Welding Rodeo

Wrangling scrap into sculpture

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Typically, rodeos focus on the domination of one species over another—whether it’s cowboys wrangling half-ton steers or bucking broncos successfully upending the two-legged homo sapiens who are trying to stay put in their saddles.

At the Bellingham Technical College’s (BTC) annual “Welding Rodeo,” however, it’s strictly human versus metal.

While it’s true that some of the concepts are similar—for example, both types of rodeos are designed to test the skill and speed of their competitors, each requires a certain amount of protective gear, and prizes are bestowed upon the victors—the end results of each hoedown soon make it clear that these events couldn’t be more different.

Creativity is the key to what separates one from the other. Over the past 14 years, as the “Welding Rodeo” has morphed from a small event designed to highlight BTC’s welding program and the campus itself into a two-day artistic extravaganza, the gathering has grown in both size and focus.

This year’s event, which takes place May 15-16 on the BTC campus, may be its most ambitious yet.

The action begins early Friday morning, when the blowing of a loud horn signals to the four-person teams of competitors from Bellingham and around Washington state that it’s time to sprint to an enormous pile of donated scrap metal and choose the materials that will complete their visions for the chosen “Fire and Ice” theme. For the next eight hours—with amateurs on Friday, and pros on Saturday—the teams will toil in their dedicated outdoor work stations to transform the hunks of steel into finished works of art that will be sold to the highest bidders at two separate auctions.

The “Fire and Ice” element of the creative competition is crucial. If the participants don’t actively incorporate the theme—and find something interesting to do with the 300-pound blocks of ice each team will be asked to use—they won’t qualify.

Seeing how these sculptures come together is the biggest draw for the members of the public who come to the “Welding Rodeo” to watch the welders wrangle their visions into being, but more and more activities have been added over the years that make the experience an interactive one, as well.

Among those offerings are an individual skills challenge for welders of all ages and skill levels; a chance for high school students to perform one free skill (additional skills are $5, and pre-registration is encouraged); and a public hands-on welding booth that will feature experienced student welders guiding you through the process of creating your own weld.

But that’s not all—not by a long shot. In addition to providing information about other Bellingham Technical College programs and professional opportunities in related industries, there’ll also be wood-carving demos by Whidbey Island artist Jessi Stack, blacksmith demos by Bob Thomas of Sunset Forge and other trade professionals, and a chance to watch an American Culinary Federation-sanctioned “Culinary Competition” taking place during the same time as the “Welding Rodeo.”

To go along with the aforementioned “Fire and Ice” theme, the food-focused event will also include an ice-carving competition—so instead of watching sparks fly, you’ll be watching carvers create works of art with blocks of frozen water. Any way you look at it, it’s not your typical day at the rodeo.

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