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Motor Bustin’: Piston Scholar Jasper Fedders Learns the Tricks of His Trade

From searching Google and YouTube videos for tech tips to ultimately taking courses at McPherson College, Jasper Fedders is closer than ever to finding his niche in the car restoration world. He is one of the 10 inaugural Piston Scholarship recipients from 2022.

The 21-year-old soon-to-be senior at McPherson grew up on a farm in Sioux Center, Iowa, where he was introduced to his dad’s 1998 Dodge Ram 1500, sitting idle on the land. It needed work, of course, and Fedders was eager to help bring it back to life.

By Judy Stropus

July 12, 2023

It Started With an Engine

“My dad had it for a long time,” said Fedders. “He had taken it to California where he met my mom, they took it to a bunch of places and then it got retired. It had a blown head gasket, so it was used to move chickens around the farm so they could be on grass, and it was a four-wheeler that wasn’t used very much. So, I said, ‘you know what’? I like this thing. It’s a cool truck and I want to take it to school.

“I took it one time and I was hooked. And the first mechanical thing I ever did was replace the head gasket in that thing,” said Fedders, who was 15 years old at the time. “I had no idea what I was doing, but that’s what I did.”

With YouTube videos as a source and using his dad’s 120-piece set of tools, he decided to “try tearing this Dodge apart and putting it back together. And it worked,” he said.

Since then, he has swapped three different engines in the truck, and has made numerous trips around the country, taking it from Iowa to California, to Texas and North Dakota and back. “I’m surprised that I haven’t had to put a transmission into it yet, but we’re just going to ride it out as long as we can,” he said.

At 16, he bought his first “older” car, a 1970 Olds Cutlass. “I bought it as a birthday present for myself. I couldn’t afford to put a carburetor on it, so I tore the engine apart, which I shouldn’t have done. I bought all new parts for it and it wouldn’t start. I ended up blowing that motor up, then ended up putting a 350 in first, then a big-block 455. I drove it around for a while then rolled it into a ditch. I had fun times with that car.”

If you can call locking up the rear brakes at a STOP sign and rolling a car into a ditch fun. Luckily, he was unhurt.

Rolling Toward McPherson

Soon, Fedders was working at a tire shop while attending high school, which provided him a “foot in the door” he said. “I’ve put tires on just about everything, with the help of the guys at the tire shop.”

It didn’t take long, with the urging of his mother, before he discovered that he could further his education and experience by attending McPherson College. “I wasn’t anticipating going to college,” he said. “My mom was really pushing me to go. She really wanted me to become more well-rounded, a little smarter. I love her for that.”

“I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but I decided if I’m going to go to college, I want to do it right. So I looked at mechanics schools and there were a couple of options that were pretty good. But I wanted to work on older stuff, which is more in my wheelhouse.

“Then my great-uncle sent me an article on McPherson. And I liked what they were doing. I toured the college and thought it had a great program, and it’s not too far from home. I’m going to try it.

“I wrote up my whole presentation, sent it in and crossed my fingers. If this works, I’m going to college. If not, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I got in and it’s been a rollercoaster ever since. It’s been a lot of fun,” he said.

During his time at McPherson, he’s worked at another tire shop, then at a Quick Lube, where he performed oil changes, and now works at No Coast Customs in McPherson, Kansas, when not in school. “I have put motors in a bunch of cars. I’ve done engine swaps on newer Fords and I put a motor in a Jeep. I’ve done a lot there, including regular maintenance of cars,” Fedders said.

He also continues to drive the Dodge Ram but shares a 1964 El Camino with his fiancé, Lauren Kunda, also a McPherson student, not in the automotive program. “We put a 400 in it and I’m driving that a lot. I’m also putting in another motor into the 1970 Cutlass. That’s not been running for a year. I finally got some money to put a motor into it,” he said.

Cars are expensive, but I’m glad that the collector car industry has kept some of these cars locked away in garages so that they will one day see the light of day again. I’m glad that they didn’t give up on these old cars and that they didn’t just send them all away to get scrapped because there is beauty and elegance in the simplicity of yesterday.

Kudos to College

When asked what helped him the most, YouTube videos or going to college, he answered, “McPherson College, one hundred percent. At McPherson I actually have structure and I can learn from people who know what they are doing,” he said. “What I was doing before was definitely shade-tree mechanics. This is a little more refined. There is a lot of knowledge there.”

Fedders does credit Google and YouTube for being resources on his path toward his goals, but appreciates the knowledge and support he receives from McPherson College. “I finally have people I can call. I can ask the instructors, ‘Hey, I don’t really know what I’m doing here. Can I get some advice?’ And they’re more than happy to help. I’ve got other mechanic buddies I can call too,” he said.

In his senior year, Fedders will be taking courses that include advanced paint, advanced engine, advanced upholstery and machining and woodworking classes. “I’ve basically gone through all my general classes already. All I’ve got left is automotive classes, which I’m really excited about,” he added.

Gearing Toward the Future

After graduation, he’d like to continue working at a mechanic shop, where he hopes to learn more about the newer cars. “Maybe one day I will open up my own shop and do restorations. I don’t know if I’ll do all the bodywork, but I definitely love working on the greasy side, getting things running.

“I’d be willing to work on just about anything, because all I’ve worked on so far are American cars. I don’t know much about cars from England or Ferraris, but they’ve all got unique abilities and unique engines that I might want to put in my own cars,” he added.

“I’m working on restoring my aunt’s 1969 Cadillac right now. I’ve got the drivetrain all dialed in and running. I’ve been working on doing some painting and bodywork on it. I’m not great at it, but it’s all one color now. I’ll be doing the interior work on it soon and making it look pretty.”

Fedders has great respect for all cars and how the restoration business is keeping the old cars alive. “Cars are expensive, but I’m glad that the collector car industry has kept some of these cars locked away in garages so that they will one day see the light of day again,” he said. “I’m glad that they didn’t give up on these old cars and that they didn’t just send them all away to get scrapped because there is beauty and elegance in the simplicity of yesterday.”

Clearing Hurdles with a Piston Scholarship

As for facing any hurdles en route to pursuing his career in car restoration, Fedders said, “The biggest hurdles that I’ve faced have been the finances. I have a bike and I just bike to work and back and I’ll make the money when it comes,” he said.

The Piston Scholarship he received in 2022 has provided some breathing space. “It’s helped me not to worry about going to work so much. It’s allowed me to study more at school and learn more because I’m not so worried about my finances. It’s been a real blessing to have the support of The Piston Foundation!”

Advice to Parents and Students

What would he tell other young people considering car restoration as a career path? “”Don’t be afraid,” he said. “What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’re going to blow up a motor because you didn’t know what you were doing. That’s fine. There’s probably another motor for 500 bucks out there.”

And, what would he say to parents of up-and-coming car restorers? “Don’t worry about how greasy the shower gets, because it’s going to get greasy. Support them. They may not know what they’re doing. You may not know either. And that’s OK.”

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


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