I saw the movie “Thor” a while ago and it reminded me that my father taught me to weld when I was eleven.
At least, I think he did. I don’t remember actual lessons; I just spent a lot of my time messing around in our farm shop and occasionally my father would pause on his way to someplace else and say things like “No, drag the rod or it’ll stick,” or “You’re not using enough heat.”
Truthfully, that was how I learned most of what I know – not much real instruction, just a lot of solitary trial and error and an occasional course correction. It’s not a technique I’d recommend and I have the scars to prove it.
I had ready access to a massive pile of scrap iron, handily placed next to the door of the shop and left there to be used for machinery repair and pre-teen inventions.
The only problem with the scrap iron was that it had to be used pretty much “as is.” We didn’t have a torch and this was before chop saws were invented, so the only way to cut up iron was with a hacksaw (way too much work for someone with the intrinsic ambition of a banana slug) or else by using the power hacksaw made by my father out of parts from a washing machine and a used electric motor.
No, I’m not lying. And it did work. You’d start the motor, the right things would go back and forth, you’d lower the blade onto the piece of metal you wanted to cut, put a cement block or something similar on top to add some weight, and then go off and have a cup of coffee (if you were an adult) or read a comic book (if you were a kid). When you came back, your metal would be lying in two pieces on the floor. It wasn’t perfect – if you were working on a big project you either did some careful planning to stay productive during cuts or else spent way too much time drinking coffee and talking about the weather. But, for a chubby, scruffy kid with a limp crew cut and no discernible work ethic for anything other than reading comic books, it was the perfect tool.
And don’t knock the comic books. They led to my best invention. Of all the comic books, my favorite was “The Mighty Thor!” The reasons should be obvious; we had so much in common. He had blonde hair, I had blonde hair…did I mention we both had blonde hair?
The only real difference between us was that he had a big hammer and I had a pile of scrap iron and a welder.
I found a broken axle about an inch in diameter and a foot long. Then I got hold of a gear off a broken manure spreader, plus a few other odds and ends. I worked when there was no one around to ask nosy questions and pretty soon, voila, I had me a hammer. It wasn’t quite like Thor’s, but it wasn’t bad for an eleven year old with delusions of…well, delusions.
I would galumph through the grove, smashing trees, working off suppressed rage and shouting battle cries that are far too embarrassing to repeat here. It didn’t automatically return to my hand when I threw it, but it could be that I wasn’t really strong enough to throw it very far. When I’d finish a battle, or knock off enough villains, I would carefully hide my hammer in a tree and go off to the house for a well deserved bologna sandwich or two. After a year or so I started playing high school football and had a new outlet for suppressed rage and embarrassing battle cries, and I forgot which tree harbored the Hammer of Brent.
The hammer is long gone, and sadly, so is the blonde hair.
But I can still weld.
Copyright 2011 Brent Olson