ESTEVAN - How many people do you know in the Estevan area who know how to drive a standard vehicle these days? And how many can actually fix it or any other vehicle on their own? How many of them are under 18?
And finally, how many of them are women?
The Mercury spoke to two young and talented local women, who are breaking the bias by their choices, lives and examples, every day proving that there is nothing a man can do that a woman couldn't if that's what she wants. However, even today on that path, they still face many challenges that no man encounters.
“My vehicles are my patients”
Katrina Zinchuk, a Grade 12 student at the Estevan Comprehensive School, said earlier in life she liked painting and softball, but as she grew older, she realized that, first, she couldn't pass by an old car without her heart racing, and second, the drama that often comes with work in what's considered women's fields, is something she doesn't tolerate.
Her love and interest in old vehicles started with a '68 Buick, which is still a project to accomplish. The first trial was her dad's old '98 Geo Metro, a standard vehicle – the first big challenge she overcame.
"I got my learner's licence on my birthday, and then I had softball that day. And in Estevan, to get to the softball diamonds, there's a little hill, it's not much of a hill at all, just a tiny little hill. And in a standard, you need to learn how to do the clutch, brake and the gas for when you need to drive. And I didn't figure that out yet. So I just sat there with my foot on the clutch in gear and my other foot on the brake. And I just cried because I couldn't make it up the hill. And I was so tempted to get out of the vehicle and just walk and leave," Zinchuk recalled.
But her father encouraged her to keep going, learn and never give up. And she did, developing her interest into a potential career path. The next project was a Buick Rainier, which sat for seven years and needed to be taken care of before it could be any good for the new driver.
"I've done numerous coolant changes, like rad flushes, I've replaced the radiator. I've replaced numerous coolant hoses and whatnot, and coolant housings, thermostats and the number of bolts I've broken on that vehicle. I've cried more over that vehicle than the boys and math. But I enjoyed working on it because it's a process and it makes you think," Zinchuk explained.
Zinchuk has taken a mechanics class every semester except for Grade 10, always passing it with the high 90s. As a girl, quite often she was in an absolute minority in that class. In Grade 11 she was the only girl with 16 boys. And even though it turned somewhat intimidating at times, she kept pushing to learn, prove herself and achieve her dreams. She learned to be a problem solver, working on her own projects and vehicles, and inspired others to take on the challenges.
Zinchuk is now driving a standard Dodge truck, which belonged to her grandfather and before that was used in the pipelining industry. It’s another big work in progress.
"I have a list in my binder, and half of it is done and half of the stuff on it needs to be done," Zinchuk said.
"My vehicles are my patients. If I need to replace a hose for my vehicle to be operating, then I replace the hose. It's like when (my mom, who is a nurse) needs to put an IV in a patient for them to be stable and whatnot," she explained her feelings about her projects.
With mom and other women in the family being nurses, that career path was an obvious and wanted option for Zinchuk since she was little, however, after looking closer at it, she realized it wasn't really her field.
"Originally, I was going to be a nurse, I wanted to be a nurse because my mom's a nurse, my aunt used to be a nurse. Many females in my family have been nurses. It seemed interesting. And then, in Grade 9, I went for a job shadow with my mom as a nurse. And I followed her around for 12 hours, and I was like, I don't know if this is for me," Zinchuk recalled.
"I could easily go for nursing, but this [mechanics] is what I love to do. So, would you rather do a job where you're miserable the entire time? Or would you do a job where you're happy?"
A month later she went to job shadow at Senchuk Ford and then to another shop, which does heavy-duty work in Weyburn, and her mind was set.
"That's where I settled. You can't operate in today's society without needing mechanics. You can drive from point A to point B, but if your vehicle breaks down, or if you get a flat tire or tire rod snaps, and if you have no mechanical knowledge, who's going to fix it?" Zinchuk said.
ECS mechanics teacher Devyn Burant also played a big role in helping Zinchuk understand the trade and feel confident in chasing her dream.
"He'd narrow it down … He'd get you actually engaged. And he made it fun to learn about, he'd find fun ways to learn about it by showing videos or getting you to do it yourself. And I think that really helped," Zinchuk said.
Often when she says that she is going to be a mechanic, people take it with surprise. There was resistance towards that decision even among some of her family members.
"I'd say people only got two ways, they either absolutely love the idea that I'm going for it and it's male-dominated and I'm challenging it, or people absolutely hate the idea. And there's nothing really in the middle," Zinchuk said. "But I've learned to not really care what people think at all, because, at the end of the day, it's what makes you happy. So, it makes me happy."
Not only has Zinchuk decided she would do her best to learn everything about vehicles, but she also inspired others around her to learn how to drive a standard and also get deeper into the mechanical part of owning a vehicle.
"I feel like part of my love for my vehicles went over to some of my friends. One of them is now taking mechanics. And then the other one, she's like, 'Do you know how to fix this? Or do you know how to fix this? Or how would I do this?'" Zinchuk shared. She now is the president of the ECS auto club and keeps sharing her knowledge and love, inspiring and encouraging other females to do what's best for them.
She added that even if her girlfriends won't become mechanics, having some knowledge will protect them from being taken advantage of in this still often male-dominated field. Besides, she hopes that by joining the industry she will help diversify it and make it better.
"My aunt, for example, was terrified to go to a dealership. She always feared that as a woman she was going to get the bill through the roof because they were going to charge her for every little thing. And I also took that into consideration. As a female, if I go into that trade, and then I say work on another female's vehicle, and I tell her what I did, then she won't be as scared. It's weird to say it, but if you have a female talking to a female and then working on her vehicle, then they're not going to be as paranoid that your bill is going to be through the roof," Zinchuk explained.
She's been conditionally accepted into four trade schools – three are for light-duty and one heavy-duty – and is looking into a possible apprenticeship. Zinchuk said that knowledge is her power when it comes to breaking the bias.
"I've done engine overhauls. I've rebuilt engines from scratch in mechanics class, I've put pistons into cylinders. I've got to replace the differential in my truck. I've taken apart the differential, I've taken apart drive shafts, I've done all of that. And when people are like, 'Oh, well, can you show me?' I'm like, 'Okay, sure, give me some tools and some time and I can show you,'" Zinchuk shared.
"[When I joined the school auto club for the first time] I was scared of asking questions because of judgment. It was common knowledge to them, but it was not common knowledge to me. So I want to get more people, Grade 9s and Grade 10s involved."
She hopes to one day have her own shop and keep growing her passion for vehicles, while also making this trade more open and available for other women.
"I was scared at the start, but once you start talking to people, and once you actually ask questions to people that are willing to teach you, then they will teach you. And I would love to teach more people and involve more people, especially females … And to other people, I would say, don't be scared to ask questions, go straight for it, don't just dip your toes in the water, go full-on into the water. And once you get into it, it's extremely fun," Zinchuk said.
"You can do anything"
For Jessica Haygarth, interest in old vehicles is almost a family tradition shared across generations, which she inherited in full.
"My whole family is an old classic car, muscle car family. There are about six classic cars in our driveway right now," Haygarth shared in the interview with the Mercury. "I've been raised around car shows, going outside and helping my dad fix up whatever vehicle needed fixing."
Haygarth is also a Grade 12 student at the ECS. She said she is working towards becoming a mechanic and plans on going to school for heavy-duty or ag-tech mechanics.
She said the vision of her becoming a mechanic appeared and started growing in her early teens alongside the growing interest in vehicles.
"I like the style of the cars. The newer cars are nice, but you can never get anything like an old car again. And anyone can keep a car running, but the real people keep the old ones going. There's so much evolving in new vehicles.
“Say you're to look in a classic car engine bay. It's usually just a beautiful motor sitting there. But in newer vehicles, there's a bunch of plastic or electronic components. It's just something about the cars that draws me towards them, I want to keep them going," Haygarth shared.
Being around cars, learning about vehicles and doing her best to keep them going has always felt natural for Haygarth, but she said being a girl in the guys' trade, she often runs into prejudice. She recalled how when she was getting her credit hours at an ag dealership, she was constantly questioned about her career choice.
"There's one guy who was always questioning me, and then the two other ones questioned me sometimes. And it's really hard because when I was doing my hours there, I was a little girl and I was constantly proving myself like, yes, I want to be here. I was asked several times, don't I want to become a doctor, don't I want to be a lawyer, I should get a desk job. This job is too dirty and smelly for a girl [they said]. And I continuously told them that I wanted to be there, I wasn't being paid to go there. I wasn't being told or forced to go there,” Haygarth shared.
“I wanted to be there. And it was done on my own time. If I didn't want to do that, I wouldn't be working so hard towards it. And that was just heartbreaking because I wanted to be there. And I don't think they understood that.”
When her abilities were questioned, she would respond by just doing things. And even though sometimes it wasn't for her best, she often felt she had to do it to prove that she had the right to be where she was.
"There was a bunch of motors, just engine blocks, V-6. They're sitting there. And they had to be moved from one side of the shop to the other. And lots of people teamed up in pairs to do this, but I carried one by myself across. And I think I surprised a bunch of people because I was told that I probably can't do it, that it'd be too much. So I just made it my personal mission to prove them wrong," Haygarth said as an example.
Every time she is questioned, she keeps proving people wrong, but she also said it does tear her down.
"It makes me question the fact that if this is going to be like it is all the time, do I bother trying? But I want to do it, so I don't want to quit on it."
While there are more girls joining mechanics or welding classes, the majority of the students there are boys, and Haygarth said that some girls are "almost too scared to take those classes because there are so many guys." But she said that focusing on her own goals and knowing what she is capable of doing helped her get through those fears.
"Don't focus on anything that anyone says. It hurts at the time if they say something that's going to try to tear you down. But I think the factor is that they're trying to make it seem like you can't do it, but you definitely can. There's no reason you should have to stop because somebody said that you can't do it because you are a girl. There's absolutely no reason that you should be afraid of it because you're a girl because you typically can do anything that you set your mind to if you're determined to accomplish it," Haygarth said.
She currently works at a place that dismantles vehicles, which is a learning curve in her life that is helping her understand better what she's doing. One day Haygarth wants to open up her own heavy-duty shop and have a side shop, where she could keep rebuilding old vehicles.
"I am in the process of trying to rebuild my truck, and hopefully I can get that done," Haygarth said, adding that she is currently restoring a 1964 Ford half-tonne.
"The truck was actually my great grandpa's truck. And it's passed on in the family. It sat for about 15 years out in a friend's field. And so I brought it out to my house in the summer of last year to do a full restoration on it."
She said when she set her mind on going into mechanics of some sort, all her family was really supportive, which made it easier for her to keep following her dreams.