Nebraska Blue Hill FFA students sharpen their welding skills
On the display table, cowboys swing a rope, mocking the real life cowboys just feet away roping the dummy. Pumpkins, crosses, and Christmas trees also adorn the table drawing attention as various shoppers look over the unique items, and share their amazement at the detail. All of the items are made from recycled horseshoes the students at Blue Hill School welded into decorative craft items.
There is a lot of pride that comes with building something that other people can purchase, display and enjoy. What is even more gratifying is having people see the design, and liking it so well that they want to purchase one for themselves. The students in the Ag Mechanics II class have been able to enhance their welding skills by making a variety of projects for themselves, members of the community, and even to sell at a few area craft shows.
According to Melissa Bonifas, who is their teacher and FFA advisor, it is a struggle to purchase metal each year for the advanced shop class to use for projects, so Gottsch feedyard generously donated the students their used horseshoes.
“We were looking for some smaller projects because of the cost of metal,” she explained. “Some of the kids just couldn’t afford to purchase the metal to make the larger projects. We did some research on the internet and came up with some ideas, and from there the kids just went crazy with them,” she said. “Pretty soon, they were making little cowboys, horseshoe wreaths, scrolling hearts, and making large crosses with scrolled hearts in the center. It was great to see every kid was able to make some type of project and be excited about it,” she explained.
What was exciting for Bonifas was not only seeing the unique items the students created, but how it boosted their self confidence and improved their welding skills. “I think the projects build their self esteem,” she explained. “They get an idea and start making it. Pretty soon, they are figuring out ways to make it even better. I think it does a lot for their self esteem and their self confidence. They are very proud when someone displays what they have made,” she said.
Some members of the community have even asked the students to make certain items. One of the most memorable is the pig Christmas tree. “We had been making Christmas trees out of horseshoes, and someone asked if we could make a pig Christmas tree. The students made the tree from horseshoes, but used the plasma cutter to cut out little pig silhouettes. It turned out really neat,” she said.
Although some of the money the students make from the projects is given back to the school to cover supply costs, the students get some of the proceeds from what they sell. “Some of the students have sold a few things, and others just took what they made home,” Bonifas explained.
Some of the students have even exhibited their projects at the county fair. Trevor Kohmatscher plans to show some of the horseshoe craft items he made this year, including a horseshoe coat rack. Fellow student, Garrett Williams, made bull guards during shop class last year. “I took one to fair and placed first,” he proudly admitted. This year, he only made one for his own pickup, but has made a self catching head gate, and a hay and grain feeder. Williams figures the items will come in handy after college when he returns to the farm. “I think the welding skills I have learned in high school will make things a lot easier for me in the future,” he said. “There will be some equipment I may not need to buy, because I think I can do a better job building it myself,” he said.
Kyle Mans said making trees, pumpkins and other craft items from horseshoes helped him really improve his own welding skills. “I feel like I will need good welding skills on the farm so I can fix things myself, without having to pay someone else to fix them,” he said. “It also helped us make some cash by selling some of the seasonal craft items,” he explained. “We learned how to market our items, which could really come in handy when I am selling things myself,” he added.
Some of the items they made from horseshoes were somewhat of a challenge, Mans said. “We would shine up the horseshoes, and make sure the placements were right,” he said. “Depending upon what we were making, we had to cut some in half, and make sure we welded them correctly so our design looked right.”
Cutting the designs out with a plasma cutter was also a challenge. “When we made the pig tree, it was hard cutting those pig silhouettes out with the plasma cutter,” he said.
Jeremiah Krueger agreed. “My favorite project was a metal sign I made for our farm,” he said. “I cut out a cow and calf on the sign with the plasma cutter. It was really tough to cut out that much detail,” he said. Krueger had practiced plasma cutting last fall by making trees, pumpkins and other craft items for the craft shows before tackling the sign.
When Bonifas started teaching agriculture and shop classes at the school 12 years ago, she made it her personal goal to see that the students learned to use a variety of welding techniques in shop class. She has been very proud of what they have been able to accomplish over the years. “During their first year of shop class, I teach the students about the different machines, how they work, and safety,” she said. “The second year, they get to pick projects of their own to make. Sometimes, they don’t know what to make, so I have to help them find something to make that they can be proud of,” she said.
“As far as what we have access to, there are quite a few things we can make,” she said. “We want to inspire the kids to consider a career in welding. Usually, it is the second year students that are more confident, and have the skills to look into welding as a career. The projects help build their confidence, and when they enter the FFA welding contest, it helps them even more,” she said.
“The challenge has been trying to find something cost effective that will allow the students to make some money,” she continued. “Some even use their welding projects as their SAE projects. The welding projects are very educational because they have to do all the thinking, pricing, and measurements. They also make a neat marketing project because they learn so much having their own projects, and getting to add to them what they want,” Bonifas said.
Since Blue Hill is a small community, the students have also been able to build items in shop class that their neighbors have requested. Trent Kohmatscher and two of his classmates built six bale feeders for sheep, and two of them were sold to other people. “These projects just really help us build our confidence level about what we can build. We learned a lot about how to make these projects,” he said.
His brother, Trevor Kohmatscher agreed, adding, The skills were have learned are teaching us more precision. I think they have definitely made me a better welder,” he said.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News