Staci Nichols, 27, leaned through the window of her rusted 1964 Ford truck Friday, her wide blue eyes shining through the dim light of the garage.
“The thing that was funny about this truck is that it’s three trucks in one,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a Ford, the engine is GM and the radiator is from a Chrysler.
“When I got it, the driveshaft was welded together and the reserve tank was made of an antifreeze bottle. The air filter was a hubcap. I had a good laugh about that.”
Some people might see the assortment of 50-year-old car parts as a pile of rust, but to Nichols, the truck is something to call her own, and a focus point for her mind as she whiles away the days looking for work.
Unemployed for nearly 15 months, Nichols, a self-proclaimed workaholic, said she has applied for almost 70 jobs.
She got one interview, but she said she was turned down because she is unable to answer phones, having been born deaf.
As she spoke of her struggle and her adopted hobbies, she mouthed a few of the words, but she spoke mainly with her hands, as her friend and housemate, Deena Armstrong, interpreted her sign language.
“It needs new shocks, new brakes, and I need to take the engine out,” she said as she stood in the garage at RJ Service Center, where she spends several hours a week working on the truck. “I need money for the parts. But maybe I’ll just go to the junkyard. I love junkyards anyways because you’ll never know what you’re going to find. Like this truck was junk once.”
Nichols grew up on a ranch in Coburn with her mother and grandparents. She graduated from Mesa State College in 2005 with a degree in psychology and the dream of one day working as an educator for deaf children.
If money weren’t an issue, she’d attend Colorado Christian University, where she was accepted into a master’s program for education years ago.
Instead, since graduation, she worked at and was subsequently laid off from Connell Resources, a contractor in Steamboat Springs, because of the economy.
Since losing her job, Nichols has found ways to keep busy, such as going through her coin collection and looking for rare coins from the 1940s, feeding Armstrong’s horses and keeping in contact with friends.
She also stays invested in the deaf community, but her pastimes can only do so much to limit the frustration.
“I know I have a lot to offer,” she said. “What can I do? Right now, I’m just sorting money. Pennies, mostly.”
Creating a community
In the time she’s been unemployed, Nichols has taken it upon herself to create the community she knows the deaf deserve.
She moved to Craig three years ago because she thought it had the perfect balance of country life and recreation.
She also knew a few deaf people in the area, but she knew there were more.
Using her warm personality and love of socializing, she has begun to draw them out into the community.
“There are enough deaf here to set up that community,” she said. “A lot of them are hidden, but I’ve been finding them. That’s the hardest part.”
Although she understands why a deaf person might want to isolate themselves from society because of difficulty communicating and the potential for discrimination, Nichols said that’s a road she’ll never take.
“I don’t want to be hidden,” she said. “That would be too boring. There’s too much to life to stay isolated. There are some who choose that lifestyle, because being deaf can be challenging.
“But I really believe God doesn’t want us to be isolated.”
Last summer, she helped organize a deaf social that attracted people from across the state. She hopes to set up more meetings and guest speakers to draw the deaf out of the shadows.
In November, she began teaching an American Sign Language class for both deaf and hearing people, which started off with 24 students.
About a dozen finished the first semester, and Nichols plans to start classes up again in a few weeks.
She hopes to show the community that the deaf are just as engaged, while bridging the gap between the deaf and the hearing.
So far, Nichols has not been tempted to expand her job search outside Craig. She said if the economy is bad everywhere, she might as well stay in the place she has made her home.
The place where she can drive out north of town on a blindingly bright day and feed carrot treats to her small white horse, Little Bit.
A place where she can go to church on Sundays with her deaf friends, and where she’ll someday feel the satisfaction of fixing up a ’64 Ford tuck.
“It’s a blessing what we have here in Craig,” she said. “The people for one. They don’t seem to be afraid of me. They look at me and say, ‘Hi.’ It’s a good network of people.”
Although times are difficult professionally, Nichols said her found faith, friends and a simple smile have gotten her through.
“Friends help,” she said. “The horses for one, but friends like Deena. It’s the hard times when you really learn the most. Life’s too short and you have to enjoy what you’ve got. And I have.
“It’s all a blessing.”