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WyoTech students give engine a boost for reality TV series

| Monday, May 12, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

Four advanced students at Blairsville's WyoTech automotive school use a degree wheel to make sure the camshaft valve timing is in the right sequence on an engine they're assembling for a custom 1953 Ford F-100 pickup.

The students, who are enrolled in the school's high-performance power train elective program, have two days to complete the work. During that time, they'll boost the Ford Windsor short block engine from 351 cubic inches to 427 cubic inches.

“We're not going to shortcut anything,” said Chris Johnston of Marion Center, one of two WyoTech instructors overseeing the project. “We're going to try to spend just as much attention on detail as we would if we had two months to build.”

Getting the job done quickly and accurately is a must for the students because their work will be documented in a 10th-season episode of the reality television show “Chop Cut Rebuild.”

The Emmy-nominated series follows custom classic auto builders as they transform rusted relics into polished, powerful machines — often working against a deadline for displaying a finished vehicle at a major industry show.

Filming at WyoTech's Blairsville campus began on Monday morning and is expected to wrap up on Tuesday. According to Paul Dominick, education department coordinator at the Blairsville campus, the finished Windsor engine will be shipped to the school's main campus in Laramie, Wyo., where it will be installed in the truck being restored and refitted by other students.

“This whole build needs to be done by the end of July,” he explained. That's when the truck will debut at the Hot August Nights car show, running July 30-Aug. 2 in Reno, Nev. It will be showcased at the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show Nov. 4-7 in Las Vegas.

Canadian actor Dan Woods, host and producer of “Chop Cut Rebuild,”said the idea for filming the truck project started when he crossed paths with WyoTech officials about two years ago at a previous SEMA show.

Fitting the school into the show's filming schedule took more preparation than with the many individually owned garages around the country that the series has showcased. “It took about two years to get it all together because it's a big organization,” Woods said of WyoTech.

While the school has been represented previously on reality TV, including PowerBlock TV, Monday's filming marked the first television appearance for the four Blairsville students.

John Wallace of Middleville, Mich., is used to performing the calculations he was called upon to complete as he and fellow students began their work in the school's engine assembly room.

“I've helped build one of my instructor's engines and had to do this a lot,” he said during a break in the filming.

But, performing those tasks with the cameras rolling brought an added pressure to the job, he admitted: “Definitely.”

Johnston and fellow WyoTech instructor Tim Bowman of Export said perfect attendance, academic achievement and skills proficiency were among factors they used in selecting the students to be involved in the filming.

“Their performance has to be a little higher than the normal student,” Bowman said.

Progress on building the custom Ford pickup truck will be followed through a series of the show's Season 10 episodes, which will begin airing in July on the MavTV network, so far available primarily through satellite services. According to Woods, Episode 10, which will feature the Blairsville students, should hit small screens in early October.

The added exposure is particularly welcome for WyoTech, as the Blairsville campus President Art Herman noted enrollment at the site has fallen to 820, compared to the high figure of 1,650 and average of 1,200 the campus has seen since it opened in the spring of 2002 at the Corporate Campus industrial park east of town.

He attributed the drop in enrollment in part to a trend seen at many other post-secondary schools: “Education in general is counter-cyclical to the economy. As the economy starts to recover and jobs come back, education is down.”

According to Herman, the automotive repair industry is “crying for” technicians like those turned out at WyoTech and similar schools. “Really, our school should be bursting at the seams,” he said, in light of “good-paying, great opportunities in these fields.”

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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