EL RENO – Randy Graham stared at a broken-down utility vehicle. The engine would not start. Graham wondered if there was any life left in the four flat tires.
The vehicle, commonly known as a Gator, was donated by an anonymous area farmer.
Graham serves as director of facilities at Center of Family Love in Okarche. The center opened in 1981 and provides homes for 130 residents with developmental disabilities.
He said the vehicle sat for about a year, because nobody knew what to do with it.
A co-worker suggested Graham contact Canadian Valley Technology Center, which launched a Power Sports program in 2017.
“I called the school and spoke to Ryan (Barnett), the Power Sports instructor,” Graham said. “He suggested I bring it in for an assessment.”
Barnett said three of his students were intrigued and energized about the potential of restoring the John Deere Gator HPX 4×4 Diesel utility vehicle.
“They wanted to do a lot,” Barnett said. “They asked Randy if they could buy news seats. We also ended up replacing the starter and the battery.
“The students wanted to clean it up and paint it. We added new brakes, a master cylinder, new rotors, and LED light bars in the front and LED lights on the back of the cab. We changed the oil and took the wheels off to re-paint them.”
Students also painted the hood and re-surfaced and re-painted the utility bed.
The Center of Family Love covered the cost of materials. Students provided labor from skills they have acquired in the program.
“My students know about the good things that go on at the center, and they wanted to help,” Barnett said. “This Gator is going to be a great tool for the folks at the center hopefully for a lot of years.”
The center was founded by The Knights of Columbus, which is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. The center also includes a garden center and air filter manufacturing facility that provides an income stream for residents and non-residents who live with physical and neurological disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, autism, muscular dystrophy and Down Syndrome.
“We are working steadily to upgrade and enhance the quality of environment for our residents,” Graham said. “We are thankful for the donation and so happy the students at Canadian Valley were able to help us get this vehicle operating. We can certainly put it to good use.”
Live work is considered on a case-by-case basis at CV Tech. Barnett said this project had special appeal, because it involved an area non-profit group that helps a lot of people and provides them a vocation. The CV Tech students who completed the utility vehicle facelift are all area high school seniors: Lewis Phan, of Mustang, Logan Luecht, of Yukon, and Austin Todd, of Calumet.
Superintendent Gayla Lutts credits the CV Tech school board for approving the new program last year.
“This is a great program that will provide well-trained technicians for area small-engine repair shops,” she said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to our board of education for providing state-of-the-art equipment and tools in this program and helping ensure we are forward-minded with regard to program additions.”
CV Tech board members are: Penny Jones, Christy Stanley, Dean Riddell, Jimmie Vickrey and Travis Posey.