Since Justin Kerr was hired five years ago to be the welding teacher at Pocahontas County High School, the class has been busy with projects, competitions and getting certified.
While most of the students’ projects are made-to-order for the state, the school or individual customers, the class has found itself with a surplus of products Kerr hopes the public will want to purchase.
“The first initial project we did was for the DNR and that was a bear trap trailer,” Kerr said. “We started [a second] trailer project the following year, and it was something I thought would be a good project to give them an idea of how to construct something out of raw steel. It turned into a really good project. It took us probably three to four months to do it.”
The trailer is the largest product the class has created that is now for sale. The finished trailer is 5’ x 10’ with a wooden floor and steel chassis. The students designed fenders for the two wheels which give added protection.
“The trailer itself is built above and beyond one that you purchase from a [farm supply] business,” Kerr said.
He said he would like to keep the trailer at the school to use in his program, but it’s just not quite the right fit for that.
“I would like to build another trailer to what we’re more able to use,” He continued. “This was a project that I thought would be good for the public. A lot of people use side-by-sides and four-wheelers, and I thought this was a perfect size trailer for something like that.”
The students have also made several fire pits and standing grills. It began as a project in conjunction with Watoga State Park, and now the class has prototypes and extras to sell.
“The state asked us to work with state parks,” Kerr said. “They have a certain budget to do fire pits and things like that.”
Included in the inventory are three octagonal fire pits, three standing grills and two larger fire pits with a place for grilling.
“Whenever you think about a fire pit, you’re not necessarily going to grill off of something like that, but you have the option with the larger ones,” Kerr said. “It is actually a pretty decent little setup because you can do both.”
The fire pits and grills are all unpainted and, to deter rust, will need a coat of stove paint that will have to be baked on.
The class has also been busy doing upgrades at the school, most notably, the fence in front of the school.
Replacing the old wooden fence, the welding class used posts topped with horseshoes, strung together by chain to make a more lasting barrier between the school’s yard and parking area.
“Everybody seems to really enjoy it,” Kerr said. “We’re actually adding on to that. We’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to get tied in with different people, and a lot of the fence was donated. Realistically, we don’t have that much money. The chain that was donated to us was probably six to seven thousand dollars’ worth of chain.”
Much of the program relies on donations and grants, one of which – a modernization grant – purchased a CNC plasma cutter, which allows students to create intricate designs with a computer which are then cut into a piece of steel by a machine.
“It has greatly improved on the amount of scrap material at the shop,” Kerr said. “It’s been well worth the money. It’s been a great program to have here, and we’re eventually going to use it to make metal signs for the fence.”
With the new equipment and more on the way, including a lathe donated by New River Career and Technical Community College, the class continues to take orders and create new products, including toolboxes, work tables and a few more artistic and sculptural projects.
Kerr also has several students who participate in the SkillsUSA competition in which they have to pit their welding skills against larger trade schools.
Being a small school hasn’t stopped the students from excelling. In the past five years, Kerr has had between 50 and 60 students become completers in welding and 14 of those have gone on to get their state certification.
“I’ve had several people go on to trade schools – whether it’s Hobart or New River,” he said. “I’ve had a pretty good outcome as far as them coming back and talking to me about how they’re doing and what they’re planning to do.”
“That’s a plus – coming back to tell me how they’re doing.”
Those interested in purchasing an item from the welding class may call the school at 304-799-6565 and ask for Kerr’s voicemail, or can email Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org