Friday, February 26, 2010

My first welds.

The third day of class had me practically bouncing in my chair in excitement. I was telling my study buddies in other classes about how I was going to get to weld that night. If you had tried to bottle my excitement, the cap wouldn't have been able to fit ontop.

After another safety video and a video on Oxyacetylene welding, (during which I was constantly thinking Oh no, I am gonna blow myself up.) we got to go out and work on our first welds. Half of the class already had some experience arc welding with a stick electrode. Those of us who had no experience were partnered up with people who had some experience.

I was partnered up Malibu, one of the guys from the previous week who had been talking to me about where to buy the textbooks. After he introduced himself, we grabbed our tools, threw on our safety glasses and headed into the shop. He told me that it had been quite a number of years since he had welded, and hoped he remembered what he was doing. One of the advanced students showed us how to turn on the equipment and adjust the voltage, and where the electrodes were kept, then we got to work.

I watched over his shoulder as he welded, then we switched out so I could have a chance. I stuck the electrode against the metal, and pulled up too far, and the flame went out. So I tried again, and didn't pull up enough and stuck the electrode to the metal. This continued a lot throughout the evening. I did get a couple of beads completed, but they looked terrible, and I got mad at myself everytime I screwed up. Malibu was very supportive and kept telling me to try again and not get frustrated. He made a few errors too, but was overall much better than me.

I had to kick the perfectionist in me to the side and remind myself that he had done this before and I had not.

Teach came by to ask us what we thought and how we were doing and all I could say was, "Well it looked a lot easier in the video." He gave us some tips and while Malibu as working he asked if I wanted to work in the industry, or if I was just here for personal reasons.

As I was not currently working, I told him that I was open to working as a welder if I found that I liked it, and did well with it. So he told me that women welders get union jobs very easily, if they turn out quality work. I was surprised, but he said it's because they need the minority, as an equal opportunity employer. This immediately sparked (haha, get it?) in me a desire to get to work.

We showed him our welds, he gave us some tips to try out and headed on to the next group of students.

We cleaned up, put our tools away and headed out a bit later. Not only was I leaving ecstatic about having gotten to weld, but I was also happy that I made a friend in Malibu, and hence, was starting to feel less like an outcast.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Second Day

The second day of class I made my way to the back of the lecture area, ready to escape any unnecessary attention. I quickly realized how different the view was, from where I had sat last week, right up front. I was able to observe my classmates, and quickly saw that most of them were avoiding eye contact with me. Part of me was surprised, but a bigger part of me was not.

We watched a safety video, and a video on stick Arc Welding. I watched and thought Oh that looks easy.

A few guys actually did talk to me. When Teach was discussing places to buy our text books, I piped up that had them much cheaper, they turned and asked questions like "How much?" or "For both the text and the workbook?" I noticed that the ones that did speak up were much older than I was. The younger ones kept their eyes forward.

Teach concluded by stating that the following class we would actually get to weld, because it was easier to explain things once we had already given it a try.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Rules (of the blog).

I am posting this blog anonymously to protect the integrity of my school and my classmates. I am not one to name names, and I am sure that as this project progresses there will be opportunities for names to come up. I am sure there will be good guys and bad guys. No one wants to be the bad guy, so I would rather just not drop names. Maybe this will get back to my fellow classmates. Maybe someone will read this that knows the real me. If those things happen, I don't want people to read it and know who I am talking about. (Although who knows, they may anyway.)

I have chosen to name the characters in my memoirs after cars. Not only is there a wealth of car models to choose from, but I feel that they can easily portray a personality. What do you think of when someone mentions a Lamborghini Murcielago? A Toyota Camry? A VW Rabbit? (I thank my dear friend D. for her help in coming up with this concept.)

Wendy the Welder is much like Rosie the Riveter. Not an actual person, but a figure symbolizing many women. Rosie and Wendy represent the women who worked in factories during World War II. They have become icons of our culture, prominent figures in the history of the United States. I am proud to call myself "a Wendy" and "a Rosie".

The picture on my profile is of "a Wendy" at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California during World War II. I pay homage to her, and her sisters, in using this picture to represent myself. I hope that one day I can amount to all that they have. I do also plan to look for some artwork to take the place of this picture, until then, I salute the Wendy's that have helped shape my country's history.

Smalltown, USA is everywhere. Your town, my town. It doesn't matter. Imagine it to be wherever you like. Every state, province, country has one.

Please feel free to contact me via comment here, my Facebook page or email. I would love to hear from everyone. I am new to this field and those of you with experience are an inspiration to me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The First Day

I stepped into the shop lecture room, and heads turned to stare at me. I took a seat in the front row, and dug around in my backpack for a pen and my notebook. I tried to look intent on what I was doing as people filed in, but I couldn't help but notice that most of the guys already knew each other. Not only was I the only female, I also didn't know a soul.

Teach came out and told us that class was going to be short that night. He didn't want to go over anything important until he knew who was going to add the class and who would drop. He gave us our list of materials we would need to get (gloves, an arc helmet, vice grips, slag hammer, etc.), and told us that we needed to wear 100% cotton, long sleeves, boots and safety glasses at all times, no matter what.

One of the advanced students looked down at my feet under the table, from where he sat on the counter across from me. I was wearing low-top Converse All Stars. "You have boots?" he asked. Um, hello, I was a teenager in the 90's, all we wore were boots. "Yes I do." He looked at me skeptically.

Teach gave us a rundown of the program, telling us how long it had been around and a general overview of the things we would learn.

He told us that welding jobs in the county were scarce, but if we were willing to work outside of the county, we were sure to get a job. Thank god, I do NOT want to stay here. They were currently working with one of the plants locally to put together an internship program for us, to help us get job skills and hopefully a job. The advanced student who asked about my boots looked at me and said "And they will take women too, they don't descriminate." Well good.

Afterwards, Teach came around and asked everyone their names so he could mark us off the role sheet. "And you must be," his eyes scanned the roster, "Wendy," he marked me off. He seemed to vaguely remember me. "Ever done any welding before?"


"Didn't take it in high school?"

"We didn't have it in high school."

"Where did you go to school?" I told him that I wasn't from around here, and we got into a discussion about the school budget and how shop classes were closing right and left in high schools. Not wanting to date myself, I didn't mention that I was in high school twelve years ago!

I went home anxious for the following week. I was ready to learn, ready for my new skills, and ready to kick butt.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


There I was, on the first day of registration. My paperwork in hand, standing in line, biting my fingernails. When it was my turn at the counter, I watched nervously as the registrar typed in my requests. Finally he looked up at me and said "Alright, you're in." The weight lifted off my shoulders and he handed me my class schedule.

Two weeks before class started I stopped in at the bookstore to purchase my supplies. My welding book only available used. The cover was weathered and the pages were smeared with black finger prints. I smiled, hugged it to my chest and whispered to myself "pre-loved".


After I received my email that I had qualified for the Federal Pell Grant, I called up the school and signed up for orientation and my placement test.

At the orientation, we went around the room and introduced ourself and said what our major was. I hadn't (and still haven't) chosen a major. But I knew for a fact that I wanted to take all of the welding classes and upon completion of them get my certification. So when it was my turn, I introduced myself and said that my major was welding. The counselor heading the orientation looked pleasantly surprised. Her eyes got big and she went onto say "That's great, we definitely need more women welders." Woo! Girl Power! Everyone else was majoring in business, nursing, radiologic technology... very normal things. I felt different, and I liked it.

Once I completed the placement test and the school was confident that I knew english and math, I was given an appointment to meet with a counselor and choose classes and an educational plan.
We went over my different options for english, math, the basics. Then I told her that I wanted to take welding. She wasn't phased by this. But I pointed out that in the school catalog it didn't say that the upcoming arc welding class was for beginners. And should I also be taking the TIG and MIG class that was being offered? She wasn't sure, so we headed over to the shop to talk to the teacher.

The Teacher (from here out referred to as "Teach") greeted me with a handshake and a warm smile. My counselor said "We wanted to talk to you, because she is interested in taking your classes, but we are a little intimidated by the idea being that it's usually all guys in the class." WHAT? Who was she kidding? I recovered politely and elbowed her gently "You may be intimidated, but I'm not." Teach told us that he loved having women in the class because they tried hard and unlike the guys, didn't walk in thinking they knew everything. My counselor then asked if I could get a tour. Teach said sure.

One of the students gave me a tour. He showed me to the cabinet with the safety glasses then introduced himself with a handshake and showed me into the shop. He pointed out the arc welding stations, the grinders, plasma cutters.... with each thing he showed me, I felt the excitement rising in me. I was oblivious to the other people in the shop until a guy came in from the side door and asked my tour guide "What's going on?"

"She's going to be taking the class with us in the spring," said my tour guide.

Two guys at the arc welding booths turned to look at me, and their eyes grew.

The guy who had asked what was up smiled. "Ok, you can sit by me."

I laughed and said "Alright."

That was the end of the tour so when we stepped back into the lecture room, I thanked my tour guide, and only then noticed how attractive he was, and blushed at my thought. I put the safety glasses back into the cabinet, said I would see him in the spring, then went to say goodbye to Teach before heading back to the administration office.

Teach asked what my interest was in welding. Art? Cars? I told him it was mostly car related but I would be interested in some art too. He said he was looking forward to having me, and I told him also that I would see him in the spring.

In the administration office we filled out my class request sheet. Teach recommended that since I was a beginner, I should stick with just the arc welding class to start. So we picked out some other classes and she told me that I should show up and register on the first day possible because the welding classes filled fast and usually had a waiting list.

I headed home with a smile on my face, and more excitement in my heart than I had felt in a long time.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I looked into welding training many times through the community college. My guy friends always said I didn't need a class, but I am a perfectionist, and if I am gonna do something, I want to do it right, and I want the finished product to be exceptional.

But with work and life, I never had time to take the classes, so my goal of being the go-to welder, faded into the background. Meanwhile, we grew up, and the streetracing/car building crew, drifted apart. We had full time jobs, moved into our own places, some married and had kids, money was in shorter supply so the lifestyle became a hobby, and eventually some gave up the hobby.

Fast forward a number of years. It's 2009, I am single and unemployed following a series of bad decisions. The economy is in shambles. I am broke, and I finally kick my ego to the curb and move home to Smalltown, USA to live with Mom and Dad.

I'm hunting for a job, but the economy here is just as bad and much smaller. The nearest urban area is 50 miles away. I wouldn't mind the commute, but there are few jobs and all of the ones that are available have mobs of applicants. A few months are spent sitting on my butt, reading, playing video games, watching everything I can on Netflix, living on Facebook playing every flash game they offer.

I'm outside one weekend, talking to the lady who lives across the road. Nice lady, I can easily say that she is my only friend in Smalltown. She is about 10 years my senior, her kids 10 years my junior. She is telling me how she just completed her associates degree at the local community college. A lightbulb turns on in my mind.

I never went to college after high school... ok I started a semester, but didn't have the discipline to finish it. I am not doing anything now, so curiously, I hop on the school's website and browse the catalog.

Immediately, I see that there is a welding program. Mere seconds later, I am filling out the online registration.