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Dreaming of Collector Cars: Sean Whetstone’s Journey Toward a Skilled Trades Career

Many of us are inspired at an early age to pursue a dream career. Fewer of us turn our inspiration into a reality. To get yourself onto that career path in your early 20s can be a challenge, and is remarkable when it happens. When you realize you can actually achieve your dream through your own hard work, determination and passion, it gives you confidence that the path you’ve chosen is the right one for you.

Sean Whetstone, 22, of Fort Collins, Colorado, is one of those individuals – a first generation “car guy” who knew his calling long before he purchased a 1966 Corvair to restore at the age of 17.

By Judy Stopus

March 14, 2023

Future Dreams From Childhood Toys

“No one in my family really cared about cars before me,” he wrote in his application for the Piston Foundation Automotive Trade Scholarship, which he earned in 2022 as one of the 10 inaugural Piston Scholars.

“When I was 4, I was already playing with Legos and building cars and collecting Hot Wheels. At 10, I really wanted to be a car designer. So, my dad and I drove all the way to Detroit to see the Henry Ford Museum and toured a bunch of manufacturing facilities. It was a lot of fun. I can’t really remember when I wasn’t interested in cars.”

Shop classes were not really available to him during high school, “and I really wanted to work hands-on,” he said. “I was not the best book learner. I liked working with my hands and making stuff. I was good enough that they were willing to send me to the local community college for an automotive technical course as extra credit. I learned a bunch about modern cars, but about halfway through that we toured a shop that restored cars and I immediately asked them if I could work there pushing brooms, doing whatever they wanted me to do, because I wanted to work with the classics.”

Corvair image courtesy of
Corvair image courtesy of

A Corvair, a Mentor, and a Skilled Trades Passion

He met his mentor Ross Barton at Motorway in Fort Collins, and purchased the Corvair. “The Corvair pushed me to study automotive restoration. I overhauled the engine and suspension, installed new wiring and did a bit of body work. I had to sell it to redirect my money towards living expenses and tuition at the time. But that car led me to study automotive restoration and learn a whole skill set. It showed me how I want to spend my life and it gave me a real-world experience to base my studies off.”

Whetstone was soon introduced to the programs at McPherson College. “I’d actually been told twice about McPherson College, and my mom decided that she was going to take me to Kansas to tour. And it seemed like I had to apply.”

His 17th year of life was clearly a significant milestone in his career pursuit. After three months at Motorway, he entered McPherson College’s auto restoration classes, aiming for a bachelor’s degree with a “technical emphasis.”

Locked-Down and Doubtful

The 2020 pandemic nearly ended his dreams. “I almost dropped out,” he said. “In March of 2020, the school closed down and sent us home and we went online, and I had to take sheet metal and upholstery courses via Zoom. You can’t just go shape metal after watching five weeks of Zoom calls.

“I was not happy with the program at that moment, and I was also struggling with myself. So, I decided to take a gap year off, and luckily things went well. I got to work and finish up a whole bunch of loose ends at home. When I decided to come back, I knew that this was the right path and I knew I had learned how to deal with college life better and how to be ready for all the courses.

“But when I did come back, I was reminded of all the financial problems that come with it and the stress. My mentor and my family were like, ‘it’s OK. You’re going to have the debt, but you need it for what you’re doing.’ This program was right for me and they knew I had to go through it.”

A Burden Lifted, Thanks to Piston

The Piston Foundation Scholarship he earned last year was a welcome surprise. “I come from a working class family and I’m in the middle of my junior year,” explained Whetstone. “Last year, my dad actually had to take out a private loan in order to cover what financial aid didn’t cover. Winning the Piston Foundation scholarship last year actually covered that. And so my dad did not have to take out another loan, and he was very relieved that I would still continue on without it. It’s a very literal cause and effect.  I don’t have to think about the personal implications of having to pay for college.”

Sean is a 2022 Piston scholarship recipient.
Sean and his follow Piston Scholars at the Cavallino Classic.

Resuming The Skilled Trades Journey

Now, at 22, he’s working at Stellar Antique Auto Restoration in Wyndham, Kansas, while studying at McPherson. “I graduate in May of 2024 and I’ll be looking for a job working hands-on,” said Whetstone. “I really love turning wrenches and assembly work, taking things apart, cleaning them, putting them back together. I’m not focused on the painting or bodywork, but I can do that. If I could just be assembling cars it would be amazing.”

Sean making a quick electrical repair on a Ferrari 512.
Sean helping GT Motorcars at the Cavallino Classic

He has a Corvair once again, which originated as a parts car and he’s now working on to restore. And, he wraps up his journey towards graduation and achieving his goals, with: “My mind is well suited to understanding, repairing and creating mechanisms. I love problem solving and making things. I especially love engines – all the precision measurements and complex movements to harness burning gasses and create rotational power. It is a great testament to humankind that we as a species can create such wonders.”

“It brings me joy to work with my hands and McPherson College is teaching me rare skills that I will use to make a career of preserving old cars and doing what makes me happy.”

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


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