Two Longs and a Short: The Beginning, Part 2

In the first blog post of this series (see part 1 here) , we left off with a 14-year-old boy running away from home. What does this have to do with welding, you might ask? Plenty! Just stick with me here.

Okay, where was I? Oh yes – every welder has to get their start somewhere. (Cue back in time music)…

After crossing the Continental Divide on his bike in late October of 1971, Gary stayed with his mom in Deer Lodge for a couple of weeks. His dad came and got him and Gary didn’t try anymore attempts at crossing the Divide alone. But in January of that following year, he told his dad he wanted to move to Deer Lodge permanently. Two of his brothers were already there, as well as his two sisters. He wanted to join them and live with his mom. So his dad bought him a bus ticket and took him to the bus station, and on January 22nd, 1972 at the ripe old age of 15, Gary headed to Deer Lodge. His mom picked him up at his destination and thus began his new life.

0402191517_Film1 B
Gary (center) and most of his family just a year or two before this story took place.

He was enrolled in school in Deer Lodge and, this town being a very small one, everyone knew each other and he began to make friends there. In fact, some of the people he had known in Helena were now in Deer Lodge, including some school friends. His junior high principle from Helena was now his high school principle! Small world.

Oh Good Gravy

Trust me, this is integral to how Gary became a welder, albeit in more of a round about way. It was a this critical time in his teen years that he began to explore his more creative side. This started at home, naturally, and with a medium as common as Tuesday: food.

His mom was a great cook, and being a working woman, she encouraged her kids to learn to cook. So Gary took to it and even developed a few favorite recipes of his own. After school, Gary would help watch his younger sisters and often did the cooking if his mom was at work. His specialty? Potatoes! He would take a huge pot of boiled potatoes, mash them and add in homemade gravy, mix it all together and sometimes throw in some corn or other veggies to kick it up a notch. Then he would fry up the leftovers the next morning for breakfast. To this day, his specialty is potatoes, fried nice and crisp (he really makes the most amazing hash browns, mashed potatoes and also potato salad). He also could make a mean batch of spaghetti.

Basically, he was a master of the starches. Well, isn’t every growing high school boy? Simple starches are rather demonized today, but way back in the olden days, they kept many a parent of teen boys out of the poor house.

Simple starches…kept many a parent of teen boys out of the poor house.

One day after school, he decided to make a home style feast – fried chicken, potatoes, gravy and corn. His sister Kathy helped him make dinner. They fried the chicken, then used the leftover grease and fried bits to make a gravy. He used a large pot to make the gravy in. After mixing the ingredients together, it turned out too watery. He stirred in some flour to thicken it, only he added too much and it was now gooey. So he thinned it out some, but it ended up being a little too thin. He again added some more flour…you get the picture. This continued until he had a sizable amount of gravy. They all sat down to dinner – it was just the kids this night. Everyone finished up the food and nothing was left but some corn and a lot of gravy. By the time dinner was over, the gravy had congealed to a near-solid mass.

He figured no one would eat the gravy, so he threw the leftover corn in the goo and planned to dump it out. But first, he left it sitting on the counter and went to watch TV with his siblings. They weren’t expecting their mom until late and didn’t know when their step-dad Andy would be home…

A little while later, their step-dad did come home. He was standing in the kitchen, leaning against the counter with weary expression and his eyes closed. At some point, he spied the pot of gravy. Having had a little too much to drink, he couldn’t tell that the concoction on the counter WAS NOT mashed potatoes with gravy already mixed in. He started dishing up himself a generous helping. Gary and Kathy saw him from the living room and looked at each other, but no one said a word. He finished his food, commented on how good it was and then went to bed. As soon as his step-dad was out of the room, Gary sprang from the couch, made a beeline for the gravy and dumped it in the burning barrel outside.

The next morning, his step-dad was asking where the mashed potatoes were, because those were the best mashed potatoes he had ever eaten! In fact, he had dreamed about those potatoes and kept wishing he had had seconds. Gary explained to him that he had thrown them out, since he didn’t think anyone would like them. To which his step-dad replied “You should have told me. I would have eaten it all!”

They kept to themselves the real ingredients of those wonderful “mashed potatoes”, not wanting to possibly incite any parental wrath.

Shop Class

…and auto mechanics.

Outside of the kitchen, there was high school shop class, in which Gary learned many skills. They started out in wood shop making various items from wood, then went on to acrylics, then wiring a house, then welding, machining and auto mechanics. In fact, they learned how to machine metal on a big lathe that had once been on a World War II battleship! The automotive part was fun – they learned how to tear down engines, put them back together, make them run and do a dyno test on them. The school had a small dynamometer at that time.

For the welding portion of shop class, the students had to start out by welding plates with an oxy-acetylene torch. They couldn’t advance to arc welding until they had passed a 100% penetration and visual test. Then they could graduate on to stick welding (they didn’t have wire welders).

Outside of shop class, welding was put on the back burner in pursuit of whatever employment was available in a small town. Gary worked a variety of odd jobs, including at a grain elevator, in an auto mechanic shop, cleaned rail cars for the railroad, detailed cars at Downing Chevrolet and the occasional engine or car repairs at home.

Life After High School

After high school, Gary got a job at the Louisiana Pacific Sawmill for a time. He then met his future wife, Laurie. That marked a new era in his life and everything changed again! He started going to the same youth group that she went to. That’s when he experienced a miracle, but more on that in another post.

While Gary and Laurie were engaged and first married, he took another job at a place called Warm Springs, Montana. It’s not too far from Deer Lodge and was the site of the state mental infirmary for many years. He was a grounds keeper at the infirmary and saw many interesting things while there.

Colstrip plant, circa 1980

Eventually, Gary started working for Montana Power as a property maintenance man painting and fixing up their houses to be sold. He then graduated to working in the warehouse. After working for Montana Power for a couple of years, he quite and went to work for a rancher as a ranch hand. That provided a bit of variety, but the pay was rather slim. Gary moved on and found a job working for Rosebud County in Montana as a welder. At last, time to put those welding skills learned in shop class to work!

After the county job, he moved on to becoming a boilermaker at the Colstrip Power Plant. A few years later, he moved his little family to Wyoming and got a job at a welding shop in Gillette. After a few years of working for that business, he decided to be his own boss in 1989 and Gary’s Welding was born. The rest, as they say, is history. It seemed that he was cut out to be an entrepreneur.

That was nearly 30 years ago. Still boggles the mind that all that time has passed in basically the blink of an eye.

Oh, and…

never underestimate high school shop class or a pot of gravy.

GWInc.

Welding DIY – Setting up Your First Welding Shop

Here are 4 Shop Must-Haves You Can Make Yourself

So, have you seen the little DIY welding projects you can make out of horseshoes or rebar? Of course you have!! Google “DIY Welding Projects” and at least a few pictures of horseshoe and or rebar projects are bound to appear. They’re cute, too.

But I’m not talking about those here.

Imagine with me the following scenario, if you will. You have thought about setting up a welding shop…you have the welder and the necessary tools, bottles and equipment needed to weld. You may have a little experience under your belt and are looking to perhaps start a welding business or just have a shop at home for small repairs or farm/ranch maintenance.

Here are 4 pieces of equipment you really must have when setting up your shop – that you can make yourself. See it as getting some practice in.

#1 – Welding Table

First things first: you will need a welding table. Why this is first might be obvious, but maybe not. You will use a welding table to do just about every other welding project on. Some people get by with pipe stands, and a few don’t need a table at all due to the sheer size of their welding projects. But trust me, get to building that table. If nothing else, you can stack all your equipment on it until you build some shelving (see point #4 below) 😉

The “aged” surface of an old hand-me-down table

A welding table can be as simple as some square tube and some plate. You don’t even need casters or wheels yet, although those are nice to have – add them later. If cost is an issue, you can use scrap or re-purpose a table by removing the wood top, as you will see in the video below. Remember if using scrap or modifying something premade – a sturdy, well-made welding table will last a long time. They take a beating!!

Here are a couple of YouTube videos for ideas on an inexpensive table:

  • https://youtu.be/gPkXO3QqMlE –Scrap Metal Welding Table (By the way, we always recommend that you wear good quality leather or cut-proof gloves and of course protective eye-wear when grinding or cutting…because #bettersafethansorry).
  • https://youtu.be/qwBvv3J7hvo – Welding Table Built from Scrap (this video is by a young kid – super impressed as he builds his own welding table, with a little help from Dad!)

If you have a little more money to spend on a welding table, you might look into the innovative and nice-looking Certiflat table kits. You can watch how one is made here: https://youtu.be/31L4VTfFH1A.

#2 – Bottle Cart

Second things second: You will want a bottle cart. Why? Because, gas cylinders are HEAVY and they are EXPENSIVE! Given their height (full-sized bottles), weight and narrow footprint, they are easy to knock over…and you don’t want to accidentally knock one over. Not because they will automatically do what they do in movies – turning into a missile and shooting off across the floor to cause pandemonium and massive explosions – but because your foot would be there to cushion it and that wouldn’t feel very good.

I mean, they could cause some damage and even an explosion if the valve were sheared off. But that is a bit rarer than Hollywood would lead us to believe. But we’ll leave all that to MythBusters.

Store-bought bottle cart with modifications

The bottle cart can be as simple as buying a dolly and having a strap across it to secure the bottle/cylinder to the dolly. You can also buy bottle carts that aren’t too expensive. That was super easy – you’re welcome!

Or…

You can get fancy if you have both the time and inclination. You can build something a little more deluxe that will hold the oxygen and acetylene bottles and also have a place to wind the hose around to keep it tidy and out of the way. Another option if you do most of your work in the field is to have a bottle rack built into your truck bed, but that is for another post!

Below you will find some ideas for bottle carts…

  • Here is a webpage that lists materials and gives step by step instructions on how to make a cart for small bottles: https://metalwebnews.com/howto/oxy-cart/cylcart.html
  • And here is a page that describes and provides a materials list for a custom cart for either small or full-sized cylinders: http://www.thegatesofdawn.ca/wordpress/posts/2009/07/26/welding-cart/
  • For our Pinterest fans out there – news flash – Pinterest is not just for interior decorating ideas, food or clothing! Oh, you already knew that? Hmm…{checking phone and whispered consultations off stage}… Well, anyways. There are many bottle cart ideas to be found there. YouTube also has plenty of videos on modified dollies or hand trucks made into custom bottle carts.

#3 – Metal Rack

A metal rack is a must-have if you are going to keep any pipe, square tube, angle, plate, sheet or round stock in supply. It also works well for your bigger pieces of scrap. Sure, you can lean these things against the wall in your shop, but negotiating some heavy plate or a stack of pipe to get to “that one piece I need” could unleash a metal avalanche. And then where would you be? For safety’s sake, make yourself that metal rack!

Metal racks come in just about any configuration you desire. Take into consideration the following:

  • Where will it go – inside or outside your shop?
  • How much space can you dedicate to not just the rack itself, but the pipe and larger metal pieces that will be on it?
  • Will you use scrap to make it, or will you buy material?
  • Do you want it to be stationary or do you want it on wheels?

In our welding shop, we have a large hoist that is set up on a gantry frame, which fits perfectly over one of the shop bays. It just made sense to add some channel and some brackets to one side of the frame to serve as a metal rack. The lighter stuff goes up above and the heavier plate and sheets go down below, where the brackets keep them in place and the pieces lean against the frame. It’s out of the way and easy to access at the same time.

See below for some cool ideas on various metal racks…

#4 – Shelving

Another necessary item is shelving. This will be for your equipment, supplies and tools that aren’t on carts, on your truck or in tool boxes. Shelving is perhaps the easiest to make of all 4 of these items. All you need is some sturdy angle iron and a few sheets of plywood cut to your measurements. Voila! A shelf…a thing of beauty that you made yourself (Dr. Seuss would be proud).

Some will opt to have store-bought shelving, which is fine. Whichever option you choose, make sure it is sturdy and will be able to withstand life in a welding shop. Because of the sparks and need for durability, metal really is the best option for a welding or fab shop. Remember to make sure the shelf is stable and won’t tip forward when items are stacked on it.

Another option to consider for your storage needs are metal cabinets. These are nice because they have doors and usually a way to lock those doors to secure your tools, supplies and equipment. The doors also help keep things looking tidy, and keep the dust out. And a plus is that metal cabinets can sometimes be found at auctions for fairly cheap!

We have a variety of shelving and cabinets in our shop. The ones that we made are of quite generous proportions and barring an earthquake, those hummers are not moving. They are made of two things – angle iron welded into a frame and plywood set on that frame as shelves. We did break the “metal only rule” in adding plywood, but these shelves are tucked away from any welding and sparks.

Other items to consider in setting up your shop

  • If you don’t have one already, you will want to acquire a bench vise at some point. I’m talking about the really beefy ones that will last for the next 500 years and the same ones that often disappear from the back of your work truck while it’s parked in the welding supply store parking lot. Ask us how we know…
Bench vise
  • An anvil may come in handy.
  • Another storage solution frequently found in shops across the country is the tool box. These are very nice to have…just ask your nearest tool rep. They can be locked, and besides having large drawers, they also usually have smaller drawers for the little items like torch tips or various smaller tools and supplies. Based on the size of the tool box, these can cost you a pretty penny. But expect to own at least one over the course of your welding career.
  • Carts!! If you do a lot of welding in the shop, you will most likely acquire a cart to keep the welder on. You can of course make this, or you can buy it. You may have beat me to it and already bought one when you bought your welder. If not, there are many options to choose from in just about any price range you desire (many of these welding carts will have a place for bottles on them, too). Here’s a fun and informative series on a DIY welding cart:
  • Plasma torch – the pièce de résistance!! The thing all welders really should have at some point. They are rather spendy, of course, but so very nice to have. Save up your pennies for this item, because when you see how nicely they work, you will want one.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are many other items that will make setting up your welding shop a little easier…if you think of any I have forgotten, comment below!

GWInc.

Two Longs and a Short: The Beginning, Part 1

Every welder gets their start somewhere.

Whether they grew up working in their Dad’s shop as a young boy or girl, or whether they learned the skill sometime later in life, they had to start somewhere.

I remember distinctly being a young’un of about 6 or 7, standing in the welding shop my Dad worked in at the time. The smells, the sights, the sounds of the welding and grinding and hammering – it was loud and echo-y and a far cry from my cozy home. But it was exciting, too. In a shop setting like this, one could create nearly anything that came to mind!

Even now, when I smell the distinct smell of a welding shop, it’s a bit comforting. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t care for the smoke at all. But I did come to really like the piquant aroma that comes from grinding and buffing out metal. It’s sharp and burnt and well…INDUSTRIAL. It basically smells like accomplishment. I’m thankful for this heritage. It has cultivated in me a respect for those who earn a living by old-fashioned labor.

I guess I always took it for granted that my Dad was a welder…for all I knew as that 6 or 7-year-old, he had been born with a welding helmet and striker in hand. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. So how did he get his start in welding?

But first, a little bit of back story to how it all began…

My dad, Gary, was born in a small, picturesque Montana city – the capital, in fact. And when I say “city”, remember, we are talking about the wild, rural west of America. In 1960, Helena was at about 20,000 people. Today it’s up around 31,000. That is a bonafide city to us way out here in the wilderness. Billings, MT at 104,000 population actually fits the bill of “city” better, but we won’t quibble over little details like that.

downtown panorama jan 1974 skip millegan s (1)

Downtown Helena, January 1974 – from helenahistory.org

Gary and his brothers were raised primarily by their dad and step-mom. Their dad had worked at the local Post Office for many years. He taught them to work hard and they were always doing small side jobs to earn money, such as mowing, painting, digging basements, delivering newspapers, selling cards, seeds and shoveling snow.

Gary @ 13 (1970) 2
Gary about 1 year before this story took place

One day at the ripe old age of 14, Gary decided to run away to Deer Lodge, where his mom lived. In retrospect, he admits that he was so impulsive back then & didn’t think things through completely. It was late in October, but it was a nice day out. He had a little bit of money from some of those side jobs mentioned before, his trusty bike and sheer willpower.

Here’s the tale in his own words:

“On Sunday, October 31st, 1971 I took my bicycle over the continental divide. Not McDonald pass, because that would have been too easy. There was another pass near McDonald called Mullan Pass or Mullan Trail. I turned north off the highway at Fort Harrison and went all the way up to the Lincoln Highway and headed Northwest. I rode several miles before someone in a truck picked me up and took me part way up the pass before his truck couldn’t go any farther due to the heavy snows already in the mountains. I jumped out, grabbed my bicycle and started up the steep road until I reached a place where the road started to level off. After riding some miles, I came to a railroad crossing and a junction in the road. I went right when I should have gone left. 

By this time, it was starting to get dark, the wind had picked up and it started to snow. It was cold and at 14 I was beginning to wonder if I should have waited until the weather was more favorable (summertime). I went about 5 miles down the wrong road and came to a camper that had a light on. I knocked on the door and the two guys inside invited me in out of the wind and snow. They were just packing up to go home, so one of them made me a cheese sandwich (best sandwich I ever had, by the way) and they offered to take me as far as White’s Place. They couldn’t believe anyone would be up there in the snow on a bicycle. As we drove back up to the junction, they were noticing my tire tracks in the snow and told me where I should have turned. We continued on down the pass until we got to White’s Place outside of Elliston, MT. They dropped me off and I went inside to see if they had a phone I could use.

Helena map
Between Helena and Elliston lies the Continental Divide

There was a woman behind the bar waiting on a few patrons. She looked me over as I walked in and asked what I wanted because she could get in trouble if the authorities caught me in her bar. I asked to use the phone to call my brother for a ride. She said it was in the back hallway near the restrooms, so I walked back there and looked all over, but saw no phone. I went back to the bar and the lady asked if I made a call. I told her I couldn’t find the phone to make a call with – maybe it was well camouflaged? She had her hands on her hips and looked at me like I was 12 and said “The box on the wall!”. Okay…

So, I headed back to the hallway and I found the box on the wall…I had never used a box like this before. It had a crank on my left and an ear piece on a cord and a small horn shaped thing to talk into. I had used rotary dial phones most of my growing up, so I was looking for the dial or buttons or anything else and there was nothing like that. I picked up the ear piece and there was no dial tone. 

So back to the bar I went, and she asked me again if I made the call. I said “How do you use the phone?” and this time she looked at me like I was 8. She held one hand out like she was cranking an imaginary box phone and said “Two longs and short”. I went back to the box, picked up the ear piece and turned the crank briskly two longs and a short. Wonder of wonders, I got the Helena switchboard operator! She connected me to my mother’s house in Deer Lodge. My brother Dan picked up the phone and I asked him to come and get me. After the call, I went back to the front of the bar and the woman behind the bar asked again if I made the call. When I said yes, she asked me how much it was. Clueless, I asked “How much what was?”. She said I had to pay for the call and I said I didn’t know how much it was.

With her hands on her hips, she looked at me like I was 6 and said “Call the operator back and ask her how much that last call was!”

This is the point in the story that I tell everyone that I got to use an antique box phone twice in my life. Anyway, it cost $1.15 since it was long distance, just in case you were wondering. She made me wait at a table by the front door, away from the bar so no one would think I was just having a beer after a long hard day of work (I am still 14 at this point).

About half and hour went by and there was a knock on the bar’s front door, then another knock. I looked at the woman behind the counter and with her hands on her hips (it was becoming a habit by now) she looked at me like I was 4 and said “Answer the door.” I had been under the impression that this was a public establishment where anyone could walk through the front door without knocking first. None the less, I got up and answered the door and lo and behold, there were 6 or 7 kids there dressed up in costumes shouting “Trick or Treat!”. I was fresh out of candy, so I looked at the woman behind the bar again and halloween-candy-1014629_640(happily without her hands on her hips this time) she was dumping bags of candy into a bowl and slid it over the bar counter in my direction and asked me to pass it out, which I did.

It took my brother about 2 hours to come and pick me up, but in that time frame, I answered many knocks on the front door and dutifully handed out candy to trick or treaters.

I spent about two weeks in Deer Lodge, then the sheriff came to my Mom’s house and took me to his office, where my Dad was waiting to take me back home.

But that wasn’t the end of the story…stay tuned for Part 2!

GWInc.

Circle Bunny

Beware the tale below…it’s kinda like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Proceed at your own risk!

Rabbits have zero to do with welding, I know. But believe it or not, there is actually a connection, at least for us.

The first job Gary had in Gillette was for a welding company that also happened to operate a small sort of farm. I still remember that the welding shop sat next to a yard for the trucks and equipment, and next to that were sheds and buildings dedicated to the animals. There were sheep, horses, ponies, chickens, turkeys and, you guessed it, rabbits. Besides being a welder for the company, Gary also helped raise and look after the rabbits – which were being raised for meat. Yep…I have tasted rabbit, folks. Not too bad, actually.

I never was afraid of rabbits as a young child (unlike chickens…yes, you can laugh, but I had chicken-fear for many years). I’m a sucker for cuteness just like the rest of my peers. Bunnies are soft and sweet and lay chocolate Cadbury eggs at Easter, right?? But as an adult, I have to admit to a subconscious caution that has, over time, developed into a conscious distrust of bunnies. It probably harkens all the way back to the tender age of 8…

My Dad went to a nearby town to look at buying rabbits, and brought all of us along. We girls were trying to pet the bunnies in the cages and long story short, my baby sister (who was about 3 at the time) got her finger caught in the wiring of one cage and the bunny inside chewed the top of her finger off. Yes, this actually happened. On the way to the hospital, I think we all were wondering how a cute and cuddly rabbit could do such an unthinkable thing. That same sister went on to raise a couple of rabbits for 4-H, so she wasn’t psychologically scarred for life. I also had a pet rabbit as a teen, so I had made my peace with the Leporidae kingdom, at least for a while.

Then when I was a little older, a collection of events involving fictional rabbits shaped how I viewed bunnies. In school I had fallen in love with a book about a vampire bunny. Cute book, but a bunny vampire that drains the “blood” out of carrots and has wicked, glowy eyes? It stays with you. Then a few years later, I watched a James Stewart movie called Harvey. Not a scary movie – really more like Arsenic and Old Lace meets Bugs Bunny. And yet, there was something a little concerning about an invisible 6-foot rabbit that talked. I want to say there was another movie with a giant rabbit, only this one was a scary one. I remember seeing bits and pieces of that movie, too.

And then there was the unforgettable incident just a few years ago…

It was a hot, late summer day and I was heading out to my parent’s house after work. A year or two before this particular summer, our county had had a few close calls with innocent bystanders and rabid skunks. Random skunks showing up is no bueno, but skunks with rabies?? Especially no bueno.

Anyways, as I drove up to the house, I saw a full-grown cottontail rabbit sitting near one of my parent’s vehicles in the driveway. Not unusual, because our area has a bumper crop of cottontails every year. There are always two or three hanging out in my parent’s driveway and yard. We love to see the baby cottontails, which of course are cute as buttons!

But there was something very unusual about this rabbit. It’s head was cocked to one side, like it wasn’t able to hold it’s head up normally. But it seemed calm and just sat there. I moved closer to see what was wrong with it and must have startled it, because it erratically jumped from where it was sitting and began to hop in a frenetic circle in the grass near the driveway. Umm…wow. That made me a little uneasy, so I went into the house and told my Mom about the rabbit.

We both went outside. I was feeling a little nervous, mostly because now I was wondering if this rabbit could have rabies. It hadn’t been foaming at the mouth, but it was circling, so…didn’t rabid animals act erratic and wander around in circles??

The rabbit had moved back over to the driveway again and was sitting quietly just a few inches from a cement pad that had been poured for a future garage. We cautiously stepped onto the pad and made our way over to near where the rabbit was sitting. We somehow felt safer being a couple of inches above the ground on the cement pad…

Why we felt the need to get closer is beyond me, but I think we thought we might be able to help the bunny somehow, or at least see what was wrong with it. Curiosity often overrules fear (or common sense). The bunny seemed calm as we got closer – which is not normal behavior for a cottontail. It was false pretenses, really.

We were now probably a foot or two away from the rabbit. It apparently didn’t see us or sense that we were close to it. Had it been injured? Was it’s neck broken? It wasn’t foaming at the mouth, nor did it have any injuries that we could see (aside from it not holding it’s head up). It looked completely normal otherwise.

While we were pondering what unfortunate circumstance or disease this bunny had succumbed to and what to do for it, I inched a little closer. I was now able to peer out almost directly above the rabbit as it sat there.

As I was looking intently at it, I saw that it’s one eye that was staring straight up at the sky was dilated. Sad. But I then saw it’s eye focus and it stared right at me. “Interesting” I thought.

No sooner had that thought flitted through my brain than the rabbit shot straight up into the air. I do not exaggerate when I say that it jumped as high as my waist. With that, all curiosity was completely cured and both my Mom and I made our way to the house – posthaste. We may or may not have screamed a little. I had never in all my days seen a rabbit – wild or domestic – act like this.

I had images of it biting our ankles with it’s fangs. ‘Cause crazy rabbits have fangs, of course. But I looked back just before going through the door to safety and the rabbit was once again hopping in large circles around the driveway. We called Game and Fish and asked if they could send someone to check things out.

The game warden showed up a little bit later. We were relieved to see him and told him how the rabbit was behaving. He thought it was injured, that rabies was unlikely and he would need to put it down. He found the rabbit down the hill close to the yard fence. It was doing circles there, too. The warden caught it in his net and humanely put it out of its misery.

We were sad that that’s what it came to, but glad that we could walk outside without fear of inciting the Circle Bunny to launch itself into the air and lope around in crazy circles.

Because that’s what we came to call it by the end of the day…the Circle Bunny.

To this day I still eye the cottontails with caution. Sure, they are cute, but I now remember that day that was straight out of the Twilight Zone. It was definitely Hitchcockian.

And I happily keep my distance.

GWInc.

29 Years and Counting!

So this month, Gary’s Welding Inc. turns 29! Yep…almost the big 30. To celebrate, we would like to reminisce about just a few of the early memories we have of our first days in business.

The Very Beginning:

Gary and Laurie and their little family moved to Gillette in the summer of 1984, when Gary got a job working at a welding shop in Gillette. At that time, Gillette was much smaller, but was going through a boom and had a lot of work that was not available in some of the neighboring states. 5 years later, Gary and Laurie started Gary’s Welding in August of 1989. It didn’t become an “Inc.” until a few years later.

First Truck:

Gary’s first truck was a copper-colored welding truck that could be heard from blocks away. He had bought it used from a friend’s father who also was a welder and that truck served him well for many years. He later sold it…but the copper truck still has a special place in our hearts.

First Phone:

pink-1243639_640

Every business person needs a phone, right? The first portable radio phones (bag phones) were the precursor to cell phones – remember those?? Gary had one in his copper truck and it was hooked up to the truck horn so he could hear it if it rang when he was in the field. It was quite an effective attention-getter. We also had an authentic rotary dial phone for quite awhile in the home office. Those were the good ol’ days – when you had no idea who was calling you before you picked up the phone.

First Projects:

Pumping unit in snowA lot of our early jobs included going out on midnight calls to put on a well head or make a cut off. Or to do repairs on oil rigs or pumping units. It was both exciting and exhausting.

We also did many plant shutdowns – usually out of town – for the spring/fall shutdown seasons. Those make for really long hours in some tight spaces. Ever been inside of a boiler?

im000086.jpg

This picture to the right is of the inside of a boiler – looking down onto the mud drum after some tubes were removed. We were getting ready to install new tubes.

Those are just a few of the many memories we have of starting and getting a business off the ground. Thanks for taking the time to stroll with us down memory lane.

And, we would be completely remiss if we didn’t take an opportunity to address our customers, past and present here: to each and every one of you, we are deeply grateful for your business and trust through the years. We look forward to serving you in the days and years to come.

With gratitude,

GWInc.

Underwater Welding: Jules Verne’s Dream Job?

Yes, underwater welding is a legit thing. It sounds so Jules Verne, doesn’t it? Yet, despite the hazards of working in soupy surroundings that have a legion of variables and safety issues to consider, there are those brave souls who weld underwater.

Did you know? An underwater welder is first and foremost a commercial diver. Diving schools teach the skills necessary to certify commercial divers as underwater welders if students want to add that skill to their training. Or, they teach those who are already welders the skills to dive commercially.

blue-liquid-bubbles-underwater-62307

Underwater welders fix things like ships, off-shore oil rigs, pipelines, and other structures needing repairs down in the deep. There is also a type of underwater welding called hyperbaric welding (google it). It removes the water – underwater – so that weld quality is easier to manage.

I’ve heard that underwater welders make ridiculous amounts of money compared to “land welders”, but when I looked into the Bureau of Labor stats for commercial divers, this doesn’t seem to be true (see stats here). It looks as if they make around $7,000 more median pay than a traditional welder does.

Considering what is entailed, this doesn’t seem like the huge payoff the internet claims it to be. If I had to breathe through a tube and wear a diver’s helmet, while floating in water of various depths and temperatures, meanwhile trying not to get electrocuted as I’m welding in said water, you’d better bet your checkbook that my wages would be significantly higher than my peer working in the shop. But then the question of work availability comes up…underwater welding sounds like it’s probably not a regular 7am-3pm daily job. You could twiddle your thumbs in the down time or add to your skills as a commercial diver and work on other projects not related to welding. Or…you could always come over to the shop and help out on a “land project” or two and breathe regular air for free 😉.  underwater-welding-5-1024x678

The fact is, we need more welders (on land, on sea…anywhere you happen to be…). From 2016 to 2026, the rate of growth for welders in general is expected to grow by 6%. That means by 2026, we are looking at an additional 22,500 welders in the US to the 400,000 plus that we have now. (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – see data here). I am guessing that the number will increase worldwide as well. My best educated guess would be that most of these welders will be the traditional welder who welds on land: in a shop , the field or at a plant, etc. Additional underwater welders will be needed to replace the retiring population of underwater welders, though, too.

Never mind that most underwater welders are young whippersnappers in their 20s or 30s. They do have to surface sooner or later and pass on what they know to the generations that follow. That and all these plans for underwater cities…the demand for underwater welding and commercial divers will just grow, right?

This is a niche in the welding market that, admittedly, I know very little about but my research into it is proving fascinating! Having been born and raised in semi-arid land-locked states (read: very few lakes or rivers), I am a dyed-in-the-wool landlubber. Don’t get me wrong – as a kid I loved swimming pools, small lakes, water parks and running through the sprinkler. And I lived near the ocean at one point – while there, I dipped a toe in a time or two & didn’t get sucked out to sea or attacked by a shark – so I’m good with the ocean. However, swimming lessons in school sapped the fun right out of swimming! Let’s just say my grades suffered there. That and a close call at a lake when I was a teenager made my love for water less as I got older. Good thing my dreams to be an Olympic swimmer were dashed early. Sorry Jules, I know you would have been proud!

deep-diver-diving-suit-37530

Just kidding folks…I wanted to be an ice skater. When the water is solid, then let’s talk.

Moving on…

So, if you have an interest in welding and also a love for diving or anything underwater, you might consider looking into becoming a commercial diver who can also weld underwater. If you know of a high school or college student looking into commercial diving or welding as a career path, share this with them! Below I have links to various sites and videos that are super interesting. These aren’t exhaustive, of course, but just some stuff to peak your interest. Check them out even if you have your career set in stone – it’s enlightening and makes one appreciate commercial divers so much!

Some schools that teach underwater welding in the US:

https://www.diversinstitute.edu/programs/underwater-welding/

https://www.commercialdivingacademy.com/underwater-welding-career-and-salary.cms

https://nupolytech.org/underwater-welding-in-the-tank/

http://www.idicharleston.edu/

Other links about underwater welding:

https://www.wikihow.com/Become-an-Underwater-Welder – Wikihow illustrated steps to becoming an underwater welder.

https://youtu.be/5dDu9wCjyRk – a sobering MSHA-esque video about ‘Delta P’ and why commercial diving can be so dangerous

https://youtu.be/_8fKQxNUW-w – podcast on underwater welding with Nate Martin (who happens to work with the company below)

http://www.phnx-international.com/phnx/ – company out of Maryland that offers many underwater services, including welding

https://youtu.be/H0r1bPOmil0 – Video of some cool underwater structures (that I presume needed welding at one point, or will need welding in the future 😉)

GWInc.

Explosion vs. Magnetic Pulse (and other ways to weld)

Perhaps you’ve heard of explosion welding? Yes, there is such a thing! If you’ve never heard of it, just a quick, very basic explanation: explosion welding takes two separate pieces of metal and, via the force of the explosion, welds the pieces together. It just sounds cool and epic, right?

Explosion welding is very effective for extra large pieces of metal that are harder to wrangle, as well as bonding completely different metals together that one could not conventionally weld. But, as you can imagine, explosion welding can’t happen in just any old place. And not everything we weld is humongous and worth the energy of explosion welding.

One of the alternatives to explosion welding is called Magnetic Pulse Welding (MPW). It’s not brand new…apparently it’s been around magnet-29094_1280since the 1960’s & 70’s. However, it used to be lesser known and was only used for exclusive applications related to nuclear stuff & the automotive industry – today it is being used for a broader array of applications.

As you may have guessed from the name, Magnetic Pulse Welding uses a powerful electromagnet to weld two pieces of metal together. Just metal, the magnet and an electric current! Oh, and someone to set it up and press the button 😉 The two metals collide at such a high rate of speed that electrons are actually exchanged, fusing the metals at the molecular level. Again, a similar process happens with explosion welding, but with MPW – no explosion. Everything is neat and tidy and can be done on a much smaller scale.

Like explosion welding, MPW can weld disparate metals, for example steel bonding to aluminum or nickel to titanium. That, my friends, is pretty cool! I’m sure the alchemists of the Middle Ages would have thought MPW was the bomb.com (pun there, see that?).

For those who are used to welding the old-fashioned way, there is really no end to the upside of MPW:

  1. No welding arc to protect your eyes from, therefore, no welding hood
  2. No gas bottles to hook up
  3. No hot sparks falling down your shirt, boots or into your ears
  4. No ground to clamp and no leads, rod or stinger to keep track of and not trip over
  5. No striker, either
  6. No welding fumes to worry about
  7. No grinding or chipping to get rid of unsightly slag
  8. No leather gloves needed because apparently, this process happens at room temperature!
  9. No welding truck…’cause…no welding machine needed
  10. There are probably more, but I can’t think of them now because I am making a cup of cappuccino. And wondering if there will ever be a Magnetic Pulse Espresso machine that can whip out a frothy mocha in the time it takes to blink?? We can only hope.  emoticon-1628080_1280

The downside to Magnetic Pulse Welding?

  1. Cost
  2. Cost
  3. Did I say cost already??
  4. Portability…I imagine the magnet & it’s set up will not be easy to just pack up and move to a customer’s job site (but I would be interested to see if more portable options are in the works!)
  5. And size will most likely be a factor. If you need a large piece welded and your magnet and accompanying machinery is not big enough, well then, don’t get rid of your welder and hood just yet.

As with anything that is amazing and a techno-wonder, cost will be a factor. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? However, the interwebs assure us that once you have laid out the significant amount of cash needed to acquire your fancy magnet, the cost of MPW is actually cheaper than more conventional methods of welding. I believe it – have you seen the price of welding supplies lately? Maybe the magnet is one of those things that will pay for itself in 5 years? Don’t run out and take out a loan based on that, of course. But this Magnetic Pulse Welding might be something to look into.

GWInc.

 

Cool websites, articles and videos to check out if you would like more information on MPW:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About the Osage Stack

The tiny town of Osage is situated in Northeastern Wyoming, about an hour and a half drive from Gillette by way of Moorcroft and Upton. It’s nestled in the bentonite foothills of the Black Hills and both Upton and Osage have nice stands of tall ponderosa pines. At one time, it was the sight of a coal-fired power plant owned by Black Hills Power that they began building in January of 1947 and the plant’s open house was held on May 12th, 1950. It was built to meet the increased demand for power post-World War II and at the time, was the biggest project Black Hills Power had undertaken.

Osage Stack Project 3
Stack before

At one point in the winter of 2002/2003, Gary’s Welding Inc. was commissioned to replace a portion of a stack at the power plant.

The bottom part of the stack was in good condition, but the top part had some corrosion and needed to be replaced. We had Empire Steel in Billings, Montana build the new section for us according to our specifications.

Osage Stack Project 9

The new part of the stack was an ¼ inch thick, 8 ft. in diameter, 30 ft. long section of COR-TEN steel. It came with a nice, new work platform as well.

COR-TEN is specifically made for outdoor applications because it is corrosion-resistant and has great tensile strength. (For the nerds, read more here: https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=12974). COR-TEN is also made to not need paint – it’s great for artsy buildings or sculptures where a rusted, aged look is wanted. We chose to have the new part of the stack painted though, ’cause who wants see a rusty stack on the horizon, right? And it needed to fit in with the rest of the plant.

Because it was wintertime in Wyoming, this project posed another challenge. But we were excited for the opportunity to problem solve and come up with a way to get the

Osage Stack Project 12
Prepping the old part for removal

stack looking and operating like brand new in a short amount of time. The day that we actually replaced the stack turned out nice and sunny, which was a huge plus! The new portion was delivered to the plant and Gary and his team spent two days preparing everything on the ground and on the stack for the replacement.

A crane was brought in for the day of the replacement – and from the time the crane showed up to finish – the whole replacement process took between 8 and 10 hours. That included all the cutting, removing, replacing, welding and finishing the ladder!

Here are some pictures of that day:

Osage Stack Project 14 B

Osage Stack Project 16 B

Old portion of the stack being cut and lifted off.

Osage Stack Project 17 B

Old portion gone and awaiting the new part (above).
.

Osage Stack Project 19 B

New section being placed (above) and finishing things up on the ladder and
ladder cage (below). 

Osage Stack Project 20 B

About a month after the replacement was complete, we contracted Sphere out of Gillette to come and sandblast and paint the old section of the stack so it would look more uniform.

Osage Stack Project 24
After sandblasting

Sadly, the plant was decommissioned in 2013 along with the Neil Simpson 1 plant in Gillette and the Ben French plant in South Dakota. The updates needed to comply with Federal regulations at that point were too costly, and Black Hills Power had them closed down.

Osage Stack Project 26 B
After painting

We were sad to see her go, but are proud to have been a small part at the Osage plant. Aside from this project, we spent many years doing tube replacements and other boiler work at the plant. Good memories!

GWInc.

Adrenaline Junkie? Just Dodge a Deadline.

Today we will take a little break from welding to talk deadlines. We all have deadlines to meet, regardless of the career we each happen to be in. That is such a common fact that I nearly bored myself to tears just writing that last sentence. *sniff*

But…you should definitely keep reading, because deadlines are not nearly as boring as they just sounded. They in fact are adrenaline-laced objects of either doom or delight depending on if you are a procrastinator or a go-getter.

Welders have deadlines. Bookkeepers have deadlines. CEOs have deadlines. Grocery store clerks have deadlines. Newspaper editors have deadlines…nuf said.

There are exactly two types of people in the world: those who gladly meet deadlines head on – unabashed and unafraid because they are in fact, prepared for the thing in advance. And then there is the remaining 98.2% of the population – you know, those of us who avoid deadlines with the tenacity and determination most would find in an athlete training for the Olympics.

I myself just recently missed a very important deadline. It’s a little embarrassing actually, but I delayed getting my driver’s license renewed until I missed the expiration date entirely. I kept putting it off – I waited until Friday and it expired on Saturday. Great plan. Friday, just a bit before 3pm (they closed at 4:30pm, so plenty of time, right?!) I walk up to the DMV building and there taped to the door was a huge poster saying it was closed for renovations!! Hmmm…this would explain why there were fewer cars in the parking lot than normal. The poster then listed three towns which had DMV offices that were open that week. Awesome. But these towns were all a good hour to an hour and half away and two were not open on Fridays…this was not looking promising…

I called the state office. They couldn’t help me without a recent eye exam, which I hadn’t had within the necessary time period. The durned procrastinatory element! The call ended with the helpful lady on the phone saying “Well, you really shouldn’t have waited so long!” Yes, ma’am, thank you for that tip. 😉

Suffice it to say, I learned my lesson and got myself (with someone else driving, natch) to the DMV as soon as I could the next week and got the thing renewed. It cost extra because it had expired over the weekend, so missing a deadline is also more expensive. *sniff sniff * Bye moolah. Nice knowing you.

By scientifically observing the effects of a missed deadline on myself, I have concluded that procrastination ages you in the following ratio: 1 week of procrastination = 1 year aged. Pretty sure there are at least two lines under my eyes now that weren’t there a week ago.

I have had a very colorful imagination since childhood, so I like to think of deadlines as things…you know, like tigers or lions, while their prey would be those of us who have to meet the deadline (symbolized of course by gazelle or deer or some other beautiful and graceful creature). We either pass or fail, escape or get eaten!

Whatever deadline it is you are facing, may the odds be ever in your favor. Perhaps it will help you meet that deadline with time to spare by imagining along with me…

{Cue dream sequence music}


 

cheetah-2042448_1280 BThe deadline approaches stealthily – stalking (as it were) its unsuspecting prey.

The prey innocently grazes through its day, blissfully unaware of the looming deadline. The deadline crouches, balancing itself carefully and silently, so as not to alert the prey.

BAM! The deadline launches toward the prey with the same speed and efficiency of the great Tanzanian Cheetah… 

One of the impala-like prey (enter co-worker’s name here, or your own if you are especially virtuous) manages to escape the steely claws of the deadline as it sails through the air. He gives chase, but the creature had a head start and is too fast for him. “Dadnab it!” thought the deadline, “there goes lunch!”. 

Now warned of their close proximity to the deadly deadline, the other prey sprint toward safety. The deadline fades into the nearby thicket. He is only momentarily at a loss. He will watch for the perfect opportunity to strike again; this time, with more precision. 

cheetah-2042458_1280 BThe hungry deadline now rests in the shade of the thicket. He is conserving his strength for dinnertime. The sun is a notch or two past the midpoint of the day. The prey are dozing in the shade of the trees at the opposite edge of the grassy clearing, having almost forgotten the close call earlier in the day. All seems quiet and peaceful. Their bellies are full from munching on grass…the deadline’s belly is achingly empty. It serves to sharpen his senses – he is ever-watchful of his opportunity to catch the prey unawares. He bides his time until the perfect moment…

The leaves of the trees dance in the afternoon breeze. Two impala-like prey, who have been peacefully grazing at the edge of the clearing, lift their heads to watch and listen. Their keen ears have picked up the faintest sound…but it could just be the wind rustling the grass. They flick their ears and listen and watch a bit more – nothing. They have yet to detect the deadline, who is downwind and concealed by the tall grass.

gazelle-2529507_1280 B

The deadline is calculating and quiet. He must wait for the perfect moment to strike, or these will escape just as the others did.

15 minutes have passed – the deadline has inched much closer. He is almost crawling on his belly so as not to be seen. The wind has picked up and is definitely in his favor. The prey have moved a foot or two in the opposite direction, but they are still eating.

The deadline poises himself carefully, his legs like loaded springs. The grass waves just in front of his nose, but he can’t see it. His tunnel vision allows room for only the prey grazing just a few feet away. They look up from time to time – any slight sound and they will dart for safety – timing is everything. He breathes in, holds his breath for a second, then explodes out of the grass.

The next few moments are a tumultuous blur of fur, horns and dust.

A few hours later, the setting sun is casting a golden hue over the landscape. From a distance, the silhouette of the deadline can be seen sitting atop a rock like he is king of the world. He watches contentedly as the large orange sun slips below the horizon. Today he has upheld his formidable title – he has won.

GWInc.

sandro-schuh-322607 B