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Engine's impact went to core

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a six-day series on senior projects, those hurdles some students must pass before they graduate from high school.

When North Medford High School senior Dereck Ruf began thinking about his senior project last fall, he wanted to do something that delved into the real world beyond high school.

I wanted to do a paper looking at society's reliance on oil and gas, he explained. Just think about where we would be if there was no automobile. It has had a tremendous impact.

The mature 18-year-old also wanted to go beyond mere paperwork to working with his hands.

And he wanted it all to run smoothly.

— Literally.

Ruf's research on the impact of the internal combustion engine on society was illustrated by rebuilding the V-8 engine in a 1966 Mustang he bought late last summer.

With guidance by mentor Mike Weston, a local mechanic, Ruf took the engine apart down to the engine block.

I had it bored 30-over, he said, explaining that the cylinders were bored 30 thousandths of an inch wider in diameter.

Then I got pistons that were 30 thousandths of an inch bigger so they fit the new bore, he continued.

The student, who is graduating with a 3.9 GPA, can now talk in-depth about the history of internal combustion engines and how they changed Western civilization.

But, thanks to getting grease under his fingernails and in his hair at times, he is well versed about the importance of individual parts working together to create an efficient machine.

Interest in classic cars comes naturally: His father, Juergen Ruf, had a 1969 Mustang in his youth; an uncle had a '55 Chevrolet.

His father and stepmother, Connie Ruf, live in Medford, as does his mother Karin Tinney.

I've put 115 hours in my actual project, he estimated. I had another 150 hours polishing and fixing it up, but I didn't document those hours. That was really part of my project.

My project was actually just rebuilding the engine, he added. All the work I've done to the car ' beyond rebuilding the engine ' wasn't really part of the project.

In February, a month after meeting the requirement for completing the physical aspect of his senior project, he won an award for his car at the Southern Oregon Rod & Custom Show at the Jackson County Expo.

Unfortunately, he nearly lost his senior project two weeks ago.

It was raining when I was driving home, he recalled, noting it was about 10 p.m. My brother was in front of me; my friend was behind me. I was driving normally, not fast.

While coming around a turn about a block from his home, he hit a slick spot.

The rear end started to shift out and I let off on the gas, reacting to it, he said. Then it hooked the road and, because my front tires were turned because I was reacting to it, it shot me into a tree. It was a freak accident.

Unfortunately, the wreck pitched him forward against the steering wheel, knocking out a tooth. The left front of the car struck a tree, and is now being repaired in a local body shop.

He was cited for reckless driving, but Ruf is contesting the ticket.

I wasn't at fault ' I wasn't going fast at all, he reiterated.

Although the ticket, along with the 25 stitches he received after hitting the steering wheel, was bad enough, the damage to the car upset him more.

I was just sick about it at first, he said. But it's going to be all right.

Ruf, who expects the car to be repaired in a few weeks, plans to keep it when he leaves high school behind.

I want to keep it as a hobby, he said. I like building things but I don't think I want to do anything with engines as a full-time profession.

He plans to enter Southern Oregon University this fall, taking business classes.

Senior projects need volunteers to judge

Students at North Medford, South Medford and Phoenix high schools must complete a senior project to graduate.

The projects require dozens of hours of work outside the classroom, a minimum eight-page paper and a presentation before judges.

The schools need help from community members willing to be judges.

The judges are asked to assess the presentation and the overall project. No expertise is required and guidelines are provided.

Judges are needed from 12:15 to 3:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at North Medford, 12:45 to 3:45 p.m. Thursday and Friday at South Medford and 12:15 to 2:30 p.m. June 2 at Phoenix.

To volunteer, call 779-5318 or 842-3693.

Senior projects involve challenges

To graduate, seniors in several local high schools must complete senior projects that involve at least 35 hours of work.

Moreover, the projects must be something new and challenging to the senior.

As part of that project, seniors are required to write a paper of eight to 10 pages, then give a formal speech, known as the senior boards, before a judges' panel of teachers and volunteers from the community.

The senior boards at North Medford High School will be this week.

There is a lot of energy and excitement and anxiety that day, observed Adriene Hillman, a senior English teacher at North, where the projects are part of the senior English class.

Every year, there are students who work on cars as their senior project but Dereck (Ruf) did it to the nth degree, she said. He has done exceptional work.

Senior projects can be exhausting to teachers, she added. But when you have kids like Dereck, it's a breeze. He really understood the concept of research writing. He didn't just regurgitate facts.

Dereck Ruf holds a photo illustration of his 1966 Ford Mustang created by his brother, Nathan, before the car hit a tree. The North Medford High School student rebuilt the engine as part of his senior project, and plans on repairing and keeping the car. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven