Shielded Metal – A Welding Documentary

by Jimmy on November 1, 2012

Synopsis:
A documentary about the gritty beauty of welding. Professors and students from the Northern Virginia Community College arc welding class star in this short movie and help give a brief history of welding (including the grand history of women in welding), their motivations for pursuing a career in welding, and the great assortment of things you can create from metal and heat.

Making the Movie:
It’s been almost a year to the day since I posted something on the Jimbob Movies website and what better way to get back into the swing of things than to premiere a new documentary.  Hopefully, this will assuage the fears of the few Jimbob Movies fans out there, if not my own fears, that I have not and will not stop making movies.  I just took a hiatus to focus on starting a small farm.  I recently bought a 13 acre farm in Fauquier County, Virginia and leading up to that purchase I decided to enhance my on-farm acumen with some needed technical skills like welding.  Welding and farming have been a natural match since the early 20th century when tractors slowly started to replace draft animals on the family farm.  Farmers were able to using various welding processes to repair and modify their tractors and the attachments that were pulled and pushed by those tractors.   Of course, you don’t really need to be a good welder to be a good farmer.  You just need to know enough and have a steady hand.  In fact, often times people call a bad weld a “farmer’s weld.”

"Confederates in the Attic" describes the city of Manassas a little too accurately

In that grand tradition, I wanted to learn how to weld as a good as a farmer so I enrolled in the Arc Welding class at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) during the Spring semester of 2012.  The classes were held in my hometown of Manassas, Virginia.  A quick profile of Manassas for those of you who don’t know is best summarized by Tony Horwitz in his book Confederates in the Attic: “Modern Manassas, a fast-growing bedroom community for Washington, was so hideous that some locals called it “Manasshole.”  The town had gained modern renown as the place where Lorena Bobbitt hacked off her husband’s penis and tossed it in the grass outside a 7-Eleven.  The town’s historic railroad junction, which had caused North and South to clash here twice in the space of thirteen months, was now swaddled by miles of housing tracts, fast-food joints and car dealerships.  Civil War entrenchments had been bulldozed to make way for bowling alleys, shops, offices, and access roads, many of them named for the history they’d obliterated: Confederate Trail, Dixie Pawn, Battlefield Ford, Reb Yank Shopping Center.”

I guess Tony Horwitz can get away with saying that stuff about Manassas because he’s an “unbiased” author, but if anyone outside of Manassas said that I’d punch them in the face.  I actually lived on a street named “Confederate Trail” at one point in my life.  Indeed Manassas is a gritty, blue collar, strip mall kind of place and it was the perfect setting for a welding program.  The class cost a little over $300 when the price of the textbook was calculated in.  A small price to pay to learn a trade that will last a lifetime.  I was excited for my first class to begin; however, when I walked into the classroom on that first day I did have my reservations.  Here was a class full of white, blue collar, tobacco-chewing guys, some of whom had the thickest Southern accents I had ever heard in my life.  I guess I had grown up in the more northern part of Manassas.  Needless to say, I was the only Vietnamese in the class.  I had expected at least one hipster/artist in the class who wanted to start a bicycle repair shop or boutique welding shop that built intricate arbors for the McMansions in McLean.  Sadly, I was that hipster.  For many of the guys in the class, welding was going to be more than a hobby.  They wanted to pursue a career in welding and were taking all of the welding courses to earn their Welding Certificate.

Welding Professor Carrie Rossi

Welding Professor Carrie Rossi pounding away at some hot metal

Not to be anti-climatic, but things turned out just fine after the initial stock-taking that happens when a group of guys who don’t know each other get thrown together into a confined space.  Maybe I was the oddball at first, but that luster began to fade.  People who work with their hands for a living respect hard work more than anything else and you can’t bullshit that.  In the end, everyone accepted me as just another Manasshole Man.  It also didn’t hurt that the professor was a lovely, petite woman who had a charming laugh.  Her name was Carrie Rossi.  She was from a family of welders and her dad had taught welding at NVCC.  Now she was taking up his legacy as a welding professor.  Carrie was patient, encouraging, and balanced the male egos in the shop with her grace and quiet confidence.  She had quite a career in welding working on the Hubble Space Telescope, military vehicles, and various welding projects on the estates of the rich and powerful like an unnamed Senator.  She made me feel instantly comfortable and at home in the shop.

After passing all my weld tests (flat, vertical, horizontal, and a butt joint), I decided that my class project would be to make a documentary of my professor and fellow classmates.  Most of my classmates were open to being in the movie and some agreed to be interviewed.  They were open and honest and I loved how none of their dreams included spending years in a cubicle staring at a computer.  They wanted to work with their hands and they wanted to produce.  The b-roll footage turned out crisp and I hope that I was able to capture the arcane beauty of being under that welding helmet and seeing metal burn, crack, and glow at unnaturally high temperatures (over 11,000 degrees F).  There is something calming and magical about welding that has drawn me in.  Or maybe it was all the hydrocarbons that I was inhaling.  Either way, I hope to show off my farmer’s welds along with my farmer’s tan one day.

Director and welder Jimmy Nguyen

Future Welder of America

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