Brian Learns to Weld
In the spring of 1937, I was 18 years old, out of high school and looking for a job. At an office of The Federal Reemployment Agency, an agency set up by the federal government to help people who were put out of work by the great depression get jobs, I learned that general Motors had an opening for a welder. Great opportunity! Except that I was not a welder. Oh well, “I’ll just learn to weld!” So, I applied for the job.
A couple of brothers whom I knew, Johnny Ollivit age 20, and George Ollivit age 18, in spite of their youth, were the proprietors of an auto body and paint shop. I went to George, who was the body man, and asked him if I could use his welding equipment and practice welding on some old exhaust pipes and mufflers that were in his junk yard. He said, “Give me a couple of bucks for the welding gas and help yourself.” So I spent the afternoon practicing welding. I did not get to be very good at it, but I thought “they will probably start me off as a helper and I will get better.” So, I showed up for work the next morning at General Motors.
I was wrong about the helper part. They put me right on the assembly line welding the support structure for the raised floor, under which the spare tire was to be stowed, in the trunk compartment of 1937 Pontiacs, Oldsmobile’s and Buicks.
Naturally, with my very limited experience did not do well. I made terrible welds and burned holes in the metal underbody. Almost immediately the boss of my section noticed my deficiency. He said to me, “Kid, how long have you been welding?” I said, “About 10 minutes.” I thought for sure I was on my way out, but instead of firing me, he spit out some tobacco juice and said, “I’m going to teach you to weld.” He grabbed the torch and rod out of my hands and taught me enough welding so that I was able to do this rather basic welding job. He also taught me how to fill up the holes that I had burned in the underbody. All this while the assembly line was moving!
As time passed I became a better welder and I was able to get my job done in less working time than the moving assembly line allowed me. The same boss who had said “I’m going to teach you to weld” noticed this and gave me another job. It was welding little rain gutters on the doors. Their purpose was to protect the wind wings from rain. Anybody remember wind wings?
The moral to this part of the story is “make your job take all the time allowed you or you’ll get another job to do.”
At this point I was about ½ a welder. I could gas weld on thin metal. Stretching this ability to include heavy metal was fairly easy, but I could not electric arc weld.
I retained my status as a ½ welder for 36 years until I was 54 years old! During this time I became quite successful as a General Contractor and building designer.
Along about this time I thought, “I really should learn to arc weld.” I enrolled in Morris Crosby’s welding class at Victor Valley College. The first evening Morris sat down with me at the welding bench and showed me the basics of arc welding. After about ½ hour Morris said, “I have showed you about all there is to know about arc welding. Now what you have to do is sit here and burn iron until you get good at it.”
I went through Morris’ class 4 times! If a little “iron burning” is good, more is better.
I ended up not only learning to arc weld but I ended up, even though I was trying to retire, building a house for Morris and his wife Dorothy.
Morris made me a plaque that still hangs over my office door. The plaque includes, on a nicely finished wood base, a welders hammer and an engraved plate that reads, “Welder, Contractor, Gentleman, Friend.