Adapt and Overcome: GTA Welding Against Adversity
You can't get much closer to a true American welder than Sergeant Robert Evans. A five-year Army veteran, Evans served twice in Iraq, first for 15 months in 2005 and then again for three months in 2007, during which time he lost his right hand to an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). He's also an adept GTAW welder. It wasn't only his determination that drove him to master GTA welding. There also stood another passion: racing.
Not one to feel sorry for himself or back down from adversity, Evans began teaching himself to GTA weld as part of his recovery from the accident. Not to mention, he wanted to prove everyone wrong.
Initially, Evans traveled around the Reno Sparks [Nevada] area where he lives, attempting to find a GTAW apprenticeship at various off-road and race shops, but to no avail.
"I had so many people tell me that I couldn't learn to GTA weld. They'd blow me off and tell me that they didn't want to baby-sit me," explains Evans. "But I'm the type of person who doesn't like to back down from a challenge. I always try to rise to the occasion and do my best."
Evans, shown here with his Dynasty 200 GTAW power source, has become
a skillful welder as part of his recovery from his injury sustained in Iraq in 2007.
His perseverance paid off. After much searching, Evans found himself volunteering for a high school and college welding program at Truckee Meadows Community College in Washoe County. There, in exchange for prepping metal and assisting in the classroom, instructor Gaylord Rodeman allowed Evans to use their welding equipment.
Evans first learned to weld autogenous beads (GTA welds without the filler metal), a task that he spent up to eight hours a day, five days a week tackling until he established the basics. When he and Rodeman felt comfortable with his progress, Evans began welding with a filler rod. His first obstacle was determining whether to hold it with his prosthesis (which he eventually chose) or his left hand, along with obtaining the correct angles to complete a good GTA weld. Because Evans can't feed the rod the same as a two-handed welder, he needs to stop welding completely to move it forward. Also, when it came time for Evans to learn to weld T-joints, he learned that the lack of a wrist unit affected the angle at which he could weld, requiring him to re-position the work piece to a location where he could reach the joint fully with the filler metal.
Still, like any other part of his training, Evans was never deterred by the difficulty of the process. And it wasn't only his determination that drove him to master GTA welding. There also stood another passion: racing.
The diesel 2004 Dodge Ram pickup that Evans races has clinched several
first place wins during recent years, making it unique among other competitors
who opt for using nitrous or propane.
Since 2008, Evans and his race team-TJ Brown, Keith Evans (Robert's father and team manager), James Delcastillo and Josh Atkinson-have continued to modify and race a three-quarter ton 2004 Dodge Ram pickup truck with a Cummins diesel engine at competitions across the country. Not surprisingly, Evans has completed most of the welding on the truck's engine and frame by himself. In 2009, he competed in the Diesel Power Challenge (hosted by Diesel Power magazine), where the team clinched a first place position and made track history by being the only diesel truck-without nitrous, propane or
other injectable fuel-to take that title. The Dodge's time in the Drag Racing portion of the competition? 11.07 seconds on a quarter-mile track running 128 miles per hour!
Evans has completed much of the welding and modifications on the Cummings
diesel engine in his 2004 Dodge Ram pickup, which he has also personalized with his on style.
Not surprisingly, Evans approaches racing with the same tenacity as GTA welding.
"It's the same principle. I had a lot of people tell us we couldn't accomplish things that we are accomplishing with diesel alone. Other people add nitrous and such." explains Evans. "But we're doing it. We're putting in the time and effort and having a great time along the way."
Evans practiced upwards of eight hours a day, five days a week in order to
reach the skill level required to make a weld such as shown here.
To prepare for additional races that he plans to enter this year, Evans is relying on a recent sponsorship from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., which includes a donation of a Dynasty® 200 GTAW power source and a Millermatic® 211 with Auto-Set (for GMA welding). He has so far used the equipment to meet the racing industry's safety regulations, namely the fabrication and installation of an internal roll cage to protect him during each race. He also plans to continue modifying his Dodge pickup with the equipment, hopefully GTA welding his way to even more wins.
So what's the end goal for Evans-besides winning more races?
"I see GTA welding as a barrier that I need to overcome. It's a difficult process for anyone, and for me the challenge is great," concludes Evans. "But I don't want people to think that I can weld well for someone who is disabled. I want them to look at a weld and think it's great regardless-to have it be good as far as anybody's standards."
Most would argue that through his unfailing grit, Evans has already met that goal.
Evans shows his GTA welding skills, which he learned
by volunteering at a local community college during the
past seven months.