The Star-Herald

Farm mechanics course opens up career paths

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The farm mechanics program at the Presque Isle Tech Center can lead students to careers in welding, metal fabrication, automotive technology, logging or farm work. 

 For the past nine years, Darrell Espling has taught farm mechanics. Prior to becoming a teacher, he spent several years working in the farming industry. 

“I have been around the farm most of my life. My in-laws were potato farmers and a lot of my friends growing up farmed as well,” Espling said. “There is a tremendous amount of hard work and long days that go into farming and maintenance of all the equipment, but it is such a rewarding occupation.”

Espling enjoys working with his hands and says he has always loved dabbling in mechanics, welding and fabrication. 

In the program, students learn hand and power tool identification and use, shop setup and safety, metal cutting, how to repair tools, hydraulic repair, oxy acetylene torch setup and use, and shielded metal arc (“stick”) and gas metal arc (“mig”) welding. They work with welders from the 1960s up to modern, digital auto-setup machines.

The course also includes engine repair and maintenance on small and large vehicles and equipment such as ATVs, snow sleds, cars, trucks, tractors and farm implements. They are introduced to residential and automotive electrical work and various technology. 

“We have computerized vehicle scanners for code reading, a tire pressure monitoring system scan tool, plasma cutters for cutting metal and a computerized plasma cutting table, heated pressure washer for degreasing large equipment, a tire machine and balancer, and a two post lift for working on vehicles,” said Espling.

The curriculum includes safe tractor driving, forklift, skid-steer, and OSHA 10-hour certifications. Class members are encouraged to join the FFA and Skills USA chapters where they can enjoy activities, conventions and compete in state and national contests.

Each day is different, whether it’s working on equipment at the school farm, helping students with their individual projects, or building, fixing and maintaining a variety of items for school staff and the general public. 

“The best part of my job is watching the growth of the students. They advance so much in two years. It makes what I do here very rewarding,” said Espling.

Dane Driscoll graduated from Ashland High School in June and completed his second year in the program. Since he was a young child, Driscoll has worked with his father at their family business, Driscoll Diesel. Although he had experience prior to entering the program, Driscoll has learned new skills. 

“I learned how to become a better welder, how to work on small vehicles other than trucks, and how to paint vehicles,” he said.

He has also worked on his own projects, including rebuilding a toolbox. He competed at the FFA state competition. 

Driscoll will continue working at his father’s shop and plans to keep his part-time job at BD Grass & Sons in Mars Hill. Participating in this program helped Driscoll decide what career path to take. 

“It gave me an idea if I wanted to go into welding or mechanics,” said Driscoll. 

Noah Rooney graduated in June from Presque Isle High School and was a second-year farm mechanics student.  

“I’ve learned how to use every type of method for fastening metal that you can do, how to solder pipe together and use a torch, and how to braze weld, stick weld, and MIG weld,” Rooney said. 

He has also learned how to take apart a small engine and put it back together, change tires, and operate a car lift. Rooney has enjoyed operating the heavy equipment at the school farm. 

As Espling’s student aide this year, Rooney helped first-year students, doing demonstrations and showing them how to use the different tools and equipment in the shop. He considers Espling to be a role model. 

Rooney will attend the structural welding program at Northern Maine Community College and would like to pursue his Commercial Driver’s License. 

“Being in the program changed what I wanted to do. I really like welding and fabricating. Now, this is what I want to do for a career,” said Rooney.

The Presque Isle Tech Center (PITC) serves high school students in the Central Aroostook area including Presque Isle, Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Easton, Washburn, Ashland and Mars Hill. For more information, contact 207-764-1356 or visit pirctc.sad1.org.

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