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Memories Of A Pathfinder

Part 6, Auto Shop (1967 - 1968) -- 01/09/09

As a teenage boy I wanted to learn how to do the usual car repairs and tune-ups on my own car. In my final two years of high school, I took Auto Shop as a double-period class so that I could gain experience in these matters. I learned more than what I originally sought and here is a good part of that story.

The auto shop classes were taught by Mr. Bill Tomczak. When I first met him, nothing particularly impressed me about him. He struck me as a typical teacher and that is all I expected from him. Each class period was 50 minutes duration so I was there in that old section of the school building for over 100 minutes every school day.

The students in Auto Shop were divided into two levels. One Senior student was appointed by Mr. Tomczak as the Shop Foreman and was second in authority to Mr. Tomczak. The rest of the students were lumped together as grunts, You soon learned to be be a friend of the Shop Foreman and do whatever he asked to be done, lest you get assigned the worst jobs. And let me tell you, there were bad jobs to do.

The books issued were terribly out-of-date. They were printed in the mid-1940's and were of little value to learn about cars from the late 1950's and 1960's. If you wanted to learn about modern cars you had to be smart and pay attention.

I quickly discovered that I knew more about cars than I thought I did. Whatever I had picked-up from my older brothers and their friends when they spoke about cars must have sunk in somehow. Because I knew a little, I became useful to the Shop Foreman and generally he wanted me around with him most of the time.

The jobs we had in Auto Shop came from the various teachers that brought their cars in for maintenance. We would do their tune-ups, change oil and lube, replace shock absorbers, brakes, all kinds of tasks on their dirty, greasy engines. I often went with the Shop Foreman when we had to go to the auto stores to pick up parts. It's funny how the straight line to the auto store wasn't always the path taken, detours of various types always took place on those trips. I was beginning to learn how things really worked in the adult world, in more ways than one.

One of the first things I began to realize was how much power, Mr. Tomczak held. He was like God. He decided the schedule to repair the other teacher's cars so he had power over them. That power was wielded in many ways. One of the ways was that a hall pass signed by Mr. Tomczak allowed you to roam throughout the school during class times. For a high school student to have free reign during school hours to roam the halls free of hall monitors is a wonderful resource. There was another advantage to his power I'll write about later on in the story.

At the end of my first year of auto shop, I learned only a little more about repairing cars. I was fortunate that I had a best friend, Angel Rodriguez, that offered to teach me how to do these things. He was also in Auto Shop, but in a different class. In our Senior year we would be together in Auto Shop, a combination of experiences ensued that to this day has never again appeared under the stars in the heaven.

My final year of high school was one of the best periods of life for me. I had learned to use my mind and was doing a lot better in school than previously. In Auto Shop, Angel was made Shop Foreman and he and I leveraged that situation for everything we could get.

I also came to have a great deal of respect for Mr. Tomczak in my Senior year. Many times I saw the genuine desire in him to teach young men how to learn to act like adult men. He took a special liking to three of us that year: Angel, Ken Gloudeman, and myself. Angel taught Kenny and I all we wanted to know. In turn, we imparted our knowledge to others in the class. In effect, Kenny and I became Foremen under Angel with Mr. Tomczak concurring with that hierarchy.

All the teams were very productive in that new environment. We had teachers cars on a regular basis now and kept them all running as best as they could. As a result, some of the other teachers knew we were working on their cars and asked us questions about performance and car waxing. Yes, we did car washings and waxings. Well actually the grunts did that, we the Foremen directed them in their duties. In any case, we three took credit for making sure the teachers cars looked great and they graded us accordingly. ;-)

On that last point, I'll tell one of the ways that worked in Angel's favor. There was a particular history teacher that issued an assignment in his class consisting of note cards. One student handed in a ton of note cards on that assignment and received a 'B' as a grade. Angel handed in a very small number of note cards and received an 'A'! The 'B' student was outraged at Angel's 'A', but as he found out, that's the way it was going to stand. As I said earlier, being in Auto Shop was a way to find out how the adult world really works.

One time, I was late for class in Mr. Vandas's class. No one was ever allowed to be late in his class. He would ream you out in front of everyone present if you were even one second late to his class. He was a tyrant in that regard. As it happened, one time I was going to be late getting back to Auto Shop and then be late for Mr. Vandas's class. I approached Mr. Tomczak and said I was afraid to go to Vandas's class late, but Mr. Tomczak reassured me that it would be okay if I gave him a note signed by him. So I warily took the note to class expecting the worst.

As I entered Mr. Vandas's class about ten minutes late, everyone turned to see me and then anxiously waited for me to get ripped. I was still the class smart-ass even then and so other students wanted to see me get what they thought should be coming to me. Mr. Vandas started his tirade about why I was late. Saying nothing I approached his desk, handing him my note from Mr. Tomczak. I didn't know what to expect. However, that's the day I realized that Mr. Tomczak was GOD when Mr. Vandas silently read the note and without anything more said, "Don, take your seat." The rest of the class went ballistic! They were screaming about why wasn't I being reamed like everyone else would be? But, Mr. Vandas told them to sit down if they knew what was good for them and class continued. After class they angrily confronted me and demanded to know what was in the note. I walked away without telling them! I loved it, Auto Shop ruled!

I have written additionally about Auto Shop and Mr. Tomczak on a few other pages of this web site. I learned a lot about cars from Angel. I learned a lot about life from Mr. Tomczak. That 'A' I earned in Auto Shop has been put to great use in so many ways over the years...

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