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Steel Their Hearts 

By Tom McGowan

I come from a family of masons, builders and engineers. They were people that mastered many trades and in my early 20s, I learned to weld steel with a Lincoln 225-amp AC arc welder. Simply stick the rod into the holder, tap it to strike the arc and run the bead. I say simply, but it takes a good ear, a good eye and a good hand, and I had all three.

In my spare time I would turn out artwork. I made a sign out of ¼” steel plate. The letters used Robert Indiana’s trick of tilting every other one. I gave it to Malinda – my then girlfriend and later my wife – on her birthday. She ran a small moving company during the summer months, and the gift spelled out the word MOVEING. Yes, it had an E in the middle. She smiled and thanked me while one of her English major friends kept handling it and tipping it back and forth mumbling such things as Move…Ing? Move… Inc?  This went over my head, so I was spared any embarrassment. Spelling is not my strong suit. Malinda, who was also an English major and skilled writer, later that night told me she was kicking her friend under the table to get her to stop. That MOVEING sign is on the wall here at my house, a testimony that love counted more than spelling. 

I had a long dry spell on welding until my son Sam and I visited my very handy nephew Courtney, who had a metal in gas welder (MIG). Far easier to master, it has a continuous wire feed instead of rods. My son used his own money to buy one, carrying on the family tradition of both handiness and artwork.

Sometime after, I went back to school three nights a week at Dekalb Tech (on a Hope Scholarship!) relearning stick, and adding MIG, tungsten in gas (TIG), and oxy-acetylene gas welding to my skill set. Having spent too many years in school writing things in a notebook, it was pure joy working with my hands, with grading based on break testing welded coupons. If it broke, you failed.  

Soon after night school, I bought my own Lincoln MIG welder and had access to horseshoes, railroad iron, and other interesting steel scrap. Steel hearts are my favorite product. Singles and doubles (a hit for weddings and Valentine’s Day), welded ones and those of cut plate. My goal is to make other people happy, yes, happy, when they give their hearts to others. You may see them here and there in the neighborhood; they were sold at the Grant Park Coffeehouse and at holiday fairs and are donated to the neighborhood charter school for their auctions too. My bigger work is making signs like WELCOME, GRANT PARK and ATL. I managed to misspell two of those (an extra letter in Welcome and a reversed J that became an L in AJC), but like MOVEING, I remained unembarrassed, laughed when my errors were pointed out, and with a quick bit of cut and weld, all is well spelled again, and I too was happy.  

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