The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Ely’s Lifetime Career in Mechanics

Auto Shop teacher Greg Ely leads the Auto Shop class. Ely has held numerous jobs throughout his life, many of them related to his love for mechanics. Photo by Noah Tsao

Auto Shop teacher Greg Ely’s career has been anything but conventional. From his first job as an electrician’s assistant to his current position as a teacher, Ely has held around 20 jobs, most of them relating to mechanics.

Since his early childhood, Ely was surrounded by machines. His father, who was an electrician, piqued Ely’s interest in automobiles through his work with electronics.
“I was always curious about building stuff, because my dad was always building stuff,” Ely said. “When I was 11 or 12, I wired my room up with switches so I could turn the radio on and off [and] the lights on and off…all by [flipping] switches.”

When Ely was a kid, his aptitude in mechanics was not always put to good use. He and his friend once attempted to ignite a handheld flare and instead blew a hole in the side of his friend’s garage. The fire department had to put the fire out.

“My friend said, ‘Let’s try mixing the flare with lighter fluid!’” Ely said. “Boys have the stupid gene.”

Story continues below advertisement

My friend said, ‘Let’s try mixing the flare with lighter fluid!’…Boys have the stupid gene.-Auto Shop teacher Greg Ely

In high school, Ely worked all sorts of summer jobs. One year he was a roofer and another year he was a backstage helper for a circus. As a senior, he drove a 1948 Peterbilt dump truck to haul dirt at construction sites.

After graduating from high school in 1970, Ely studied geology for two years at the College of San Mateo. During his time there, he worked as a taxi cab driver as a side job.

“I loved that job,” Ely said. “You got to meet some of the nuttiest people [and] the nicest people. Back then if you could handle the people that call for cabs at one o’clock in the morning, you could handle anything.”

In 1972, after completing two years of community college, Ely decided that he wanted to work with airplanes, an interest that dated back to his childhood fascination with mechanics. Because the demand for airplane work was very low in the Bay Area, Ely joined the Air Force as a loadmaster, loading and securing cargo into planes.

Back then if you could handle the people that call for cabs at one o’clock in the morning, you could handle anything. -Auto Shop teacher Greg Ely

When his four-year enrollment service expired in 1976, Ely became a service manager for a racing shop and traveled around the Bay Area training other mechanics in brake, alignment and suspension repairs. This first experience with teaching was far from positive: his students were often rude and unappreciative of his hard work. Tired of the work, Ely cycled through two more jobs as a car mechanic before becoming a mechanic for UPS. He held that position for eight years from 1990 to 1998, a period he looks back on with distaste.

“There are three ways of doing things: the right way, the wrong way and the UPS way,” Ely said. “The UPS policies and the way they treated their employees were just awful.”

Ely’s teaching career took off in 1993, when the LAHS Auto Shop teacher left halfway into the first semester of school. A friend of Ely’s owned a company that matched teachers to schools around the Bay Area. He called Ely, asking him to fill in the empty Auto Shop position and save the program, which was on the verge of collapse due to a lack of students and resources.

“I said, ‘Sure, I’ll take a shot at this,’” Ely said. “When I came in [the Auto Shop room], there was a hoist, one broken car, a few tools and a bunch of crap all over the place.”

By the end of his first semester, Ely had fallen in love with teaching. He threw himself into his position, building the program up to its current size of about 40 students and 16 cars.

Now, 21 years since he first stepped on campus, Ely still enjoys his job as much as when he first began teaching.

“I like the people I work with,” Ely said. “I like the job, it’s a really cool job. I suggest anybody that wants a second career to go into teaching.”

In his next few years at the school before retirement, Ely’s main goal is to expand Auto Shop to include students from all academic and ethnic backgrounds.

“I want to reach out to kids from diverse backgrounds,” Ely said. “I would like to see students come in here that are taking all AP classes and students that are looking to achieve in areas outside of school. I welcome anyone who has a good attitude and loves cars.”


View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All The Talon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Dr. Kevin Foree | Jul 13, 2022 at 9:11 am

    My name is Dr. Kevin Foree PhD. I graduated from Los Altos High in 1998 Mr. Ely was the best guy to educate his students I wish I could call him one day and say thank you for all of his hard work I’m now living in Tustin California and apply much of what I learned from Ely and all of the tireless work in my life today thank you so much to all of the staff who made me the man I am today