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CARE Member Contributions to The Next Thirty Years

Automotive Ingenuity at Valley Campus
Submitted by Don Nilson
Las Positas College

Don Nilson’s first encounter with Chabot College Valley Campus was when he was asked for input for the new automotive program on that campus. The original plan was rejected because its design would act like a wind tunnel due to the strong winds in the valley. One of his night students was the general manager of the Grand Auto Store in San Leandro. He brought the chief architect from Grand Auto Stores to Don’s house and explained the technical specifications needed to efficiently use the square footage allowed for the project. Don’s son, Daniel, drew a set of plans that were eventually used by the architect to layout the auto facilities at the Valley Campus. Reed Buffington had Don oversee the actual building of the project. Don didn’t have to find an office at the Valley Campus as his office and classroom were in the middle of the lab. This arrangement was following the example set by Ford and General Motors training centers. We could literally dismantle a vehicle during the lecture using live examples.

Remembering the togetherness at LPC where we temporarily all shared one room for an office was the beginning of sharing disciplines. Bob Dahl and Jerry Friedel became integral partners in the new Automotive Electronics Program. Student surveys told us to include the Welding Program as a necessary requirement to job security. The students had to have a thorough understanding of basic electronics as the automobile was rushing into electronics with a fury. The need to read well was tantamount to becoming a topnotch technician so the English Department was called upon for a special reading program. Ellen Owens and Marilyn Marquis initiated that program.

Some of the memories recalled while occupying the new building related to the remoteness of the campus. There wasn’t any natural gas available so a large diesel storage tank was placed in the ground near the auto lab. This created many problems getting heat for the boiler as the diesel fuel would not ignite as well as natural gas. The heaters in the auto lab were noisy and the contractor was called to correct the problem and the noise went away; that is until winter and we found they were turned off. Don got a ladder and fixed them himself. Don Milanese will never forget when he caught Don up on the ladder in the act. The compressors wouldn’t start on their own and Bob Dahl and Don seemed to be the only individuals successful in getting them started. It was interesting to see so many people trying to solve problems. One day a technician with his well used, taped-up, meter showed up and solved the compressor problem (combination electrical and mechanical). He thought about the problem using the same logical approach that Don used in the Auto Program. The new buildings disturbed the habitat of many creatures. Bob Dahl had a rattlesnake loose in the welding lab. Don Nilson was giving a lecture when a tarantula jumped on his shoulder and tried to join the class. Yes, the mice were everywhere on the campus. We were concerned that they would eat the plastic vacuum lines under the dashboards of the test cars. Mice look at this as a delicacy.

In 1991 Don Nilson retired and Harry Karl took over the auto program. Harry was a very talented, well liked individual. He graduated from Chabot College and was known in the industry for his helping to develop a very sophisticated diagnostic system called EDGE Diagnostic Systems. Harry unfortunately developed cancer of the esophagus. Although he suffered a great deal he continued teaching at a very high level . He even rented a hall in the apartment complex where he lived so that students could come to him at night for additional study. Harry’s passing was a great loss to Las Positas College. There is a tree planted next to the auto department in his name. Harry’s replacement, Bill Desmond, came from General Motors. Bill left for personal reasons. Terry Johnson also came from the General Motors Training Center in San Leandro when it was shut down. Terry was able to convince GM to locate their Northern California Training for GM and Isuzu at Las Positas College where it remains to this day. Because of the increased load, Brian Hagopian, a certified GM instructor was added to the staff.

General Motors added the additional building that contains instructor’s offices with 3 classrooms and an office for the State Smog Inspector. With the State Smog Inspector a chassis dynamometer for the official inspections was also included. Also added with this package was storage room for the additional teaching aids needed for GM and Isuzu training.

Note: No wonder both Don Nilson and Bob Dahl won the Buffington Award!   Helen Bridge, Ed.

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©2007 C.A.R.E.

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