Mount Desert Island High School junior Cody Parker at work before school on the engine of his 1998 Jeep Wrangler with technology education teacher Chip Taylor. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Life lessons in real time: High school student rebuilds Jeep



BAR HARBOR — It was a day with no early morning swim practice on a recent Tuesday for Mount Desert Island High School junior Cody Parker, but he didn’t sleep in.

Using chains and ratchet straps in the garage at home, Cody Parker and his dad lifted the engine out of the Jeep to send it to a machine shop to be rebuilt. PHOTO COURTESY OF CODY PARKER

At 6:30 a.m., he was in the immaculate, well-appointed auto/metal shop at school testing socket wrenches to find the right one to fit a bolt on the engine for his 1998 Jeep. He’s rebuilding it with the help of Chip Taylor, the school’s business and technology education teacher.

Even the task of finding the right socket involves math, business and history: There are metric sockets measured in millimeters and standard ones measured in fractions of an inch. The late 90s, when this engine was built, was about the time manufacturers were switching between the two systems, and sometimes using both, Taylor said.

Parker bought the Jeep with 178,000 miles on it, so it had its fair share of problems. With help from his dad Don, and from Taylor, he’s been diagnosing the problems himself.

“It was pretty shaky when it got to about 50” miles per hour, Parker said. “I had to replace the header gasket because it was torn. That solved the problem of it being really loud. It also idled really high because it was pulling air in through the gasket from the throttle body.”

He drove it like that for a while. Then he got new, bigger tires.

“I was really excited to drive it” when the new tires were put on the wheels and ready to go, he said, “so we forgot to tighten down the lug nuts. I was driving to swim [practice] the next morning and the wheel came off as I was driving.”

The Jeep went off the road, but everyone was okay and Parker sprang into action.

“The only problem [the accident] caused is it bent the bumper into the tire,” he said. “So we had to pull it up to a tree and put one of those ratchet straps around the tree and then hook it to the bumper and then I backed up with the Jeep, so that straightened out the bumper.”

Next, the engine started making a loud knocking noise. In the garage at home, Cody and Don began taking apart the engine and replaced all the valves and valve lifters. That wasn’t it. They’d have to take it all the way apart.

Just before Christmas, they lifted the engine out of the vehicle using chains and ratchet straps and brought it to the shop at school. With Taylor’s guidance, Parker took the engine apart. The ‘aha’ moment came when they found a broken piston.

One of the wheels of the Jeep came off on the way to swim practice one morning when Parker forgot to tighten the lug nuts after installing them. Using ratchet straps and a nearby tree, he figured out a way to straighten out the bumper and get back on the road. PHOTO COURTESY OF CODY PARKER

Cody and Don took the engine block to a machine shop in Bangor to be bored (that is, make the irregular cylinders smooth again), using Cody’s own money. They ordered new pistons. Then they brought all the pieces back to school to reassemble, before school, in the auto shop.

“A lot of schools don’t have this stuff anymore,” Taylor said, gesturing around at the work benches, auto lift, new parts washer and toolboxes. “We’re really fortunate.”

He has been teaching business for 20 years and took over as the Technology Education teacher in charge of the auto/metal shop in 2017 when Bruce Munger retired. He works closely with Steve Keblinsky, who leads the marine technology program that includes a regular class and a two-year intensive program that’s part of the Hancock County Technical Center (HCTC) curriculum.

HCTC has an extensive automotive technology program in Ellsworth, and Taylor stresses that his program is not designed to take its place. Rather, he said, “the idea is to get kids familiar with using tools.”

He teaches a class called “Business of Speed,” combining business math and auto technology, in which students sometimes change the oil on teachers’ vehicles. In a “Life After MDI” class for seniors before graduation, he covers some basic home and auto maintenance along with personal finance, and they’ll change the oil on one of the students’ vehicles.

As for Parker, he finished reassembling the engine block in the shop with Taylor last week. He hopes to have it back on the road soon.

“And hopefully we’ll get another 200,000 miles out of it,” he said with a grin.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Liz is an award-winning journalist who has been with the Islander since 2013. She grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor. [email protected]