Cassie Thurlow (left) and her dad Ian sport matching tattoos to celebrate getting her dream truck on the road together. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

WATERFORD —  Cassie Thurlow dreamed of driving her own truck to high school graduation.

While that is something most teenagers can relate to, in Cassie’s case it is only a small part of her actual dream. She did not just mean to drive her truck, she meant to build it first. And with the help of her dad Ian and a network of local support, she did it.

“I always wanted to do this, and I never really thought I would,” Cassie told the Advertiser Democrat, next to her big red accomplishment on oversized tires. “And then I actually said something about it once, and (my parents) were like, ‘okay, let’s starting looking.'”

“It was about when she got her license and she didn’t want to have to drive mum and dad’s vehicles anymore,” laughed Cassie’s mother, Morgan Thurlow.

The search for her project truck was on. Even a stay in a hospital ICU ward with appendicitis last summer did not get in the way. While Morgan was tending to their daughter through surgery, Ian happened upon a project truck – 150 miles away in Orrington.

Unbeknownst to her, Ian hauled the Volkswagen Passat Cassie had been driving and traded it for an old Chevy with a blown motor under the hood and a replacement motor in the bed. By the time she was released from the hospital the truck was waiting for her at home.


“After about a week, I was ready,” she said. “I was like, ‘we can at least start something, let’s get it apart.”

Cassie Thurlow of Waterford takes a break from working on her truck. Supplied photo

Cassie and Ian started with the front end, taking the grill off and pulling the radiator, motor and transmission out. Then they tackled the motor. Actually, they tackled three motors.

“The engine, the piston let go and went through a cylinder wall, so the block was bad and we had to put a new block in it,” said Ian. “But the block we got with the truck was damaged as well. We ended up going through three motors before we got one.

“And as we tore it apart and started going through it we ran into some rust issues we weren’t expecting. We overcame those, bought parts, fixed it up. Rocker panels, it was all cab rust. Floor pans.”

And how does a high school student deal with a rusted out project truck? By learning to weld.

“My dad taught me basic welding,” Cassie said. “We did that when we were replacing the floor pans.”


For his part, Ian’s job was to guide Cassie. And though he is a commercial truck driver by trade, he is a self-taught mechanic.

“I learned it on my own,” he said. “By being young and hard on equipment and not having the money to pay a mechanic I had to figure out how to fix stuff on my own. This motor we built is my first motor that I have built myself, and I taught Cassie to do it at the same time.”

The two agreed that they worked through a number of stressful nights building her truck, specifically making sure the oil clearances were to spec.

“We had to learn how to use those tools,” Cassie said. “Multiple times before we actually did it.”

“We did a lot of testing on other stuff as we went,” Ian said. “The bad motor in the truck had a good crank so we used it to take measurements and learn how to use the micrometer, writing it down then checking it on a different crank. Testing the bearings, using the internet and teaching ourselves at the same time.”

“She learned a lot about the internal components,” said Morgan.


When they first got the truck running, on April 2, they noticed there was a skip to it even through it idled fine. Out for a test run they found that the transmission would not shift above second gear. Ian decided to send the truck out to a shop, R/K Automotive in Norway, where a number of electronic issues were identified. The truck’s wiring had to be redone. That work done, the next test drive revealed suspension issues.

“It was too high for the control arms,” Cassie said of her first real drive. “It was coming out of the ball joints. So my wheels were going like this (shaking) down the road. The entire truck was vibrating, (my parents) behind me could see the tires going out.”

“Oh boy, it was scary,” Morgan said. “But she did the right thing. She knew something was wrong and pulled over,” and Cassie and Ian tackled the final challenge to make her pick-up road worthy.

A number of local businesses contributed to the Thurlows project truck, including with sponsorships.

A job well done: Cassie Thurlow (rear) of Waterford built her own truck with the mentorship and support of her parents, Ian (left) and Morgan Thurlow. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“They were super proud to have a girl building a truck,” Morgan said. “You don’t hear of it often.”

Those sponsors include Morse Custom Engines and R/K Automotive in Norway; Nate’s Auto in South Paris; and A&D Auto Repair and NAPA in Oxford. A number of family and friends also pitched to support the project with senior graduation gift cards.

Cassie had saved up $3,500 of her own money at the time Ian traded her Volkswagen for the truck, and continued adding money as they worked on it. Including the value of the Passat, the family estimates that the whole project cost around $8,000.

She will drive herself to senior graduation at Gouin Field on June 11 having achieved her dream.

“There were long nights, weekends,” Ian said. “Almost every night after work we’d work on it. I get up two or three in the morning for work and when I’d get home she go, ‘come on dad, let’s go work on my truck!’

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