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Monday, 22 December 2014 00:00

Auto Body Students in Modesto, CA Find a Unique Use for Aluminum

In the fall of 2013, a group of 20 students started refurbishing two aluminum animal sculptures for an extra credit project after a member of the Great Valley Museum foundation donated the $5,000 pieces.  Modest Junior College instructor Jeff Beebe, who has taught Auto Body for over 10 years and worked in the industry for 22, supervised the students while they repaired an elk and mountain lion over the course of two semesters (32 weeks).

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(l to r) Auto Body student Ignacio Segura, instructor Jeffrey Beebe, and student James Belle pose in front of the refinished elk in its new home.


“It took a while to finish the statues because we worked on it in our free time,” said Auto Body student Ignacio Segura. “It wasn't difficult to repair, just time consuming.”Segura, from Lathrop, CA, said he plans to learn as much as he can before getting his Associates Degree in Auto Body. Another student in the program, James Belle, worked on the mountain lion.

“I did some sculpting and then painted and cleared the statue,” he said. “Getting them finished and installed was a long process, but once they were up, they really fit in and finished the exterior of the science building.”

Originally from San Mateo, CA, Belle is in his second year at MJC and has taken all technical classes; collision, spray, machining, auto tech and welding. He said he is now focusing on finishing up his General Ed and getting his Associates Degree.

According to Beebe, the aluminum “looked like somebody used it for target practice” once he had blasted off the bad paint job. He instructed the students to grind down the original crude welds, use automotive body filler to close the holes, and then they began creating an animal fur texture.

"I made special tools to keep the hair like the coat of an elk in the areas where the panels met together," said Auto Body student Dan Wengert. "One of the hardest parts was making the texture of the antlers; I had to stand on a wooden box to make sure they were the right height." He added, "I personally spent about 26 hours total on this project."

Lincoln welders were also utilized by the students to help fill cracks and gaps, along with 3M body fillers/abrasives and PPG Envirobase primer, sealer, and base/clear coat.“One of the hardest parts of the project was trying to fit the life-size elk in the paint booth,” said Segura, who helped Belle unveil the statues on October 15. “Everyone I have spoken to loves the statues,” Belle said.

The elk, on display at the Science Community Center entrance, and the mountain lion, who guards the backdoor, are just a few of the many art pieces produced by MJC staff and faculty in and around the Science Community Center.


Ignacio Segura, James Belle, and Jeffrey Beebe show off the refurbished moutain lion statue after two semester of hard work.


Microscopic images of anatomy by physiology Professor David Ward and photographs of area birds by math Professor James Curl decorate the interior, and a replica of a beaver dam is in the making.

The statues will be on display at the Great Valley Museum gala on January 17.

Another assignment the students recently tackled was the repairing and painting of a Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Avalon and custom paint on a 1923 Ford T-Bucket; but neither project is as big as what Beebe and his students have planned for the future.

“Our next big project is to build a vehicle to showcase student talent,” said Beebe. “The students want to create something they can take to SEMA, which has their name on it. Tentative plans are to build an all new Factory 5 Cobra within the next eighteen months. Raffle tickets will be sold. Once the car is completed and after its inaugural SEMA appearance, a dinner/drawing will be held. The lucky winner will take the car home. Funds from the raffle will roll over to the next build.”

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