“Learn by doing” is the 4-H motto, and Nick Vinkemeier has learned and done a lot in the 16 months he has been working on his 4-H project for the upcoming Carver County Fair.

The 15-year-old rural Cologne youth has completely restored and rebuilt a 1973 International Harvester pickup truck that he will be showing to fair judges next week.

Vinkemeier figures he has spent hundreds of hours on the project and along the way has learned everything from pulling an engine, to welding, to electronics, to brake linings and axle work, to body finishing.

International Harvester quit making pickup trucks long before Vinkemeier was born, but he likes the square body style and the uniqueness of the vehicle he and his dad Kurt discovered at Hooked on Classics in Watertown, Minn.

Ironically, his father was featured on the pages of this newspaper back in 1987 as a 16-year-old for restoring a beat up 1952 Chevy half-ton pickup to a flashy red dream truck.

While the son seems to have inherited his automotive interest and abilities from his dad, father Kurt proudly says, “Nick has gone far beyond what I ever accomplished with my truck.” He also is pleased that the project turned into a father-son bonding experience filled with learning moments and excursions to junk yards across Minnesota, Wisconsin and into Iowa.

“Those were some of the best trips,” Nick said. “It was like a treasure hunt.”

The truck they found for Nick to restore was rust-free, although it was what Vinkemeier describes as “a sickening olive color.” He painstakingly sanded off four coats of paint and primer and turned into a bright turquois to make it his own. And he spent 2-3 hours just polishing the detail work on the rear bumper.

While his dad prefers a conventional red, Nick says, “I wanted something different.”

He further customized the vehicle by installing bucket sets and purchased a second truck from French Lake Auto Parts in Annandale, Minn., to supply the parts he needed to make the vehicle four-wheel drive.

Along the way, Nick had one advantage his father didn’t – the Internet. Beyond junkyards, he was able to do online searches and purchases for parts and accessories. For example, the lining materials on the driver’s side door and window come from four different vendors.

By the time he is done, Vinkemeier estimates he will have invested maybe $12,000-$15,000 in the vehicle, an investment he will pay off to this dad through work at home and income from his job at Theis Repair, where he happens to be a mechanic.

The value of the newly restored vehicle could approach $20,000-$35,000, depending on the market, although dad has first dibs on purchasing the vehicle according to their arrangement, Kurt said.

In addition to his dad, Nick credits two other people for their guidance on his 4-H project: Leon Vinkemeier, Kurt’s cousin, for helping with engine rebuilding, and Tony Hoen for his help with bodywork and paint.

Vinkemeier and his dad test drove the newly restored vehicle two weeks ago to give Nick a chance to make any adjustments before fair judging. Nick doesn’t have his license to drive his new vehicle solo yet, but he hopes to get it on his 16th birthday, right after the fair.

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