HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — About three years ago, Steve Barr arrived home to find his 12-year-old son in the garage chopping wood with a circular saw.
“I was more scared of it than he was,” Barr said.
So when Mason, now 15, started repairing and building minibikes, Steve, 53, decided to join his son in taking a welding course at Hagerstown Community College.
“I wanted to make sure he was doing it right and the bike wasn’t going to fall apart and the welds weren’t going to fall apart,” Urbana’s Steve Barr said. So the two took their first welding class together last semester.
They are one of three father-son couples currently enrolled in college welding classes.
Instructor Steve Staley said it was common for family members to take welding lessons together. He also had brothers, sisters, fathers and daughters, as well as a grandfather and grandson who take the course.
THIRD GENERATION WELDING TRAINER
Staley is a third generation welding instructor in Washington County. His grandfather, Wolford, began teaching welding in 1938 and led the War Department’s welding operations in that area during World War II, he said. Wolford Staley taught welding in Washington County public schools until his son, William, took over in 1978. William was already teaching welding at HCC and continued those classes in the evenings.
Steve Staley, 53, of Clear Spring, began teaching welding for HCC at local businesses in 2004. Since he began teaching welding on campus in 2008, classes have always been full and there are often has a waiting list, he said.
Staley is one of three welding instructors at HCC, along with Jonas Smith and Phil Gidich.
RESTORATION OF CLASSIC CARS
Welding students are looking for career changes or skills for a hobby, Staley said. There is always at least one person who takes the course because they want to restore a classic car.
Seth Stanley, 21, who works at Macy’s warehouse in Martinsburg, West Virginia, said he enjoys working on cars, especially older ones that can have rusting issues.
A fan of the Dodge Charger, a car he saw in “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Burn Notice”, Seth bought a 1973 Charger that he wants to restore.
It takes a lot of work in general to replace the purple bodywork, interior and purple that covered the engine block and chrome, Seth’s father David said. The two love welding enough to take their third class, with a drive time of about 45 minutes from Bunker Hill, West Virginia.
“The instructor is very knowledgeable and hands-on. He’ll talk to you and help you or give you space,” said David Stanley, 59, a respiratory therapist at War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
Staley said he often asks students to take more than one welding course, which gives them plenty of time to burn out.
“You have to burn to learn,” Staley recently told a class, quoting his grandfather.
The Barrs, who are taking intermediate welding courses, recently brought a motorcycle frame to class so they could add bars for strength and for engine support.
Steve Barr said his father, Buddy Barr, had a passion for welding and repair. Buddy was building a kart for Mason and his sister, Meghan, now 19, but was unable to complete it before his death six years ago.
Mason worked on the go-kart frame his grandfather started.
“My dad would have loved to see him do what he does,” said Steve, a radio test engineer.
POTENTIAL CAREER CHANGE
For father and son Kevin and Blake Wolters, of Hagerstown, the welding class is mostly a bonding time, Kevin said.
Kevin, 47, said he has always enjoyed working with mechanical tools and often has projects in the works. He has a 1988 Ford Ranger and Blake has a 2008 Volkswagen GTI that needs some welding work.
As well as being fun and practical, Blake, 23, said he was also learning welding with a view to a possible career change one day. Now he’s a package handler for FedEx.
Staley said pay in this field can start at around $18 an hour for a welder. With a few years of experience, welders who join a union can earn an hourly wage in excess of $30, $40 or more.
There’s a huge shortage of welders in the area, Staley said. In addition to Manitowoc Cranes, Canam Steel, Mellott Co. and Duvinage using welders, Staley said he gets calls from small shops looking to hire entry-level welders.
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