Blog: Powder puff mechanics learn automotive maintenance (12/07/21)
One of the added benefits of working as a Southeast Missourian librarian is being able to read journals that date back to our journal’s founding: October 3, 1904.
And I am delighted when I come across an article that I did not expect, or recognize someone’s face in one of the pages of the newspaper. That’s what happened with this week’s blog post. I recognized the face of Kim Kurka McDowell in this article from 50 years ago. I had the privilege of working with Kim from 1986 until her death much too early in 2010.
Maybe you will recognize some of the other faces in this “female feature”.
Posted on November 20, 1971 in the Southeast Missourian:
“Fantastic,” says Miss Kim Kurka of all the little things that combine to make a car run, while Mr. Scherer explains the purpose of various parts. (Southeast Missourian Archives)
DEVELOPMENT OF THE “POWDER PUFF” MECHANICS
By SALLY WRIGHT BROWN
Editor-in-Chief of Missouri
To think. To blow. Whistling …
That’s it, powder puffs. Old Faithful – power steering and everything – gave way. Just like the old mule that plowed the fields at home.
And now? If a good quick kick to the right front tire doesn’t motivate the horseless car, what’s the next step?
Students enrolled in the Adult Education class at Cape Girardeau Vocational and Technical School in Powder Puff Mechanics will likely know the steps to follow.
And it won’t be to kick the left front tire either.
There is no envy for the work of Mrs. Gary K. Gilbert as she pours oil into a sewer. Not relishing her task are, from left, Mrs. Jeanie Allgood, Mrs. Ken Bryan and Miss Mary Hope. Changing oil and oil filters is part of the powder puff mechanics course. (Southeast Missourian Archives)
Now in its ninth week, students in the Basic Mechanics course taught by James Scherer, an Auto Mechanics I teacher at Central High School, are learning the basics of good auto maintenance and simple repair and terminology. .
“A car is a big investment,” says Scherer. “This course is designed to let people know what they can do to keep cars in top condition – and also to let them know what they cannot and should not do without qualified help.”
Dressed in outfits ranging from mechanic’s overalls to jeans and slacks, the students, with dirty hands and knees and seasoned greasy monkeys, dive into their jobs under the hoods of cars with camaraderie and enthusiasm.
For two hours every Monday evening, the eight women and one man enrolled in the course perform tasks such as draining and changing antifreeze, changing oil and filters, checking spark plugs and ignition systems, changing tires, replacing headlights and checking and maintaining batteries.
Pistons, spark plugs, and fan belts – all add up for an automobile. Next time Mrs. Allgood, on the left, and Mrs. Bryan take a walk, they’ll know where all the power is coming from. James Scherer, class instructor, explains a car engine. (Southeast Missourian Archives)
“Not at all scared,” Scherer says, gesturing the students literally up to the elbow to change the engine oil. “I am delighted with these students; they are enthusiastic and pleasant to work. And they really know more than they initially thought they would, ”he says.
There was some “nonsense” in the first few weeks of the course, but, according to Scherer, the students were able to laugh at their mistakes and profit from them.
Someone accidentally blew a car horn while a woman was working under the hood – a loud lesson for her – and another student, after changing a tire, put the lug nuts upside down (” I didn’t even know it was possible, “laughs the instructor).
Ms. Gilbert selects the right tool as she prepares to go to work. Learning different tools and their uses is part of the mechanics course. (Southeast Missourian Archives)
And during a school trip to a do-it-yourself gas station, one of the students completely disappeared. “She still hasn’t come back,” laughs Mr. Scherer.
Admitting that it may not be practical to make a course similar to the powder puff mechanics class a prerequisite for obtaining a driver’s license, Mr Scherer agrees that “awareness is important . If a car isn’t running properly, it becomes a danger. If you invest several thousand dollars in a car, you should at least know how to preserve that investment. “
One of the most common failures of drivers – men and women, says Scherer, is not knowing how to properly start a car in cold weather and how to use jumper and jumper cables.
Her students are prepared for this eventuality, and most of the class agree that knowing how to use jumper cables is one of the most useful parts of the class as the cold weather hits the area.
A portable lamp by her side, Miss Hope slides a “creeper” under her car to check the situation from another angle. (Southeast Missourian Archives)
The class members range from student to grandmother, but all have one common goal: to know what makes a car run.
“I just didn’t want to be so stupid about cars,” says Gary K. Gilbert, one of the band members. Driving the family’s second car naturally means the possibility of other mechanical issues, and “I wanted to learn things that I could do on my own without disturbing my husband. On top of that, I’ve always been a bit tight, I like to save money. ”she smiles.
With young people moving more and more these days, a course like Powder Puff Mechanics is a “must”, says State College student Miss Kim Kurka.
“I think this is really a serious course, however, there is nothing ‘powdered’ about it,” says Miss Kurka.
For Ms. Lora Nenninger, who just learned to drive in 1962, the course will help her explain car problems to a qualified mechanic.
“As it is, before taking this course, I couldn’t even explain the noise of the car to a mechanic,” she laughs.
A student doesn’t have to be under the hood of their car all the time to enjoy the course, says Ms. Nenninger. “It helps to look at the others. Every car is a little different and who knows, maybe we will have one car today and another tomorrow.”
There is a lot to learn about what goes on under a car hood, and Miss Kurka, left, and Ms. Lora Nenninger look temporarily puzzled. But Mr. Scherer quickly cleared up the mechanical misunderstanding. (Southeast Missourian Archives)
“My husband was everything to me by taking the course,” adds Ken Bryan. “I will continue, at least until I find out what’s going on,” she promises.
Admitting that she was once overloaded by a gas station, Miss Marty Hope says she is taking the course on how to explain what to do to the car, when and why.
“The course is a challenge,” she says. “And I learned a lot. Tonight, I will change the oil and the filter,” she adds proudly.
A common interest in mechanics led Ms. Jeanie Allgood to enroll. Her husband, she says, helps her with the class. Although a little ‘confused’ at first, Ms Allgood says: ‘I thought I would never learn – well, I’m not an expert, but I have learned some things.
And the only male member of the class, who refused to disclose his identity, says the class has been of help. “Other men may think they know everything, but in fact they don’t know it,” he comments.
And as for the nine “powder puffers”, they may not know everything, but they are learning. And it is a step in the right direction. Because the “horseless carriage”, unlike the horse-drawn carriage, is probably here to stay.
An old but true saying is pictured here as Mrs Gilbert, left, and Miss Kurka concerted to put Miss Kurka’s car in pristine condition. (Southeast Missouri Archives)