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Hot Rod High USA

Bringing kids to classic cars

John Gunnell - March 28, 2013 10:00 AM

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1 Fred Beyer, at home at a keyboard or automotive project.

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2 Inside the “Teamed to Learn” tent at the Iola Old Car Show, where past handiwork is on display.

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3, 4 & 5 Students learn valuable skills and techniques when working on projects. These efforts are volunteer and not part of a traditional school curriculum.

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6 Beyer extols the virtues of the program to the crowd at Iola. His teaching experience keeps him comfortable speakng from a stage.

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7 This 1946 Ford pickup truck serves as the promotional centerpiece for Hot Rod High.

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8 A view from the corral includes yet another older car that has had the students involved in efforts they enjoy.

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9 Rick Karcz owns this surf woodie and has high praise for the work of the students.

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10 The woodie in a more natural environment. Beyer has built up his home to reflect his love for cars.

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11 Big Daddy Roth would have been proud of the Outlaw tribute car.

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12 Another project that focuses on meticulous detail.

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13 Everything doesn’t have to be a restoration. Sometimes, you have to open the door to creativity and drive right through it.

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14 Beyer loves his Corvettes, part of his 10-car collection.

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Fred Beyer doesn’t need any character references. Anyone who knows him will attest to the fact that Fred is a character.

He built a grass hut on the lawn behind his lakeside home in Shawano, Wisconsin. Each sunny morning, he gets up, dons his white sea captain’s hat and drives his turquoise Model A surf woodie to a spot near the hut and parks it there. Fred probably has the surfboard on top of his Ford well waxed, just in case a Honker comes rolling in.

Fred may seem like a joker with his ear-to-ear smile and a constant laugh rolling off his tongue, but he’s dead serious about enjoying every day of his retirement via a combination of playing with cars, playing music and playing mentor to dozens of once-unmotivated teens who went through the Hot Rod High USA® program he started in 2000 while teaching at Shawano High School.

Hot Rod High USA® originally used after-school car building projects to awaken high school students to the world of technology and technical training. The students built a 1946 Ford ½-ton pickup, several surf woodies and a T-bucket that resembled Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s famous “Outlaw.”

Beyer grew up in Chicago and always had a knack for mechanical projects. He could fix trucks, cars, lawn mowers and practically anything with moving parts. He started restoring cars at the age of 14, when he and his father did an award-winning rebuild of a 1929 Ford Town Sedan. He still has that well-preserved Model A in the 10-car collection he stores at his home.

Beyer developed a passion for machine work and found many outlets for his skills in the auto repair industry. Eventually, he earned a college degree from the University of Wisconsin’s Stout campus. At 20, he went to Shawano to student teach and set out in a career in Industrial Education. He bought the property where he still lives today.

Beyer’s teaching career kicked off in 1972. For the next 28 years, he taught engineering, machine tool, foundry, welding, and automotive technology at Shawano High School. He became aware of private technical schools that attracted students by offering specialty courses in restoration, street rod building and high performance work. He learned that their students paid additional fees to add such courses to their basic curriculum. “You can’t get away with that unless the students really like those classes,” Beyer thought. “What a great way to get kids turned on to learning.”

Beyer felt he could create a public high school program with the same approach and formulated Hot Rod High USA® as an attempt to inspire students whose normal reaction to regular courses such as English and algebra was “whatever.” The results of the program bore out his thinking. The hands-on aspect of the auto restoration project got the young men and women involved in their tasks, teaching them skills in a fun-to-learn way.

Beyer focused on giving students an opportunity to build pride in their work and develop a high level of precision. Students volunteered to be a part of building a hot rod to customer’s specifications. The car owners pre-paid for the work and no school or taxpayer money went into the builds. Parts were paid for by the vehicle owners. There was no charge for labor. Some parts for the cars were engineered and fabricated in welding class. Others were machined or cast as part of the Shawano High machine tool and foundry program.

The fitting of body parts, forming of brake lines and assembling of components was done in the automotive program. Because Shawano High School did not have a body shop, the bodywork was farmed out to a local body shop. Students interested in a body repair component could spend some of their time sanding and working on the paint preparation and buffing. The same was done with the engine building. Students followed the engine to a local rebuilding shop to get involved in the disassembly, machining, blueprinting and assembly.

Hot Rod High USA® students balanced their program participation with work on their regular manufacturing and automotive service curriculum competencies. The program was not a substitute or alternative to regular academic studies, but strictly an after-school effort. Since students carried it out on their own time, their time management skills were honed at the same time.

“The students really got involved in their projects and took pride in seeing their shop work create trophy class show cars,” says Beyer. “Each of the cars or trucks they built wound up winning numerous trophies and most of them were put on special feature at Green Bay, Wisconsin’s World of Wheels show.”

When Beyer retired from teaching, he decided to protect the High School High USA® name with a registered trademark so he could roll this program to other schools. “It’s not about money,” he says. “It’s about motivating kids to do things with their hands.”

In 2009, he helped launch his second Hot Rod High USA® program at Freedom High School in Freedom, Wisconsin. The students involved there restored the one-of-a-kind Mohs Ostentation Opera Sedan.

Beyer and Bruce Baldwin Mohs hit it off during a talk Fred had made to promote Hot Rod High USA®. Mohs is a 78-year-old businessman and inventor who ran a German restaurant/auto museum, owned a seaplane company and built a replica of the battleship Wisconsin to sail in a large lake in the state capitol of Madison. In addition to his Opera Sedan, Mohs built Safarikars with naugahyde-clad bodies and side doors that slide back. The ramp-up-the-middle Opera Sedan, with its giant whitewall tires, graces the cover of Moh’s self-published book “The Amazing Mr. Mohs,” which also has a frontispiece with a photo of a Milwaukee hotel and a circle around the room he was conceived in.

Bruce’s middle name appears on the grand piano in his home near Riley, Wisconsin, and Fred Beyer — who is also a professional entertainer with a calypso band — plays a mean piano. His talent on the ivory keys that day set in motion a bonding of two unique characters that has energized Beyer’s efforts to roll Hot Rod High USA® and a national program that high schools, colleges and technical schools across the country can use as a student motivation tool.

Rick Karcz, a former Ford dealer and now Ford salesman, had a yellow Model A surf woodie constructed in the Shawano Hot Rod High shop. He says the experience was rewarding “because the students took pride and ownership in their work” and notes, “It was invigorating to see teenagers pumped up about what they were doing in school.”

The bright red 1946 Ford pickup with its Hot Rod High graphics (designed by Beyer as part of another retirement business he runs) has become a symbol of this unique educational experience. It accompanies Beyer on all of his promotional tours whether it’s his seminar presentations at the Iola Old Car Show’s “Teamed to Learn” tent each year or his honky tonk piano playing for the Green Bay Packers football team (another of his many other sideline interests).

For next year’s Iola Old Car Show, Beyer is planning to make American automobile museums one of the spotlight attractions in the “Teamed to Learn” tent and already has commitments from the Petersen Automotive Museum and Wayne Lensing’s Historic Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, Illinois.

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