In 1977 I had a ’68 Camaro which had factory air conditioning. It was not working when I bought the car but at the time it was the least of my worries. Over time I transform the Camaro to the way I liked it, more horsepower, stronger 4 speed transmission and better exterior paint. I finally decided it was time to get the air conditioner working so I pulled the compressor off and took it to a good friend’s house. I knew that he was a real pro when it came to car performance which included air conditioning. Mr. Upton Lackey opened his front door in response to my knock and saw me standing there holding the A6 compressor. “Can you teach me to rebuild this?” I asked. He laughed and said, “yes I can. I tell you what, why don’t you bring that to the air conditioning class that I am teaching at the College of the Mainland next Tuesday and you can join my class to rebuild that for you.” “I will be there! What time?” I asked. “Class starts at 6:00 pm but if you show up around 5:30 we can set up one of the work benches with everything we will need to rebuild it. I will pick up a rebuild kit and all you will owe is what is on that receipt.” “Man, that sounds like a great deal!” I responded.

I showed up at the automotive garage where they taught auto mechanics at the College. I parked the Camaro nearby, got out and opened the trunk to pick up the compressor, then I thought, ‘I had better see where I need to take it before carrying it around everywhere’ before closing the trunk lid. I walked into the garage but did not see Mr. Lackey. I then went into the hallway to look around. I finally found him writing notes on the white board in preparation for the class. I walked in and said, “Hi Mr. Lackey!” “Hey Bill, how are things today?” he responded. “…..wait, you are not in my class.” I said, “Yeah, I brought that A6 compressor for the class to rebuild.” “That’s right. I did pick up that rebuild kit, so we are good to go. Do you know if the clutch is good on it?” “Yes, it clicks open and close in response the to AC switch. The compressor is so tight that the belt just screams over the pulley. I think it can be rebuilt.” “Well, I guess we will find out.” He said. “Go get that compressor and bring it here. I will show the class some things about it before we dive in to tear it down.”

I walked out to the Camaro, opened the truck, grabbed a couple of red rags, and picked up the compressor. Closed the trunk with my elbow and walked back the garage. I saw a metal cart so I thought I would steal it and carry the compressor with that. I pushed the cart into the classroom and when Mr. Lackey saw me, he said, “Good, you found the cart. Put at the front of the room.” After parking the cart where he wanted it, I found a seat at the back of the class. I figured that since I was not a paying student I should sit on the back row this evening.

Class started with about ten guys ready to continue learning about automotive air conditioning. As Mr. Lackey started his class he went over some material from where they left off from a previous class. I thought it was funny how he never referred to a car as a car but as a vehicle. They way he pronounced it was veeehhhical. I made myself not laugh since I found that pronunciation so funny. After his short speech to the class, he ended it with “…..clear as mud?” He had to go back and explain a few things until most of the guys understood his lesson. I found the lecture fascinating and understood most of what he taught.

Mr. Lackey shifted gears and said, “We have a project to work on tonight. Bill, our guest tonight, has brought a GM A6 compressor for us to rebuild. I will walk you through it on rebuilding this compressor, but you all will do the work. That is how you learn best, is to get your hands dirty.”

One of the students pushed the cart with the compressor on it as he followed the class while we all walked to the garage. There was a steel topped table out in the middle of the garage that had the rebuild kit along with all the tools needed for the rebuild. Mr. Lackey stood on one side of the table as he explained all the details of how the compressor works. He had one of the students start taking the compressor apart while he explained everything we saw. Before long the compressor was exploded into smaller parts all over the table. Mr. Lackey said that this was rebuild-able. Before this there was a 50/50 chance it was not rebuild-able since he did not know any history of the compressor. He went on to say that he had another A6 stashed in a cabinet that he knew was rebuild-able and that he had that as a back up plan if this one turned out bad.

As the evening went on the compressor was reassembled with the new parts. Every student did his part in the assembly. Once it was back together the compressor was mounted to a test stand and hooked up to the test AC system. It was vacuumed then charged with R12. Mr. Lackey turned on the electric motor that spun the pulley on the compressor. He flipped a switch that activated the clutch and in short time cold air was blowing out of the vent on the stand.

After letting the students play around with the mock-up ac system they evacuated the Freon into a large tank and removed the compressor. The next day I installed the compressor in the Camaro and got the air conditioning working. That was the first time I felt cold air coming out of the dash vents.

The next day I stopped by Mr. Lackey’s classroom hoping he would be there. He was. “I was thinking, since I am a student here, can I take this class next semester?” Mr. Lackey looked from what he was doing and smiled, “You bet! Have you had lunch yet?” “Not yet” I responded. “I am going over to the snack bar here on campus to grab a burger. Want to join me?” “Sure!”
We sat at a table eating our hamburgers telling each other our car stories. It was fun to talk about modifying cars. He said, “I like your Camaro, but I what would do is get rid of the chrome strips around the windshield and windows and paint those places the body color. Also, think about pulling that small block out and dropping a big block in there. That will really wake up that car.” I agreed about the big block but was not so sure about removing the chrome strips.

After a while I said, “When I was in junior high, we had to ride the bus to the old high school, where you were the principle, to switch busses to go home. One time when I was waiting for the bus home I heard you on the pa system at the school and you were reading the riot act about a group of kids who had done something earlier that day. I was afraid to ever meet you because of the way you sounded over that pa system.” Mr. Lackey laughed, “Yeah, it was tough keeping some of those kids in line. Teaching in college is a whole lot easier. Students pay to be here and want to learn.”

I ended up taking the air conditioning class the next semester and made better grades there than in my other basic classes. After passing that class we were ‘certified’ for five years to work on car air conditioners. I learned a lot that semester. I think it had more to do with having the best teacher teaching that class.
A few years later, I had a Corvette. One time while at home the doorbell rang. Mr. Lackey was standing there with his big grin. “Can I borrow your Corvette? I want to take my wife out on a date.” I said “Sure!” and handed him the keys. Mr. Lackey was the only person I would let borrow the Corvette because I knew if he found anything wrong with it, he would fix it before bringing it back.

Mr Lackey died in a plane crash a few years later. I was walking into our local grocery store when the headline on the front page of the paper in a newspaper stand caught my eye. I bought the paper and quickly read the story. He was flying a twin engine airplane in East Texas when he ran out of fuel. The aircraft was over a horizon full of pine trees so there was nowhere to land. Mr. Lackey died along with his wife when they hit the trees. Reading that brought me to tears. I have not had many 'best friends' in my life but he was one of them. I still miss him after all these years.