NASHVILLE, Tenn.-With three pennies in his pocket, H.O. Balls left his rural Tennessee home more than 75 years ago to find his place in life. He ended up in Nashville and founded a school known today as the Nashville Auto-Diesel College (NADC), where young men and women can get their hands dirty while they learn how to repair vehicles.
The one-year school has no fraternities, no football team or homecoming, and keeps such a low profile locally that many Nashville natives don't even know it exists.
But the private school has been training auto technicians since 1919, diesel technicians since 1935 and auto body technicians since 1946. The school predated-by 65 years-an automotive corridor in Tennessee that now includes General Motors Corp.'s Saturn plant, a Nissan plant and numerous parts plants.
Students from all 50 states and 53 foreign countries have attended NADC. More than 1,200 companies employ school alumni, including GM, Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Corp. and John Deere.
``The character of this school centers on turning out quality graduates,'' said Walter Pruitt, director of marketing.
Its 950 students pay $10,700 tuition for 48 weeks of classroom and hands-on shop experience at the 11-acre campus 10 miles north of downtown Nashville.
Students studying to become auto and diesel technicians take courses in transmissions, brakes, engine rebuilding, electrical systems and the like. Those learning auto body repair take courses in areas like welding, frame and structural repair, and painting procedures.
``There's a lot of electronics,'' Mr. Pruitt said. ``We begin with the structure of the atom.''
The school's instructors don't wear tweed sport coats or smoke pipes. But its teachers, numbering some four dozen, have written the 37 textbooks the students use.
NADC has more than $1.7 million in training equipment and has 1,840 cars for students to work on. The Buick Motor Division of GM recently donated a 1993 Buick Park Avenue Ultra for the school's computer training lab. Similarly, John Deere donated four engines to the school.
Yale may boast of having President Clinton as a graduate, but at NADC the bragging focuses on Waddell Wilson, a veteran crew chief on the Winston Cup circuit of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
Another famous grad is Eddie Lanier, also a stock-car racing fixture.
NADC graduates work for trucking companies, automobile agencies, repair shops, fleet owners, heavy equipment agencies, bus lines and construction firms.
The school is now owned by a third-generation member of the Balls family. NADC lists its main competitors as Ohio Diesel in Cleveland, Wyoming Tech in Laramie and Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix, Houston and Chicago.
Mr. Edwards is an Associated Press writer.