High school seniors restore man's truck damaged in Gaylord tornado
A year ago, Doug Watson and his friend Jim were stopped in traffic on M-32, when they watched a tornado come down on top of a Hobby Lobby and suck up a bunch of debris.
Then the tornado came down on top of them.
“Jim was in the passenger side, a piece of 2x4 came through the back window and shattered that, hit the sliding window which shattered that right behind Jim’s head. Fortunately that piece of 2x4 fell into the back of the truck,” Watson said.
They were covered in glass, but neither was hurt.
“The good Lord was on our side that day," Watson said. "A lot of people didn’t fare as well as I did. I was able to drive the truck back to the campground minus a few windows."
His truck is a 1995 Chevy Silverado. He bought it three years ago and says it’s the nicest car he’s ever owned.
“I was so proud of it and then that happened," Watson said. "I mean, to have people pull up next to me at lights and say, asked me what year the truck is, and I tell them and they tell me how beautiful it is ... it’s a good feeling."
Watson, 68, is from Lansing and ran a logging business on his own until a couple of neck injuries forced him to quit in 2001. And he mostly lives on Social Security, so a big car repair bill or a new vehicle isn’t easy.
HELP FROM A SCHOOL
Watson tried to work with his insurance company to get the truck fixed, but the company wanted to total it, so Watson connected with a friend in the collision program at North Ed's Career Tech auto repair program.
Students Austin Johnson and Cameron Cobb worked on the truck together for their senior project. They said it was in shambles.
“Every inch of the truck really had something that had issues," Johnson said. "Because obviously the storm it destroyed the truck, it was devastating to look at it."
Cobb’s family are mechanics by trade and he has a passion for working on cars and helping people.
“My dad, he liked to help a lot of people, I followed him my entire life. I pretty much do the same thing and he needed help with the truck, so I jumped in and helped him,” Cobb said.
Johnson said they had their work cut out for them. They put in new windows and got sticky fixing the bed liner.
“It is a very messy job. I was put in a suit; I looked like the Michelin man, actually," Johnson said. "I was climbing inside the bug and my feet were sticking to the ground."
They in new windows, fixed cab corners that set them back two weeks, repaired some caved in sections of the truck, and painted it the perfect shade of 1995 teal.
Then, students gave the truck back, eight months later at North Ed's Career Tech school.
SEEING IT AGAIN
“Oh there’s my truck," Watson said, as a big garage door opened to reveal the finished product. "Wow. It's beautiful."
“Little different from the last time you saw it," Johnson said.
Watson walked around his shiny teal Silverado in awe.
"Oh my goodness," Watson said. "My baby."
It looks genuinely brand new, with that classic 1995 flair. A sticker of two cartoon tornadoes, created by some graphic design students, is stuck to one of the back windows.
“Today I feel like I have a brand new truck for the first time in my life," Watson said. "This is an incredible school. I’m so glad to see what they’re doing and working hard for a future career. This is something I’ll never forget."
Both students graduate this year.
Cameron Cobb is heading down to Mount Pleasant to find work as a mechanic. Austin Johnson is off to Sault Ste. Marie to do the same and stay with family.
“We definitely had our ups and downs that we’ll always remember," Johnson said. "And now we see it as done. It’s beautiful. it’s done. it’s going out you know. It’s another project that’s turned out amazing."
Watson, meanwhile, is off to spend another summer in Gaylord eager to show off his *new* truck to his pals at the campgrounds.
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