This car is built by Pasadena Unified students

Model A Ford built at Pasadena High (Photo – Dr. Wilbert Smith)

Ford Model A automobiles are built by students in the afternoon Ford Model A Club of the Pasadena Unified School District.

By Jennifer Hall Lee

I spoke to Dr. Wilbert Smith, the founder of the Ford Model A Club, at Pasadena High School. He showed me around the Club which, at six years old, is unique in the country. “It was an amazing race,” he said. “The children range from 9th to 12th grade. They actually went from learning what a screwdriver is to “using power tools safely”.

Model A Fords have been Dr Smith’s hobby since 1975 – he personally owns 8 of them.

The Club is extra-curricular. Benefits for students include understanding how cars were built at the dawn of the American automotive industry and gaining skills in teaching basic automotive mechanics.

A green car seat

Model A interior (Photo – Dr Wilbert Smith)

First automobiles

Henry Ford created the Model A to meet the demands of drivers who were beginning to buy cars from competitors such as Buick, Chevrolet and Studebaker. The country’s roads were also being upgraded and people were becoming automobile savvy. Henry Ford always believed that his Model T was the best car for rural people, but business is business and the Model A was born. The Model A featured Ford’s oval logo for the first time.

On the day of my visit to PHS, Club members had recently completed the restoration of an olive-green Ford Model A waiting for its new owner. It was simply magnificent.

Mr. Todd Dirks is Professor of Fine Arts at PHS and one of the Club’s Certified Teachers. His classroom is the old auto shop. “What’s amazing is the business plan that [Smith] started, which is self-sufficient. Each car is raffled off to the public and the proceeds go to the school. This year, the Club earned over $32,000. who will purchase 53 state-of-the-art football helmets.

The Club also rents cars to film studios.

Dr. Smith’s interest in teaching Model A was evident: “I also realized clearly that we had removed the ‘auto mechanics’ from the district in the 1980s. So this was an opportunity for the children to watch old cars, learn about old cars, enjoy the hobby of old cars and at the same time learn the history of old cars.

students surrounding a man

Students who built the Model A and the new owner (Photo – Dr Wilbert Smith)

What happened to the boutique class?

During the 1980s, public schools across the country discontinued trades courses. According to Dr. Terry Leas, former president of Big Bend Community College, “In states where public funding for K-12 has declined, many school districts, especially rural districts, could not sustain preschool programs. more expensive manpower training. In these cases, local community colleges have worked with their respective school districts to provide workforce training programs. Public schools with more resources “have formed partnerships with community colleges and employers to maintain or supplement their programs.”

Currently, the PUSD has strong academic and professional academies that offer specific training and internships with local specialists and organizations. PUSD Academic Director Dr. Elizabeth Blanco said, “We don’t have an auto mechanics program as part of our career-themed academies, but this Model A effort largely fills the void. Students who have an interest are able to develop a hobby that could potentially become a career.

Dr. Leas explained of the PUSD academies, “Your district’s career path programs illustrate how the evolution of workforce training programs has progressed. Dual credit programs have also fostered greater collaboration between school districts and community colleges.

Two guys next to a vintage car

Dr Smith (right) and the new owner (Photo courtesy of Dr Smith)

Mechanical education

The students work on “these simple engines”. Smith teaches students how gears work and that “when they move in motion and in concert with a drive train, it turns the wheels”. He also teaches them to drive the car.

The students “will show you how to shift gears. They will show you how to operate the clutch.

Colors and fabrics are chosen by students based on historical information they learned about what was popular when that particular car rolled off the showroom floor.

The Club acquires cars through donations. Cars come in various forms – some are just a bunch of parts.

Building cars and even fixing your own mechanical devices is a skill that may seem old-fashioned in an age where many of our everyday products are computerized with internal mechanisms inaccessible to us, but understanding how to fix things yourself with tools basic builds mechanical skills. and generates trust.

Smith said: “In terms of self-esteem, these kids love to get their nails dirty with oil. They love to put oil on their clothes.

He suggests they wear an apron but, interestingly, kids like to come home with dirty clothes to show their family members “that they’re doing something quite unique.”

The Model A Ford Club at Pasadena High School will launch its fourth Model A in the fall.

At the end of my visit, the students in Mr. Dirks’ class came out into the parking lot and saw Dr. Smith’s personal vehicle, a blue and orange Rolls Royce Dawn. He let them sit in the front seats and operate the top. A student asked how he became a landlord.

Smith’s response? Education. He told them he had “a doctorate. and two masters.

Yes, education is key.

Jennifer Hall Lee
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