That would be true for Shawn and Heather Heusser, members of the UAA community who came together over a mutual love of cars, some of which actually run.
They met online, sort of. Heather was looking for a particular kind of truck. She was chatting on a Chevy message board when someone suggested she needed to meet Shawn at UAA because he could help her find the truck.
The two connected and began talking cars. Then Heather took a UAA welding class from Shawn. She needed to learn how to weld the doors shut on a Ford Tempo she planned to drive in a demolition derby. Together they got the Tempo ready for the run; she came in fourth.
Their first real date? “We went and pulled a motor out of a truck at his mother’s house,” Heather said.
Love of cars goes deep
We first met Shawn reporting a story about dropping the engine out of a 1996 Ford sedan so the shell could be retooled into a driving simulator for UAA research. Much of the work took place in the teaching facility for UAA’s Automotive Diesel Program.
Currently he’s the building manager and tool room supervisor for the auto program, but he’s also a graduate of the diesel technology track and a lifelong skilled engine machinist. He’s taught welding, diesel engines, drive trains and a number of other classes at UAA.
It wasn’t until after that Ford engine was history that I spotted a dark blue Chevy pickup parked in a far corner with the license plate “57CHEV.” That sure seemed like a story.
|Shawn Heusser at age 14 with his "new" '57 Chevy, before|
the blue paint job. The year was 1994.
Photo courtesy of Shawn Heusser.
Heather’s car love is different. It dates to her dad, who worked as an airplane mechanic and loved retooling cars in his off time. He’d purchased a 1969 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 (4 speed, 4 barrel, 2 exhaust engine). When the family moved to Georgia, then to Seattle and finally Alaska, it came along.
But Heather says it never ran. She can remember helping her dad jack it up to move it around the garage, but she never sat in it and never even went for a ride.
When her parents divorced in 2001, her father sold the car. Sadly, she assumed it was lost forever. But here’s where destiny seems to take over.
Fast forward to Shawn and Heather meeting and knowing each other, but not yet married. Heather was back in Pittsburg attending her grandfather’s funeral. That very day in 2008, she got a call from Shawn. He’d found the Olds 442 on Craigslist. Not only that, he’d bought it back for her for $3,000.
Restoring it together is an upcoming project. To be honest, she’s not really sure what her dad saw in the car. “They are rare now, and not all that popular,” she says, “It’s hard to find parts. But the reason I like it is because it was my dad’s.”
|The '57 Chevy figured prominently on their wedding day six|
years ago. Now they are restoring another one, as well as a
1969 Olds 4-4-2 that once belonged to Heather’s father.
Photo courtesy of Shawn and Heather Heusser.
Translated, that means another 57 Chevy, this one with an all-original frame that they’ve modified. Shawn explained: “We have installed a Mustang II independent front suspension system, a four-link rear suspension system and a Currie enterprise Ford 9-inch rear axle.” A friend with a fabrication shop is taking out the old rear window and installing a much larger one, which means cutting into the body.
“We have more money just in this frame than I have in the entire blue truck,” Shawn said. “This (new) truck is built for cruising. We already have a Chevy 6.0 engine for it and a 4L80E tranny, so this thing will be like driving a new truck, both in feeling, power, fuel economy and reliability.”
We told you about Shawn’s history at UAA. But in addition to teaching here, he told us he arranged for the engine art on display outside the Automotive Diesel Building along West Campus Drive. He acquired the engine, built the stand and painted the entire thing, but got every piece of it donated to the university. “I’m kind of proud of it,” he said by email.
He also has a good story about “Fat Alice.” That’s a front-end loader that moved snow at UAA for years. According to Shawn, operators at Merrill Field donated it to UAA when it broke down and they failed to fix it. It arrived at UAA on pallets and in pieces. As a student worker, Shawn put it back together and returned it to a useful life.
“It was a Fiat,” he said. But the ‘i’ dropped off, so it was known as “Fat Alice” for years.
Heather’s connections to UAA come mostly as a student. She works today as a data manager for the Department of Natural Resources in the oil and gas division. She started her academic career at Mat-Su College, where she earned a general associate’s degree. Later she earned a bachelor’s in business with a major in management and a minor in economics. Then she went on to earn a master’s in public administration at UAA. Today, she’s working online for her M.B.A. from UAF.
Not to mention all the UAA automotive classes she took for fun. She values the tuition waivers extended to UAA employees and their families, she said. “As long as he is here, it just seems silly not to take classes.”
So comes the end of our happy automotive romance between Heather and Shawn. (She, by the way, is known as fenderbender13 on Myspace, and akchevygirl via email.)
As you might imagine, birthdays and holidays mean one thing, gift-wise: car parts. After a number of parts-buying misadventures, Heather has learned to hand Shawn a catalog and a yellow marker, and only buy him what he specifically asks for.
But one thing she is confident about: He loves his 57 Chevy.
“I’ll bury him in that blue truck,” she says laughing.
This story by Kathleen McCoy originally appeared in Green & Gold News on June 25, 2014.