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Lifeless Lawnmowers No Match for Trained 4-H Members

ROSWELL - Some 4-H members taking a small engines class in Chaves County are barely old enough to mow the lawn, but after finishing the class, they'll be able to leave the mowing to someone else and use their skills to maintain and even rebuild the mower.

Instructor Marty Andrew, right, braces an engine while Cody Meech, left, pulls the cord and Alex Warford watches a compression gauge. The boys are students in a special 4-H small engines class being offered through New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service office in Chaves County. (04/29/2005) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

Volunteer Marty Andrew is teaching the class for New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service program. As he prepares for the next class session in a building normally used as a livestock sales arena at the county fairgrounds, Andrew unpacks 11 boxes containing 5- and 6.5-horsepower Briggs and Stratton engines. After weeks in the classroom learning the parts and functions of small engines, tonight will be the first time the students will turn wrenches instead of pages.

Alex Warford, 10, and Cody Meech, 11, are anxious to take apart their engine as the class begins. They've already mounted the engine on a wood stand, removed the spark plug, checked the compression and drained the oil.

"We're like five steps ahead of everyone else," says Meech, a member of Little Britches and Old Cowpokes 4-H Club.

Warford, his partner and fellow club member, took the class last year and entered his small engines project in the county fair, where it won a third place ribbon.

The boys have figured out which tool is needed for each step of the disassembly. They point out some parts of the engine.

"Right in there, that thing with all the springs on it, that's the governor," says Meech. "If you take the governor off, the engine could get going too fast and blow up."

The instructor approaches the boys.

"Marty, can we take something apart?" Warford asks as he digs in his toolbox. Andrew gives them the go-ahead to remove the air cleaner and access the carburetor. The boys get busy, taking turns removing bolts and screws. As they work, their discussion is punctuated with technical terms like pistons, ignition, intake and exhaust. But there are elements of a shade-tree mechanic's lingo, too. Warford is trying to remove a bolt, but it can only be reached at an awkward angle. "Which way does it go?" he asks. Andrew reminds him: "Lefty Lucy."

Compared to the first class last year, enrollment has doubled to more than 20 4-H'ers. Chaves County 4-H agent Shawn Dennis recruited Andrew to teach the class. Andrew already had been involved in 4-H. His daughter was a member and he served as the goat superintendent at the county fair. Andrew's skills as a mechanic, along with his experience working with children, made him a natural choice.

"I had the background," Andrew says. "If the kids want it, I want to be able to do it for them." His priorities are safety and using the right tool for the job.

The volunteer teaching position has its own rewards. "It's the satisfaction of seeing the kids do well and use the knowledge they get. I wouldn't want any money because then it would be a job and it wouldn't be fun," Andrew says.

Dennis says the class was developed to offer something useful to 4-H members who live in town and cannot raise an animal.

"People think 4-H is only agricultural," Dennis says. "We have a lot of urban kids who needed some other skills." The class gives 4-H members an alternative to a livestock project at fair time. Last year, every member of the small engines class entered an engine part identification project at the fair.

Dennis says the class offers the most in-depth and updated content of any in New Mexico. They use national curriculum as well as course materials developed by Dennis and 4-H parents and leaders. As the class becomes more refined, Dennis and Andrew hope to make it available to 4-H leaders in other states.

"When the project is in great shape and ready to show off, we'll take it to the National 4-H Conference," Dennis says.

Meanwhile, back in the sales arena the two boys have quickly disassembled the air cleaner on their engine and are anxious for more. They have already selected sockets to fit every bolt they can find on the engine. Warford holds up a wrench fitted with a 10-millimeter socket. "We're ready for whatever Marty says is coming up."