In The Shop: "The Welding Shop"

Published on: 08:35AM Oct 27, 2011

 If you still have a "welding shop" in your town, you're lucky. An earlier generation called them blacksmiths. Whatever the name, they were the place you went when you needed planter runners or anhydrous knives hard-faced, cast iron components welded, or mangled metal straightened and made near-new. There were also always a few old school bus seats in a back corner next to a coffee pot, where customers could wait for quick repairs, and where a crowd of loafers would gather to discuss world affairs, local affairs (literally), and offer opinions on every repair job that came through the door. 

To a farm kid, a welding shop was a wondrous place. Dark, cluttered, filled with machines capable of straightening what was bent or bending what was straight. The proprietors of welding shops were oil-stained magicians who could take a mangled piece of machinery and beat, heat, twist and tease it back into useful condition. They had welders capable of near-nuclear fusion, and their welding beads were things of beauty. It was a crime to paint a welding shop repair job---the welding beads were too pretty to cover with paint.

On our farm, we managed "average" repairs in the dirt-floored corner of the machine shed that was our designated shop, but it was a matter of simultaneous shame and pride if I busted a piece of equipment badly enough to require a trip to the welding shop.

Today, welding shops are fading from small towns. Many farmers now own their own acetylene torches, mega-amp welders and other metal working tools. Welding shops have been replaced by machine shops--well-lit, shiny-clean mini-factories with computer-guided lathes, plasma cutters and other machines that require a tech-school degree to operate.

Machines shops may actually get the job done even better than the old-style welding shops, thanks to all those gee-whiz-fancy machines. Heck, their bills are computer-generated, printed as neat, tidy and fancy as a bill you'd get from a lawyer or accountant. I sort of miss those carbon-paper bills, the ones the old guy in the greasy welding apron would laboriously write with the broken stub of a pencil he kept in his shirt pocket. The bills with greasy fingerprints smeared right beside the cheerful "Thank You For Your Business!" printed at the bottom of the bill.