By now you have probably heard of Cut Bank’s Arc Angels. They are a small group of women, about a dozen of them in all, who have the community buzzing about their Tuesday evening escapades. They meet at the Cut Bank Schools bus garage for two to three hours each week and when they leave, they’re usually tired, dirty and laughing.
The ladies ornamental welding class offered through School District No. 15’s Adult Education Program has been a hit this winter. Brian Hayes, a new teacher in the Cut Bank School system, but a veteran teacher of vo-ed classes, may have been coerced into teaching the class but he seems to enjoy the after-hours Tuesday evening assignment.
“I would use the term welding loosely. It is more a class where the gals are sticking things together with hot metal,” laughed Hayes. “No, really, they are a great group to teach, full of energy and enthusiasm and they have some pretty good ideas, too. I have enjoyed teaching this adult education class more than any others. They have been plum enjoyable.”
For most of the “students” in the class, this is their first experience with wire-fed welders, the plasma cutter, benders and rollers, cut-off saws and the other such equipment.
Who are these Arc Angels? Mona Shortman, Joyce Lewis, Pauline “Sissy” Nygaard, Jill Huschka, Cheri Bundy, Jonna Tafelmeyer, Shirley Gage, LeAnne Kavanagh, Libby Upham, Shelley Larson, Ginger Flesch and Korey Nelson. Most of these gals jokingly refer to the women-only class as “Old Lady Welding.”
“One of the neatest things about these gals was in the beginning, they would look at a piece of equipment like it was a monster and was going to attack them. And then, by the end of the class, there was no fear, no apprehension. They had gained a significant amount of confidence and were enjoying using all the equipment,” commented Hayes.
Jill Huschka agreed. “At first, you are a little nervous about the sparks and the heat, but then you see it isn’t that bad.”
“The best thing I have learned in welding class is to not be afraid of welders, torches, plasma cutters, grinders, band saws and the sand blaster. It’s really not as intimidating as I thought it was growing up,” offered Sissy Nygaard.
At the first class, Hayes made sure everyone understood the importance of being safety conscious. “Brian also outlined a few other class rules, such as, no screaming, loud noises, laughing or squealing. We weren’t very good about following some of those,” grinned LeAnne Kavanagh. “It’s a fun class, and we can’t help but laugh at ourselves and each other…a lot.”
“But safety is our first priority,” chimed in Mona Shortman. “We learned how to use the machines and tools and what to wear and use for eye protection with each machine.”
There is a dress code of sorts to the class. In addition to always wearing safety glasses, the gals wore gloves, leather shoes, jeans and all-cotton shirts. “Good gloves are important to protect our hands from the grinding wheel and the sparks. We are also careful to keep our hair pulled back, our skin covered, and to watch out for others who may be walking near our work area, along with a few other do’s and don’ts,” shared Jonna Tafelmeyer.
“I swear it takes me longer to get ready for welding than it does for work,” said Kavanagh. Jewelry, hair spray and shirts made out of synthetic material are all on the “don’t wear” list as were non-leather tennis shoes, sweat pants and cuffed jeans.
At the first class, Hayes asked his students “if they wanted to learn about welding or if they would rather just make things. They all wanted to make projects. So we covered the basics in safety and then they got after it,” he said.
Libby Upham said once they “covered the basics of each machine and all the important safety stuff, then the work began and we learned how to use each machine.” They were all encouraged to bring project ideas to Hayes so he could make sure the right supplies were available or could be ordered. The “old lady welders” made everything from plant stands to picture easels, from yard and garden art to wall decorations.
“I love being able to create anything we wanted to and have the professional guidance when we had questions or weren’t quite sure what to do,” said Shortman. “Fortunately, I have a ‘hoarder’ husband and the perfect business (M&M Iron and Recycling) to support this new adventure. Merle had saved buckets of old valves that had come in and I made a cross from them. From a shovel and rake, I constructed an owl and from an old frying pan, a rooster. I also took old silverware and created butterflies, flowers and dragonflies.”
“My first project was a heart wreath,” said Upham, who crafted the wreath using the plasma cutter. Next she made an adorable fish design. “After checking on Pinterest, I found a pattern for a cross made out of horseshoes that really stuck out. So we bummed some horseshoes from Glenn Thompson and made the cross. My last project was the word ‘love’ made with cut horseshoes.”
“I used the plasma cutter to make a heart-shaped metal bulletin board of sorts and then went to town using the scroller and welder to make a trivet and easel. I also made a couple of crosses out of railroad ties and metal tubing, and some fun metal desk art,” said Kavanagh.
The Arc Angels are busy this week planning their art show and silent auction, which will be held on Saturday, March 15, in the back room at The Den. The silent auction items will feature projects made by the Arc Angels and some of Hayes’ high school welding students. All proceeds will be used to purchase a piece of equipment for the Cut Bank Schools’ vo-ed shop.
“We wanted to do something to show our appreciation to Brian and the school district. This is our way of not only showing off some of the projects we made and saying thanks for the opportunity to learn something new; but also to raise some money to purchase something that will benefit the ‘real’ students in the program,” said Kavanagh. (Watch for more on the Arc Angel’s Art Show and Auction in next week’s issue.)
Ensuring that the ladies got enough one-on-one attention, Hayes recruited a couple of helpers, Transportation Supervisor Steve Kincaid and Jeremiah Red Bear, a senior at Cut Bank High School. “I couldn’t have done the class without their help. No way could one guy teach that many ladies,” laughed Hayes.
“Brian, Steve and Jeremiah deserve medals,” joked Huschka. “They have been patient, kind and they weren’t afraid to tell us if we did it wrong, which I did quite a bit,” she said with a grin. “They have been great instructors and I thank them for that.”
Tafelmeyer agreed. “The instructors have been great to work with. Brian is very positive and is always amazed by how hard we work and get things done,” she said. “Steve and Jeremiah have been great to work with as well. They are always willing to help and the three of them contribute in different areas.”
“Our instructors are the most patient men ever. To have that many of us in the class every week, had to have been a little nerve-racking,” said Upham. “Let’s face it, we are not the quietest of people,” she pointed out. “On top of that, they are available an hour before class each week so we can get in early. They are very helpful.”
“There were times they just shook their heads, smiled and then would ask if we needed help,” said Kavanagh. “By then I was usually a little frustrated and would respond, ‘You think?’ and then they would explain what I needed to do to fix what I had just screwed up. They were great.”
What else did the Arc Angels look forward to each week besides creating their unique designs and projects? Their time together as classmates.
“The group itself was so dynamic. Everyone is eager to weld and excited. It is contagious!” exclaimed Shortman. “They are a great group of gals who are fun and encouraging and always helping each other.”
“Once the class started it was a ton of fun getting together with the ladies. It is my most enjoyable evening of the week,” said Upham.
“I have had a blast with these ladies, they are a fun group. I bet when the instructors saw all of us women they were saying to themselves, what have we gotten ourselves into?” laughed Huschka.
“The welding class actually lets me relax because I am totally focused on the project I am working on,” said Nygaard. “It is the most relaxing two hours of my week.”
Kavanagh agreed. “I look forward to Tuesday and getting out of the office and just doing something so different than what I do all week long. The gals in the class are fun to be around and everyone is so helpful. We all have our little areas of expertise in the shop and are more than willing to help out each other when we can.”
“The ladies in the class are a blast and we all support each other and look to each other for ideas and laughter,” said Tafelmeyer. “Libby and I have talked about buying different things for welding and how much fun it would be to be able to take what we have learned and to continue welding after it is all over.”
All of these gals said they would take the class again. And, more importantly, Hayes said he would gladly teach it again.
“I would take the class again in a heartbeat because it is so rewarding to say I welded that,” Huschka said.
Shortman is hoping Hayes will teach not only a “beginner’s” class but also an advanced one next year. “And, of course, I’d sign up for both,” she chuckled.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to teach the class again,” said Hayes. “What the ladies lacked in knowledge, they made up for with enthusiasm. They came into the class with a lot of energy and were very fun to teach.”