ALBANY, Ore. — When Morgan Bledsoe’s car broke down, the single mother of three decided she wanted to take a diesel technology course at Linn-Benton Community College to learn how to take care of such problems.
The course was full, so Bledsoe enrolled in a beginning welding technology class and found her calling.
“I loved it from the first day,” Bledsoe said. “It’s awesome.”
The 2000 West Albany High graduate has since gone on to enjoy a career welding everything from structural steel building projects to sawmills and even a rock screen used on the TV show “Gold Rush.”
For the last two years she has used her metal melting skills for Albany-based Tekfab, which fabricates machinery used in steel rollforming — such as making steel studs used in high-rise buildings, corner brackets used in dry walling, and roof flashing.
Bledsoe said she really latched on to welding when she started creating metal art.
While at LBCC, Bledsoe won a Skills USA contest and took 13th at the national contest held in Kansas City.
She has continued to enjoy the art side of her work, laughing that “I’m not the least bit girly.”
When she isn’t working at Tekfab, Bledsoe, 36, can be found in her home shop — which includes a small forge — crafting garden flowers out of metal and experimenting with art deco-like visual arts made from nuts, washers and other common materials.
Bledsoe said she realized while at LBCC that being a female, she was going to be always be a minority among her co-workers, but she enjoys her work because “it requires so much fine tuning. We have to be on the spot and pretty.”
Bledsoe said she can understand why more women may not enter the welding/fabrication field because, “You have to get into uncomfortable, sometimes funny positions and work upside down,” she said. “Sometimes, you might even catch on fire.”
Bledsoe is proficient with numerous types of welding and enjoys brazing with an oxy-acetylene torch. At work she works with short arc and flux core welding.
But Bledsoe said the positives of her job far outweigh the negatives.
Welders are in short supply nationwide and jobs come with family wages, ranging from $18 to more than $30 per hour. Specialty welders can earn hundreds of dollars per hour.
“I get to be creative, and metal is forgiving,” Bledsoe said. “I can cut it, heat it and bend it as needed. I can add color or take it away.”
Bledsoe said she hopes to expand her artworks to include larger wall hangings and someday, “create some big sculptures that would go into a museum.”
She also sells some of her metal work and may be contacted on Facebook under Morgan Bledsoe.
Of her five children, Bledsoe said her daughter Odessa, 12, is the only one interested in welding so far.
“She loves it,” Bledsoe said. “When I’m in the shop, she grabs her gloves and wants to help.”
Bledsoe said Tekfab recently helped 26 area Boy Scouts earn their merit badges in welding.
“We spent the day with them and before they were done, they got to lay down some practice beads,” Bledsoe said. “It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun.”
Bledsoe said her father always wanted her to be a lawyer.
“I absolutely love welding and would not want to be a lawyer for anything,” Bledsoe said.
When she isn’t at work or in her Crabtee shop making fire, Bledsoe can be found putting out fires as a volunteer with the Scio Fire District.
Although he has been with Tekfab only two months, operations manager Chris Sturges said he was “delighted to see a female on the fabrication floor.”
“Morgan is definitely a valuable member of our team,” Sturges said.
Although tens of thousands of woman learned to weld during World War II and earned the nickname Rosie the Riveter, future generations were often locked out of high school industrial/vocational programs through the 1950s and 1960s. Now, only about 3 percent of professional welders are women.
But today, there is a huge demand nationwide for welders and fabricators.
According to the American Welding Society, the average age for welders in the United States is 54, and some 45 percent of the workforce is in their 50s or older.
There is a projected need for more than 111,000 welders over the next five years.
The company is putting the finishing touches on a new 40,000-square-foot building at their main site on 29th in Albany. Sturges said Bledsoe has already set up her work area for efficiency and safety.
Founded in 2001 by Aaron Roth and Robert Taylor, Oregon State University engineering graduates, the company has 32 employees in Albany and three at a new plant in East Lake, Ohio.
Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, http://www.dhonline.com