WALDO — Students in a new go-kart building program at Waldo County Technical Center are learning physics, fractions, angles and torque without even knowing it. The course also builds confidence and basic trade skills, according to Ryan Stackpole, automotive tech instructor at the Tech Center.

The Go-Kart Initiative, or just Go-Kart, as it is known, is a collaboration between Gilman Russell, who teaches auto collision and composites, and Stackpole, with the goal of introducing younger students to the tech school and giving them a taste of several trades. 

Matthew Gray, left, and Jaxon Maglaras, both ninth graders at Belfast Area High School, work on assembling a go-kart Oct. 28 at the Waldo County Technical Center. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Last year, Stackpole’s class did a mock-up of a go-kart, complete with custom bumpers and exhaust. This year, he said, “is our first real year” as a collaboration between the two trade classes. “These guys are our guinea pigs,” Russell added.

“It gives them an opportunity to figure out what they really enjoy, or an understanding of what they like,” Stackpole said. All the students in the class, according to Russell, get a chance to weld, pipe bend and paint, along with designing a roll bar, bumpers and an exhaust.

The metal tubing for the go-karts comes disassembled as a kit with everything but an engine and roll bar. Gilman said the engines are purchased from Harbor Freight and students design their own roll bar and weld it to their kart. They can also paint the frame and engine to their liking.

The carts come with no instruction manual, Stackpole said. “We built a mock-up last year to give them a reference.” They assemble the pieces and make sure it all fits together. All the mountings are the same, he said, but the students can design and customize bumpers and exhaust. “They are all slightly different.”

A Texas company provides the frames in the kit, and when assembled, Stackpole said, it looks similar to a Manco-style go-kart.

Stackpole said when they first received the engines, they tore them apart, then pieced them back together to familiarize students with the different components in a motor. The class also installed steering and suspension parts on each cart before bringing them to Russell’s class for painting and refinishing. “They have total artistic freedom on these,” Gillman said.

“You take a student that’s never turned a wrench, tearing down a motor,” Stackpole said. “It builds confidence.” The course also teaches students the importance of being organized, putting parts in plastic bags and labeling everything, he said.

Using the pipe-bending machine, Russell said the students learn about angles, measurements and spring-back — when the pipe retracts from the original measurement. They learn they have to go beyond the measurement to hit it right-on, he said.

Russell said after the go-karts are assembled, the students will go back to his class to design composite bodies, which will go over the frames. Once the four go-karts are completed, the instructors hope to have students race them in timed trials around the parking lot at the Tech Center after Christmas. “Best time wins,” he said. 

Another set of timed trials will take place in the spring with the completion of second semester go-karts.  Stackpole said the response so far has been incredibly positive. “We’ve got seven students from the freshmen class,” he said. “It is a half-year course, so potentially we could have another seven students (next semester), which is unheard-of.”

When you ask a kid, “You want to learn welding or how to bend a pipe?” you might not get as good a response as if you asked, “You want to build a go-kart?” Stackpole said.

Dana Harriman, a tenth grade student at Mount View High School, stands next to a go-kart he is working on at the Waldo County Technical Center Oct. 28. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Dana Harriman, a sophomore at Mount View, is bending roll bars in class today and said his favorite part of the class is welding. “My dad is a welder, and I would like to follow in his footsteps,” he said.

Matthew Gray, a Belfast Area High School freshman, said making the roll bar was his favorite part of the building process. “Today I’m going to do some welding,” he added.

Student Services Coordinator Bonnie Kein said Go-Kart includes aspects of many programs at WCTC, including auto tech, auto collision/composites, small engines, graphic design, welding and lots of math. Students earn half a math credit, half a fine art credit, and one elective credit through this one-semester course.  

“Our hope is, with this taste of WCTC, Go-Kart students realize our school is a place they want to return to during their junior and senior years and will plan accordingly with their school counselor,” she said. 

The program targets ninth and tenth graders, she said, with the second semester of the year starting Jan. 18. “We still have a couple spots available for interested students,” she said, and encouraged students to speak with their school counselor to sign up.

Kein added, “WCTC is always willing to accept donations to support the valuable programs we offer.”

Stackpole said, “All of this stuff is transferable at some point. They will learn about hand tools, how to take stuff apart and put it back together.

“These guys may never do this again, or maybe they will find themselves on the side of the road (with a breakdown) and be able to figure out what to do.”

For more information, visit  waldotech.org/.

A go-kart prototype shows a custom-designed bumper Oct. 28 at the Waldo County Technical Center. Photo by Fran Gonzalez