On Record

Marcia Untitled 1More than kids stuff

By Marcia Gruver Doyle

It’s great that Alabama contractors have kicked off their Build Alabama campaign (see our September 2010 issue), but Brian Copes can show you a group of students who’ve already gotten the message about the significance of hands-on building.

Copes is the pre-engineering teacher – what we used to call a shop teacher – at Calera High School in Calera, Alabama, and you have to excuse him if he seems a bit proud of his crew. “Our students are taking on the role of modern-day Henry Fords, developing affordable transportation” for a global market, he says.

These students have designed and built a series of “basic utility vehicles,” working under the mantra of simplicity. And so the vehicle frame consists of threaded water pipes and fittings, and the front suspension comes out of salvaged Toyota Corollas. Fourteen-inch diameter wheels and tires ensure availability of replacement parts around the world. It can be shipped in a small container and then reassembled just using wrenches. Depending on the add-ons, the unit can be a tiller, ambulance, bus or water drill.


“It’s not about building cars, it’s about building kids.”

Calera students have entered several competitions put on by the Institute for Affordable Transportation and come away with first and second prizes – consistently beating college teams. The IAT competition criteria changes from year to year, but the core idea is to meet transportation needs in developing countries. In fact, the kids have dubbed their evolving unit the “Eagle,” since it’s designed to offer the freedom of mobility.

Men1Prompted by a video company that wants to film the Eagle’s entire construction, shipping and re-assembly process, Copes’ students are raising funds to travel to a yet-unnamed country. Once there, the kids will instruct kids their own age how to assemble the vehicle and its accessories.

While fundraising for that project is slow, the students are already addressing IAT’s next competition challenge: building a rough-terrain vehicle capable of hauling 1,500 pounds. But Copes has something more in mind: “I’ve added to the scope of the competition,” he laughs. “I want them to figure out a way to put it in kit form, and create something that’s capable of being built in eight hours by no more than four laborers.”

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Copes will quickly tell you though, “it’s not about building cars, it’s about building kids.” Kids, I’m betting, whom you’ll want to hire in a few years. EW

Download a free app on your smartphone from http://gettag.mobi and point your phone at this square to see Calera 8th graders assemble their first Eagle. The program has more than 200 sponsors, primarily businesses donating materials. For more information, contact Brian Copes at [email protected].