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Our Illinois 4-H Story

When life gives you lemons, build a jeep

Carl Schmidgall knows how to take a bad situation and make it better.

His sister, Korri, wrecked her Jeep when she hit a patch of black ice coming home from basketball practice. She was fine, but the Jeep was totaled. It sat in the machine shed at home for two years before Carl decided to rebuild it, bigger and better.

Step one was to put the vehicle back together and see if it could be safely driven. Carl rebuilt one axle, fixed the transfer case, rebuilt the brakes, and worked on the body panels. After the local frame shop agreed the Jeep could be aligned, Carl's work began in earnest.

"I knew I wanted to make it longer," the 16-year-old said, "so I cut it in half and lengthened the frame 28 inches." He built the cab and added a new roll cage. He made the bottom of the Jeep to fit the hard top. Finally, he built the flatbed and added the wood deck.

The project took all winter. He worked a bit each night after basketball practice and on the weekends. "I drive it every day," the Dee-Mack High School junior said.

Though Carl entered the Jeep as his 4-H welding project, the work encompassed a range of skills, including woodworking, electrical, mechanical, paint, fabrication, and engineering. U of I 4-H Youth Development Specialist Alvarez Dixon was the welding superintendent when Carl drove the Jeep onto the fairgrounds and parked it for exhibition. "This wasn't just a two- or three-day project," Dixon said, "and it involved more than just welding. Carl had multiple and complicated systems he had to negotiate."

Dixon said the work exemplified the manufacturing process and showed how welding fits into that process. "Carl didn't just restore the vehicle, but he changed and improved it by adding a flatbed to the back, and he extended the wheelbase."

Carl may have drawn inspiration from his family. His grandfather received a '56 Chevy Belair on his wedding day, which he later made into a truck. His father took his sister's Ford Maverick and turned it into a flatbed truck. You might say they are a family used to "making the best better."

Carl plans to take over the family farm one day and hopes to improve his engineering skills at college.


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.