid for remodeling expenses such as electrical, mechanical, HVAC and plumbing, at a cost of about $95,000.

The tech center opened in the fall of 2016 and also offers classes on construction trades, wind energy technology and two types of health classes, CNA courses and anatomy and physiology. 

A building for the tech center was donated by local businessman Ray Maloney, who purchased the former Diebolt Lumber property.

Maloney attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the auto program last week, along with members of USD 257, students, Perry Trust executor Ken Rowe, the instructors and other FHTC officials. 

Maloney said he was pleased to see how much the RRTC has grown in such a short time. The building has been remodeled multiple times to fit the various programs. If need continues, he owns other buildings on the site that could be renovated and used for new programs.

“This is great for the community. I hope the interest keeps up,” he said. “This is what I was hoping it would expand into.”

An extra benefit: Students are working on one of Maloney’s trucks. It won’t stay running.

“They’re tinkering with it,” he said. “I hope they can figure out what’s going on.”

By Tara