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Looking for a career that “starts your engine?” See how two high school students started theirs, and how you can, too!

If you ever wondered what it would be like to have a career in automotive restoration but aren’t sure how others got their start, then read the story of how two recent high school graduates got interested and involved and now have exciting career prospects. The automotive restoration industry offers tremendous career opportunities for anyone willing to learn and the Piston Foundation can help you get started.

By Steven Goldberg

January 24, 2023

Meet Jake Hoadley

Jake recently graduated from the Agricultural Mechanics program at Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, Connecticut.

At the age of 8, he began poking around the garage of Rick Theriault, a neighbor who is a classic car enthusiast, Piston Foundation Ambassador, mentor, and founder/teacher in Wamogo’s tractor restoration program. With Rick’s encouragement and guidance, Jake began learning how to fix garden tractors and quickly moved on to larger farm tractors. His automotive discovery journey began to roll.

Three years ago, Rick asked Jake if he was interested in buying a hidden gem for his personal use – a vintage 1963 Ford F-150 pickup truck. Rick was storing it among his hot rods for its owner, who initially wanted $1,000 for it. After Jake and his mom agreed to split the cost, the owner realized his asking price was too high and Jake bought it for $500.

Jake now owned a truck that he would use mostly for going to car shows, but he didn’t start working on it until the fall of 2020. And it needed a lot of work. From getting it to start, overhauling the electrical system, pulling dents from the doors, and painting; you name it, the truck needed it!

Although Rick guided him along the way, Jake did the work. There was a lot of trial and error, but with patience and learning from mistakes, he fixed the problems with high-quality results. More than a year and a half later, the work is almost complete. All that’s left to do is replace the front and rear windshields and get the truck registered.

Jake’s “Aha” Moment

When did Jake realize that his passion for automotive restoration could turn into a career? It started when he was restoring his truck. Doing tasks like flattening a piece of metal and shaping it to his liking, turning it into a high-quality component helped him realize this could and should be his life’s work. His skills, knowledge, and curiosity expanded with each of his projects in and outside of school. After working exclusively on gas-powered engines, his interest turned to diesel. Jake liked how diesel engines differ from gas and that they are so widely used in construction equipment, where he’d like to specialize.

What’s Next for Jake?

Jake will be starting as an apprentice this fall with a Connecticut-based operating engineers union. In this four-year program, apprentices are paid to learn equipment mechanics in a classroom while shadowing an experienced mechanic at different job sites. The union helps apprentices find jobs with companies affiliated with them. When Jake completes the program, he will earn his journeyman’s card and become a highly sought-after master mechanic.

No automotive restoration program at your school? No problem.
The Piston Foundation has programs and resources to help get you started.

Jake’s View on the Future of Restoration Work

Jake believes mechanics will remain in high demand. Vehicles and equipment will always break down, and skilled people will always be needed to fix them. Car restoration, in particular, has a bright future, especially as newer vehicles become classics.

“There are several ways to get started. If you have equipment that needs work, start doing simple tasks like flattening out dents or painting. Otherwise, talk to people who do this work (professionally or as a hobby) and ask their advice or if you can help. Above all, keep asking questions and show your interest in getting involved.”

Meet Joe Scheidel

Joe and Jake were classmates in Wamogo’s agricultural mechanics program. Though they share the same passion and commitment to their work and careers, the way they started and their future directions are different.

Joe comes from a car enthusiast family. His dad is a self-taught mechanic, car collector, and creator of the New England Auto Museum. So you can say that cars are in his family’s blood.

His dad and uncles owned and restored many cars over the years. The family now has a 30’ x 60’ garage to store many of them and it’s where Joe does much of his work. “I still don’t think I know about all the old cars my dad had. It seems like every day I learn about another. And I carry on through that – our garage is where I learned and grew up. And that is now running through my blood which means I’m going to always be in an overcrowded garage or spending money on parts that I don’t need or buying cars because they look cool or because I want to drive them. But my love for this is obvious.”

Where it All Began for Joe

As Joe tells the story, “We were at the Bristol Auto Club’s cruise night [in Connecticut] when tractors were featured. People came to display their antique tractors, farm equipment, and trucks. We watched as some of them towed their equipment through the McDonald’s drive-through, which I thought was hilarious. Everyone seemed interested that I was around the event and that opened the door for me. That one moment brought me to where I am now. If that didn’t happen, then I probably wouldn’t be doing this.”

In seventh grade, Joe joined his dad as the elder Scheidel volunteered as a mentor with Rick’s Friday night tractor restoration sessions at the high school. And by eighth grade, after constantly begging and pestering his parents, Joe got permission to apply to the program.

Since he was accepted and began his formal education, Joe has worked on an extensive list of tractor, truck, and car projects for school, personal use, and helping friends. These experiences helped him develop a well-rounded set of skills in rebuilding, repairing, and installing electrical wiring, transmissions, carburetors, fuel tanks, engines, interiors and exteriors, painting and bodywork, frames, and more.

With all those cars moving in and out of his yard, it’s not surprising that Joe found a vintage car to work on – a ’46 Plymouth Coupe. The original owner didn’t set the paint gun properly so, according to Joe, the car “looked like it had tiger or zebra dark and light blue stripes.” With advice from Rick, Joe repainted the car using air filters in front of the paint gun and the result speaks for itself.

Like Jake, Joe freely helps classmates with their restoration projects and mentors interested newcomers. He epitomizes the saying, “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.” In addition to schoolwork and his own restoration projects, Joe has a part-time job with a local screw manufacturer. His work there has helped him understand larger complex processes and quality control, which are essential to automotive restoration. With the little time he has to spare, Joe participates in his town’s Fire Explorers program which provides an introduction to firefighting skills, roles, and services.

What’s Next for Joe?

“I’m only 17 but I’m trying to figure out a way to fit all the things I want to do into my lifetime: own a shop, build cars, work on large farm equipment, be a welder and a firefighter. It’s going to take me more than 100 years to do them all.”

Joe is one of the inaugural class of Piston Fund scholarship winners and attends McPherson College’s automotive restoration program.

Joe’s Advice for Newcomers

“Your greatest tool is sitting in your back pocket. Use your phone to look up videos on YouTube and go to forums to ask questions. Use anything that will connect you to other people who have the same vehicle, problem, or similar project. If I’m lost and can’t figure something out, I’ll pull out my phone, and search for a video. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t. But it will always teach me something I didn’t know.”

Balancing the Hands-On and Digital Worlds

Jake and Joe have an interesting perspective on the digital world. While many of their peers are consumed with social media and other digital activities, the day-to-day lives of these two young men aren’t. Their attention is clearly focused on hands-on, learning, and problem-solving activities.

At the same time, they realize the growing importance of understanding and knowing how to use digital tools for problem-solving and newer vehicle maintenance. For instance, newer vehicle repair and maintenance require code readers to diagnose problems and report any ongoing issues.

So for Jake, Joe, and anyone entering the automotive restoration field, you need the “complete set” of skills – mechanical, electrical, digital, and thinking – to match the needs of older and newer vehicles.

What About You? Still Interested? What’s Holding You Back?

In a survey conducted by the employment website Indeed, 92% of respondents said they didn’t want to stay in a job they weren’t passionate about. This industry needs men and women who can’t help but turn a head when chrome catches their eyes or the roar of an engine is heard.
So whether your interests are technical or business, the Piston Foundation offers resources to help you start your career with collector cars, from advice to future techs from the masters at Speedsport Tuning to information about the value of a career focused on the skilled trades that the automotive industry needs. Not to mention words of wisdom from fellow car enthusiasts who have made cars the centerpiece of their own careers.

Ready to take the next step?
See how the Piston Foundation’s scholarship and apprenticeship programs can make your career dream a reality.

Learn more about the support you can find while learning the skills you’ll need as a student or car restoration apprentice, thanks to donors who believe in the Piston Foundation’s mission to fund skilled trade education for students and apprentices who want to pursue a career in automotive craft, restoration specialties, and service.

The Piston Foundation is grateful to Steven Goldberg for interviewing these two outstanding young car enthusiasts.  Steven is a freelance writer living in Florida. He writes primarily about business, technology, and customer and user experience, and knows a good story, like the Piston Foundation, when he sees one.

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


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