Adventures in Welding (and other cautionary tales)

Welding is, as many of you can guess, categorized with those professions that can be a little on the precarious side at times. Not in league with, say, extreme sports, mind you. Although some welding adventures are equally as exhilarating as jumping blindly off a snow-covered cliff on a bike in some remote mountain range.

That being said…let’s get down to brass tacks (or welding shrapnel), shall we?

There is a reason why OSHA and MSHA and safety meetings exist. It is because various members of the human species will get bored or become inattentive and will periodically break up the monotony by doing doltish things with tools, random large pieces of iron and vehicles.

I will now decamp from the formal and take up the colloquial to share, with humor, a few ‘adventures’ in welding…

I tried welding once. I was not a natural. It went something like this:

Dad: [while welding on the bucket of a backhoe] “Do you want to try some welding?”
15-year-old me: “Sure!”
Dad: [shows me how to use the stinger, after fitting me with a welding hood & some gloves] “Okay, just start here and go across this part there.”
Me: “Okay.” [I am in complete darkness and can see nothing through the hood’s lens]. “Ummm, how do I see to weld??”
Dad: “You flip up the hood, see where to start, flip the hood down and start!”
Me: [[finally somehow get the thing going]]

I noticed immediately that the wire is sticking in one spot. I try to move the stinger, but it seems glued in place & I keep shelling out more wire! I start again. Still not working like I think it should, but at least I’m welding, sort of. It’s then I notice that I have started making a small crater in the metal! Meanwhile Dad is shouting over the noise of the welder things like “Keep it moving!” and “Don’t worry about that!”

I flipped my hood up to see my masterpiece. My first real weld!! And it was not pretty. I didn’t actually bond two pieces of metal together – in reality I made a huge hole in the side of the bucket with the thinner metal, while pieces of wire stuck off the other side. I looked at Dad and said “I think I’m done.” He said I had done alright and that he would fix it.

It seemed to me that welding was sort of like trying to thread a tiny needle with scorching hot thread, while wearing chunky, thick leather gloves. While temporarily blinded. Oh, and your lungs fill with smoke and sparks fly down your shirt and socks and into your ears. Who wouldn’t love welding??!

It makes me laugh now to remember that. I had not a hot clue what I was doing, but am now grateful for the chance Dad gave me to at least try. And fail. How would I ever know that welding is best left to the pros otherwise? Hence I majored in English in college and have stuck to more officy type jobs. 😉

Which brings me to another fun ‘adventure’…

I was working for my Dad one summer during my college years. I was grinding some areas of a large, flat sheet of steel. I was used to the smallish grinders that have one handle and are easy to hold, but for this job, Dad gave me a beefy two-handled grinder that seemed to weigh half as much as I did. He showed me how to use it and went to another part of the shop to work on something else.

After two or three tries, I was doing well! The thing was a beast to wrangle, but I was careful and managed to just keep it where it needed to be. I had to stop often to readjust and check the plate to see how it was looking. Then pride swelled and I let down my guard a little. I grabbed the grinder and prepared for the next pass over my end of the plate, but my grip wasn’t as tight as it should have been. I hit the trigger and that “OH CRUD” feeling washed over me as I could feel myself quickly losing control of the grinder. Then that thing literally shot out of my hands and straight across the plate, dropping onto the shop floor with the loudest clunk and it spun to a stop somewhere out of my line of sight. Thankfully no one was on the other side of the plate! My cheeks were flaming red from the embarrassment. Good thing most of the guys were out on projects right then and didn’t have to witness my grinder faux pas. That was the first and last time I ever used that thing.

The next ‘adventure’ had ample audience, though.

That same summer I had to drive the welding trucks occasionally. They are heavy trucks and almost always manuals, but I came to enjoy driving them. One day I started to back one of the trucks into the shop, while a couple of the guys were guiding me back. It being a manual and on an incline, I was having a bit of trouble getting the back tires over the concrete threshold. I think I killed the truck and had to restart because I was just going too slowly. The guys were growing impatient with me and said to just gun it to get over that lip – I would be fine.

So I did!

The last thing I remember seeing from my mirror was my co-workers diving for cover as the back of the truck knocked over some metal on stands further back in the shop. Ooops! It took me awhile to live that one down. No one was hurt thankfully, but they didn’t let me back the truck into the shop for a while after that.

The last tale I will tell is my Dad’s ‘adventure’.

The back story is that he and my sister (who was working for him at the time), went to look at a welder that was for sale in a little town about 30 miles away from us. The guy fired up the welder before they got there so my Dad could see how it ran, but forgot to tell him that he had made some modifications to the welder. One of those modifications was to replace the factory fan inside the machine with a much bigger fan. The fan was really close to the governor, which could be accessed through an opening on the side of the welder. While the machine was running, the fan was hard to see (same as it is with the fan in a running car). My Dad reached in to adjust the governor and the fan caught his fingers and sucked his whole hand into the machine. He was able to pull himself free, but not without almost losing some digits. The fan had shredded through most of the fingers on his right hand. He is right-handed, so the accident was nearly a career buster for him. We are so thankful for the surgeon who was called out of his Christmas party that night to help save my Dad’s fingers and thumb, and for my sister’s quick thinking and driving that got him to the hospital faster than an ambulance could.

Gary in 2000
Dad on Christmas Day, 2000

Here’s what my Dad wrote about the experience just a few days later:

“Gary does it big! I have always been one to go all out in my efforts and have always liked getting my hands dirty. Well for those of you that want to know, I found a way to do both – quite efficiently, too! First you start with an engine-driven Lincoln welding machine. But it needs to be started and running before you show up, so that as you are looking at it and admiring its shape and beauty, you can’t see the spinning fan is about 10 inches larger than the fan the machine came with. Next, as you reach up to grab the governor so as to run the engine up so you can admire it’s roar and strength, you realize that the oversized fan is a fraction of an inch from the governor linkage. But by that time, you think to yourself, “Gee, this machine really likes me and we have become rather attached. You hate to break off your fondness for each other, but you suddenly realize that you had an appointment and didn’t want to miss it for anything in the world. Besides, you always wanted to know if your Ford diesel was able to do close to 100 mph on the interstate, with your middle daughter behind the wheel in 4-wheel-drive, 35 miles from the nearest hospital.

I haven’t lost any fingers. The doctor said I split the thumb open, lost material, crushed the joint, broke it, the index finger was still attached. It was bad – pins and screws are part of my anatomy now. They may have to fuse some bones later. Many, many stitches just to put stuff back together. I didn’t know the hand can hold so many cuts. They did surgery right away, and kept me overnight Friday. They let me out at noon Saturday. I thank the Lord that he takes care of us. We go through life with a fear of the unknown, some with no hope, some live for money or other things. But the Lord says if I lose everything, even my life, I can still have my hope in Jesus Christ.

Gary”

What was even crazier about this is that Dad bought the welder. The guy who was selling it felt so bad and wanted to give it to him for free, but Dad insisted on paying for it. He fought the welder and the welder won! We decided to officially name it “The Mangler”.  Then he sold it not long after that as no one but Dad liked that machine. After the surgery, he would sit in the doctor’s office for follow-up appointments and see guys he knew with their hands all bandaged up due to various mishaps. Must have been something in the water.

Dad let me take some pics of his hand just for this article. Doesn’t look too bad some 17 years later…

Dad's Hand                Dad's Hand 2

Thus my respect grows for those who weld. And those who do other hard things like corral wet concrete, build custom houses, plumb the intricate workings of a sewer system, and build roads under the hot summer sun. Or fast food workers working over a hot fryer trying to fill orders. Or a nurse administering medicine to a sick & maybe cranky patient. They are much better at it than me…I would probably leave a trail of mayhem behind me. I like to think they wouldn’t last a day at bookkeeping or setting up an Excel spreadsheet, which in all reality is not too hard. But it reminds me that we all benefit from the unique skills each person brings to the table.

Oh, and it also reminds me to always be especially careful when around machinery. And never, ever let anything I value near a welding fan!

GWInc.

Thoughts on Packing a Plant & Bus Rides in Countries with Unusual Names

Let me tell you the story of a colossal project we undertook back in 2000… It does eventually end up in a faraway country, involving adventurous bus rides, but first things first.

A company that we had done maintenance work for over the previous few years approached us about a rather unusual project. It involved one of their operating emulsion plants here in Wyoming. Now, at this point we had done work for plants of various types for many years, so this wasn’t the unusual part.

Plant Project #1
Emulsion Plant before

The unusual part was that they wanted us to dismantle the plant and ship it to a mine in Kyrgyzstan!

Wait, what?!?

Yes, Kyrgyzstan. Might be worth a Google (as a well-known Lego character once said).

Mind you, we had helped another company ship products to places like India, Siberia and China, but never had we done the whole project ourselves. And shipping a plant to a foreign destination is no small task. It wasn’t a huge plant, but it wasn’t a teensy plant either. It would involve carefully dismantling each piece, sandblasting and painting any iron (including skid frames), installing & welding new stainless pipe and fittings, and scrubbing and cleaning any electrical components and some of the production fittings. This was a HUGE project for our little company! But we are happily descended from a long line of detail-oriented perfectionists, so this was right up our alley.

We started the project around March of 2000 and had everything shipped off by August. All three of Gary’s daughters worked on the project at various points, although at that time, Shawna was the only daughter that was full-time with Gary’s Welding Inc. She remembers everyone putting in some pretty long hours that summer, and one week during that project she worked 88 hours!

Once each piece of the plant was carefully disassembled, it was re-assembled in such a way as to be installed into 4 shipping containers. Also in such a way that once it all reached its destination, all the folks in Kyrgyzstan would have to do would be to unload it, hook it up and press go. 4 shipping containers really isn’t much space for an entire plant to fit into, but we made good use of the space. Think of packing your car for a long vacation – it’s sort of like a jigsaw puzzle!

Plant project #3
The packing is underway

Here in most American towns, if we need a part or tool for a job, we just go down to the local hardware store or contractor’s store and purchase what we need and get on with the job. Not so in Kyrgyzstan. Just getting to the plant site would prove to be an adventure for the lucky soul who had to oversee the set up. Kyrgyzstan is a very mountainous country (think Himalayas!). Anyways, the plant site sat at 14,400 feet above sea level, and just getting there would be a bit of an undertaking. No quick jaunts down to the hardware store! So, along with the plant and its various parts, we sent things like extra iron, a welder, a plasma cutter, hundreds of pounds of rod, spare parts, oxygen and acetylene bottles, rope, chain falls and come-a-longs.

Plant Project #2
Our containers

Each piece had to be cataloged and inventoried and a placement map made for customs. We built boxes and added lumber supports inside the containers so that pieces wouldn’t move around while being shipped. Talk about a   painstaking process, but we actually enjoyed it. It was a sort of novelty to us, knowing that people in a mysterious country on the other side of the world would be opening these same containers and setting up the plant we had packed for them. Kinda like giant Christmas gifts…that were puzzles. Plant puzzles.

Once the containers were loaded and shipped off, we needed to make sure that the old plant site was cleaned up, which involved grading the dirt around the old plant buildings, cleaning and making it ship-shape. The old buildings were nothing but empty shells now and the landowner was free to use the site as he wished. Cleaning up the site after everything was gone was sort of sad in the same way that you hear movie stars and directors talking about how sad it was to do all that work acting and filming, only to get to the end of this colossal undertaking and realize it was finished. It’s a combination of relief and loss all rolled into one.

Not long after that, we heard from Carl, the plant foreman who had gone to Kyrgyzstan to oversee the set-up of the plant. He sent us pictures of the new plant and told us about some of his adventures in this interesting country.  Fortunately, he wasn’t alone in a country he had never been to. An engineer from the company joined him.  He said that as he got off the plane at the airport in Bishkek, soldiers with sub-machine guns stood

mine.jpg
The mine

around watching his every move. He later found out that a man had been stabbed to death in that very airport just the day before! Locals would grab his luggage and stand literally nose to nose with him, bartering to take his luggage to the hotel as a sort of unofficial taxi service.

 

 

Just to get to the plant site was a small journey of epic proportions. As noted earlier, the plant site was at 14,400 feet elevation and was quite remote. They got on a bus and away they went. Scratch that, “away they went” sounds like they were driving on a clear freeway at 85 MPH. In reality it was 8-10 hours of a road filled with potholes and other obstacles. Carl told us that he thought he bruised his tailbone during that leg of the journey and was STILL sore a month later. The driver drove as fast as he possibly could, given the conditions of the road. Every half-hour to 45 minutes, the bus driver would slam on the brakes, pulling up in front of a yurt. Both he and the other passengers would jump off the bus, grab a mug of fermented mare’s milk (whilst flies buzzed about it) from a woman standing next to the yurt, gulp it down, then everyone would pile back on the bus and again the driver would drive like mad til the next yurt.

Plant project #4
The plant site

Once they reached the end of the first leg of the journey, Carl and the engineer got off the bus and transferred to a 6×6 Unimog for the 2nd leg of the trip to the plant site. Which was another 8-10 hours…and no padded seats…

 

The plant site and adjoining man camp were Canadian owned and it was all a mere 3 miles from the Chinese border. Just think, an American plant foreman, working for a Canadian company, flies to Kyrgyzstan to set up a plant that was dismantled and packed in Wyoming. All just 3 miles from the Chinese border. Now that’s international.

Our question to Carl once he got back to the States was, “So, do you ever want to go back?” His response “Not a chance.” We could envision him kissing that sweet Ohio earth a few times, just to drive the point home. And possibly using a pillow to sit on for a

Man Camp
A view of the mountains from the man camp

while… 😉

 

But for us back in little ‘ol Wyoming? We were just stoked to be able to add this to our resume. It was truly an adventure that we were honored and privileged to be a part of.

GWInc.

Thank You for 27 Amazing Years – Here’s to 27 More!

When Gary’s Welding Inc. opened it’s doors in 1989, we really didn’t know what was ahead…

27 years and many adventures later (some super exciting, some a little scary), we can look back with pride at what has been accomplished, as well as humility and thankfulness that we have been so honored with our customer’s trust.

Striking out and becoming an entrepreneur is serious business. But it is so worth the risks. It is our immense privilege to serve Gillette and Northeastern Wyoming for over two decades & counting. Gillette has seen it’s ups and downs economically speaking, but each time we weather through it – together. We want to continue to serve this area with the same excellence for which we are known for many more years to come.

To our customers, allow us to say ‘Thank You!’ from the bottom of our hearts. We so appreciate you!

Here are some interesting Gary’s Welding Inc. items from the vault that we think you might like…

garys-welding-inc-1980
Prior to starting his own business, one of Gary’s jobs was as a boilermaker at a plant in Colstrip, Montana.
snow-storm-1989
Digging out from a huge snow storm around the same year Gary’s Welding Inc. was started.
ggglogo
An early logo
bowling-team-1998
Gary’s Welding Inc. sponsored a bowling team in Gillette for many years. Here is the team on a trip to Reno for a tournament! (Gary is in the middle)
project-from-2001
A ramp project from around 2001
ad
An older ad we found in a phone book
garys-welding-inc-2003
Welders work in all types of weather…
garys-welding-inc-2003ish
…at any and all heights (harnessed of course). Here one of Gary’s daughters helps work on a plant project around 2003.

Thanks for stopping by! We hope you have enjoyed our little jaunt down memory lane.