‘If I can do it, anybody can do it’
Last month, personal finance website Wallethub published a survey naming North Dakota the hardest working state in the USA.
That news came as little surprise to most North Dakotans, especially to several Pierce County women who work hard in non-traditional jobs and love it.
Rugby Welding employs three women who recently finished putting together 400 metal stands for use in the oil field, then spent more time during their weeks at jobs in offices and a hair salon.
Robin Foss, who worked weekends at Rugby Welding for their recent project, told the Tribune she has “always had a strong work ethic.” Foss said her main job is in the Nodak Insurance Company office in Rugby*, but she also works at Stylin’ You Salon part time. She started welding when she answered a call for help on the business’ latest project.
“Dana (Lemar) told me they were doing a project, and asked me if I wanted to come help,” Foss said. “I just did that because I’m going to New York and I needed some extra cash.”
But Foss said she enjoyed the work, adding, “I’m (going to keep) welding when they get the next (project).”
Lemar said she began doing her work for Rugby Welding “last April, just doing books. Then, I wanted to learn how to weld my own stuff on my derby car, and that’s how I got into welding.”
“And then,” she added, “When we took this project on, I asked Robin and (part time welder Mykell Bosch) ‘Do you want to make some extra money?’ And they were like, ‘I don’t know’ And I said, ‘If I can do it, anybody can do it.’ And so it worked out pretty good.”
Lemar said although welding appealed to her, the task was more than just picking up a torch and aiming it.
Rugby Welding enlisted the help of retired welding instructor Bruce Gannarelli for training.
“He said women are better welders nine times out of 10 than men because we are more meticulous,” Lemar said of Gannarelli.
“So that was a nice thing to hear. And we all picked it up quite easily, which we kind of thought we wouldn’t, and we did.”
Lemar recalled Foss working hard to practice her welding skills until she learned the perfect technique which is necessary to avoid bubbling the welding material or burning through the metal being welded.
“She decided that she was going to be here until midnight until she got it,” Lemar said with a smile. “She did not care. And (Rugby Welding owner Vince Mattern) said, “‘that is so awesome. She’s very determined.’ So, we have fun, we three girls with Mike and Vince, and when Bruce is here, it’s quite hilarious.”
Rugby Manufacturing welder Melissa Tuenge also has experience in a more traditional career field for women, but works full-time as a welder.
“I love it,” Tuenge said of her career as a welder.
Tuenge described her parents as “really hard workers.” “I feel like I got a lot of my work ethic from them. Even my dad, to this day, he’s in his sixties, he’s still working 10 hours a day. He’s on his own now, doing his own thing, but still he works long hours.”
Tuenge said the work her father did always held an appeal for her.
“I’ve always found myself more drawn to men’s jobs, like carpentry,” Tuenge noted.
“I helped my dad when he redid his house. I helped him shingle and side. My husband now needs help doing anything, I’m right there to help him. I would always rather have held a hammer than (do traditional “women’s work”),” Tuenge added.
“But, I actually, in high school, I didn’t take classes like welding.”
“I actually went to college and have a four-year degree in education. I decided teaching wasn’t for me. I taught for a year and didn’t enjoy it, possibly because I was only four years older than most of my students,” Tuenge recalled with a laugh. “They made it pretty hard on me.”
Tuenge said she is one of two female welders at Rugby Manufacturing. The other welder, Christine Gilje, works nights at the facility.
“I started here, however, as a painter. I painted for one year, and they were hurting for welders back then, so they brought in a guy from one of our sister companies to give a small class,” Tuenge said. “He taught us the basics of welding, and after that, I took my weld test, and I passed, and I love welding.”
Tuenge added, “I’ve always been drawn to puzzles and time-consuming things, and I don’t know if you want to compare welding to a puzzle, but you have to piece things together, and weld the line. You have to have a steady hand to make a nice weld.”
Describing her job, Tuenge said, “I have to wear a respirator that gives me breathable air the whole time, so I’m always hooked up to a hose.”
“I weld mild steel and galvanneal, they call it,” Tuenge continued. “It’s a mix of galvanized steel and mild steel.”
Tuenge said welding with the galvanneal can be tricky. “It’s quite a bit different from welding mild steel. You get a lot of spatter, and it’s pretty thin metal, so there are times when I’ve set my welder a lot different than most of the welders who are out here, because my steel is a lot thinner, and it burns through really easily. You really want to make sure there’s not, like a gap, because if there’s a gap, you’ve got to trigger-aim your weld, or else it can burn right through.”
Tuenge said she’s received plenty of surprised reactions after telling people what she does for a living.
“When people ask me what my job is and I tell them, I get especially from a lot of females, a lot of mouths drop, like, ‘You’re a welder? That’s awesome!’ And they all think it’s such an amazing thing, but to me, it’s really no big deal.”
Tuenge said she would encourage girls in high school to consider welding for a career “if it’s something they feel they’d enjoy.”
Tuenge’s coworker on the night shift, Christine Gilje, said she returned to welding after more traditional jobs at Heart of America Medical Center and in automotive sales.
“I like to work with my hands,” Gilje said. “I would much rather be building something. I am not meant to be sitting down in a chair and working. I just like creating things, and here, this is what we do, and I enjoy it.”
“I have two girls I consider mine, and I told them Rugby Manufacturing is a great place, even for part-time when you’re in college. You’ll make better wages here than anywhere else. I’ll refer any girls to (consider welding). They can do it as easily as any of the guys can,” Gilje said. “And it’s a good skill to fall back on (in leaner times).”
Lemar at Rugby Welding agreed.
“I would recommend it, because there’s a high demand for welders, and actually, they make very good money. You just have to learn how to do it, and it’s not as hard as you think. It’s definitely a good career.”
* clarified from print edition.
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page