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‘Driving for Autism’ down Route 66

Thu., Feb. 27, 2014, midnight

Money raised goes to Spokane Guilds’ School

A former Edwall, Wash., resident is hoping to get more than kicks on a road trip down America’s (former) Main Street.

Nathan Taylor is in the middle of a weeklong trek across the country, following what’s left of Route 66 in a fixed-up 1965 Chevy Impala and raising money for the Spokane Guilds’ School and Neuromuscular Center. The journey pays homage to “Cars,” the favorite movie of Taylor’s autistic nephew and Guilds’ School alumnus Caleb Staires, and his favorite character, a talking tow truck named “Mater.”

“One of his first words was ‘Mater,’ ” said Taylor by phone Wednesday morning, piling into the Impala somewhere in the Oklahoma hinterlands. “He watched ‘Cars’ four or five times a day.”

Staires’ mother, Carly, said her son, now 3, was born prematurely and spent six months in the hospital on a ventilator. When Caleb came home, it was clear there was something wrong.

Her father “thought maybe Caleb was autistic,” Carly Staires said. “I was very upset.”

Staires began looking for places that could help her son. She remembered the Guilds’ School, across the street from her childhood church in the Garland neighborhood. The school accepted Caleb with no waiting or fees, and he attended there for eight months until he aged out of the program, Staires said.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I just saw a huge change in him.”

In between classes and repeated showings of the Pixar animated classic, Staires and her son visited Taylor on the East Coast. Military service took him to Baltimore, where he bought the Impala and fixed it up before meeting a friend in Chicago this weekend to begin the trek.

Taylor said he learned a few things about car repair from his father growing up, but nothing prepared him for getting the dark green muscle car into road-trip shape.

“YouTube was a lifesaver,” Taylor said, laughing. An uncle living in Kalispell helped when online videos could not, he said.

The plan was born several weeks ago, when Taylor thought about taking a road trip and how he could help his sister and nephew. He recently left the military and is taking online courses at the pit stops offering Internet along the highway that will celebrate its 90th birthday in 2016.

“Surprisingly, a lot of places have Wi-Fi these days,” Taylor said.

He’s been using that free Internet at motels and diners to post photos and musings from the road on a blog titled simply, “Drive.” In one picture, Taylor poses with a 1951 International Boom truck in Galena, Kan., sporting big green eyes behind the windshield. The truck was the inspiration for Mater in the “Cars” films.

Ken Daniel, development director at the Guilds’ School, said Taylor approached him with the idea for the fundraiser about a month ago. The school, which caters to children up to age 3 who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities, has seen cuts in funding in recent years.

“It was just pleasing to hear that we have family members that want to help out,” Daniel said. “This is a unique way to do it.”

Taylor said Wednesday the plan is to end up in Arizona, staying at a hotel along the historic highway that provides all its accommodations in wigwams. The calendar has Taylor and a high-school friend along for the ride arriving in Los Angeles by Monday.

Carly Staires said she’s been blown away by Taylor’s generosity.

“He’s an amazing brother, and I’m very proud of him,” she said.

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