Taylor High School’s (THS) Automotive Technology class made history last week as the first school group to ever tour the Peterbilt factory in Denton. Founded in 1939, this manufacturer of on-highway, vocational and medium duty trucks does not allow visitors or tours to the general public. Fourteen students represented THS as the first high school in the company’s long history to be allowed to tour the facilities.
“We started working on this about a year and a half ago when I asked Bruce Croker, a friend of mine who works at Paccar, if we could bring students up to do a tour,” said Mark Harwell, THS automotive teacher. “At that time we couldn’t put it together because you have to be eighteen to be in the plant. They’ve never had any students before, and visitors from the public aren’t allowed.”
Permission was granted a year later and the trip was scheduled for Feb. 8. Students were treated to a barbecue lunch, a presentation about the company, which is a subsidiary of Paccar, and career opportunities followed by a guided tour of the plant.
“It was a great experience,” said Wyatt Bolding. “We got to witness and watch how Peterbilt trucks are made, and different engines being put into the frames. Being able to go do that was amazing.”
“I like how the trucks were being made so fast,” Carlos Reyna said. “Just watching them go by, it was just fun to watch and a great experience to learn.”
During the two-hour tour, students wore safety vests, goggles and earphones to hear Croker’s description of each part of the assembly line. He told the group that every truck in production has been ordered to specification, paid for, and that no two trucks on any given day are exactly alike. Croker is Director of After Sales for the company.
Students say they were most impressed with the robot technology they saw, and how quickly all of the different parts became a fully assembled truck.
“They (robots) were something different for sure,” said Travis Miller. “I’ve seen some videos of car assembly plants, but I’ve never seen anything like that, not at all. It just amazed me.”
“It’s crazy how none of the trucks that they make are exactly the same and how all the different pieces of each truck are completely different and they are all customizable from the people that are ordering those trucks,” Bolding said. “It’s crazy to know how fast they put all those pieces together like that in one factory.”
Harwell’s goals for the tour included showing students how the plant works and how vehicles are assembled from the ground up as a reference for when students are taking cars apart for repairs. He also wanted to plant the seed that this might be a career choice for them, and that plenty of opportunities exist other than working on cars at a dealership.
“It was crazy to know how much of a need there is for technicians in the automotive and diesel mechanic area, and that it’s going to be a great career choice for many people in the future,” said Bolding. “That would be a great opportunity for me and I’d get to make money doing what I love.”
Harwell’s interest in cars started at a young age. Before taking on the role of automotive teacher, he was a racecar driver and that is where he met Croker.
“I started at an early age because my father let me work on cars,” Harwell said. “I started hot rodding cars and then I started working at speed shops and then race car teams. I built a race car and then I became a race car driver. After I stopped racing, I went to work for race teams. That eventually led me into teaching in Granger and then I moved over to Taylor ISD.”
Accompanying Harwell and his students on the trip were THS Agriculture Science Teacher Jackie Ehrlich, TISD Superintendent Keith Brown and TISD Communications and Community Liaison Tim Crow.