With the hood propped up again on Vickie Hull’s 1996 champagne-colored Dodge Caravan, Corona del Sol High School Automotive Technology teacher Larry Huff shook his head. It seemed Huff like that’s becoming a normal position for the vehicle to be in.
But hopefully by sometime next week, Hull’s van — now 178,000 miles strong — will be back on the road after Huff and some of the students in his third period class put their auto repair skills to the test to end nearly two months of waiting for Hull, who suffers from a chronic lung disorder.
Thanks to the California-based Dream Foundation and some of Huff’s students burning the midnight oil by putting in some extra hours on repairing the van, it now has a new transmission in it.
“It’s better than what is was, but it’s not quite fixed, yet,” Huff said.
However, it had some clogging and bogging to get over before Hull can drive it again as it remains inside the high school’s auto repair garage.
Hull, 62, of Apache Junction is a patient of hospice and suffers from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She was supposed to receive her van on Tuesday. However, because of unexpected setbacks, she won’t get her daily driver back until sometime next week.
On Monday, when Huff and a couple of his students took the van out for a test run on South Rural Road, it konked out near Warner Road and they had to push it to the side of the road before walking a mile back to the school in 106 degree heat to get Huff’s truck with jumper cables.
“I stepped on the gas and there was nothing,” Huff said of the van’s engine going out. “We got the transmission fixed and put it in, but it wasn’t going into third gear and the engine wasn’t charging.”
They discovered that not only was the engine and transmission not fully charging, but that the van needed a new alternator, which now has been installed. Huff said he hopes that when the battery is charged, and they rev up the car, the automatic transmission will shift into third gear.
Hull, who has been on disability from her job as a cashier at a Home Depot store in Mesa since Sept. 2010, also has suffered from some minor strokes and doesn’t get an adequate amount of oxygen to her heart and brain.
She told the Tribune on Tuesday that she was a “little bummed” when she got the news that she wouldn’t get her van back yet, but she’s very appreciative that the work is being done after going without it for about a year. For now, she relies on friends and neighbors to help her with her errands and doctor’s appointments.
Yet, she has remained patient and positive throughout the waiting process as Huff’s students, including Nicholas Kittridge and Nick Chern, put in a little extra effort with their teacher to get the van road ready.
“I give those kids 10 hands up,” Hull said. “I’ve been pretty lost without my van. Without their help and the help of the Dream Foundation, I don’t think I would’ve been able to have gotten my van fixed.”
Although Wednesday is the last day of school at Corona, Hull said she hopes that the students who worked on her van will show up when she gets it returned so she can thank them and give them a surprise.
“This has been a long drawn out process,” Huff said. “It has taken a little longer than what we’ve expected. When I called Vickie to tell her what had happened, she was very understanding and nice about it. She’s always been very cheerful when I’ve called her.”
The Dream Foundation, which helps to provide the final wishes of adults across the United States and collaborates with volunteers to fulfill those wishes, had contacted the school earlier this year to see if his students could help Hull get back on the road. The foundation provided them with $600 to get the transmission.
Huff said that after looking all over Valley junkyards, he found the only ‘96 Dodge Caravan transmission, but the workers at the junkyard broke part of it getting it out, causing them to have to repair it by welding it, causing a two-week setback.
After Huff’s students got the transmission in the van, it still wasn’t working quite right, and Automatic Transmission Experts then fixed it at no charge.
“If they wouldn’t have done the job, I don’t think we would’ve been able to use the transmission,” Huff said.
“We’re glad that we’re able to do something for someone in need,” Huff added. “We get to help someone out and my students learn by working through the problems of a repair.”
Erinn Lynch, a spokeswoman for the Dream Foundation said, “We love engaging the local communities in our service. It’s a wonderful way people can come together to take care of one another. We are privileged to fulfill Vickie’s dreams.”
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