Although many college courses often tout the real-world applications of their curriculums, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of “hands-on” learning than with Flint Hills Technical College’s Automotive Technology program.
While it’s not uncommon for the school’s garage and service area to house a variety of vehicles for students to practice their craft on throughout the semester, no car has been quite as unique as the black, 1950 Series 61 Cadillac that currently calls FHTC’s Technology Building home.
The Cadillac belongs to the Red Rocks State Historic Site located at 927 Exchange St. and was brought into the shop when Kansas Historical Society representatives contacted FHTC with the end goal of making it roadworthy and safe to drive in parades and other public events. The car was last driven in 2006, but was overheating and experiencing brakes issues at that time.
Sitting idle for more than a decade created another problem in the fuel system, causing the need for the fuel tank to be cleaned, fuel line and filter to be replaced, and the carburetor to be rebuilt.
“It’s definitely different from anything I’ve worked on before, but it’s also easier in some ways,” said Chris Lawson, a first year Automotive Technology student who has taken the Cadillac on as a personal project. “One of the good things about older cars is that you don’t have to worry about all the computers or electronics you might see in something that people drive today. Everything under the hood has also been pretty easy to get to and work on. I haven’t had to search or dig too much to find anything.”
For second-year Automotive Technology Instructor Joe Brazzle, the Cadillac has been an effective teaching tool despite its age and quirks. Over the past few weeks, he has cherished the opportunity to give students a deeper look into the history of automobiles, using the older car to inform his class on the basic principles behind hydraulic brake systems, engine cooling systems and the different aspects of gasoline volatility.
“You really only see cars like this at shows or in museums nowadays, so being able to have it as part of our instruction has been really valuable for us,” Brazzle said. “It’s a piece of history, and it does a great job of showing students the development of individual systems and how things have changed over the years. I really just thank Red Rocks and Ken Wilk with the [Kansas] Historical Society for giving us this opportunity ...Hopefully, the community will be able to see it out driving at a parade or some other event sometime soon.”
Brazzle hopes community members consider the program for similar opportunities moving forward, as many of the vehicles his class uses for study are submitted by area residents or friends and family members of those enrolled in courses.
“It’s good just to have the cars to work on, of course, but being able to work directly with clients and customers is also really important for students, I think,” Brazzle said. “A lot of them have plans to be technicians or service managers after they graduate, and a major part of that is customer service. So, we like to try to make things as close to working in a real-world shop as possible.”
Those looking for more information on Flint Hills Technical College’s Automotive Technology program — including details on one-year technical certification and two-year applied science degree options — visit www.fhtc.edu/program/automotive-technology. A list of instructor profiles and course descriptions can be found at the same link.
“A lot of the students we see do have some type of prior history or interest in the field, but experience isn’t something that’s required to enroll,” Brazzle said. “We’ll work with someone new the same way we’d work with someone that may have all that background ... For me, the most rewarding part of being an instructor is seeing students learn new things, become more confident in themselves and become more comfortable working on projects on their own.”