Oklahoma High School Teaches Welding with Ag Focus
April 29, 2015
Josh Gilstrap is a big believer in giving students the tools they need to make or save money. As the head of the ag program at Colcord High School in Colcord, Oklahoma, and a second-generation agriculture teacher, Gilstrap teaches important life skills to about 80 students — skills that many of them apply immediately to their work outside of the classroom.
Nearly 90 percent of Gilstrap’s students live on 80-plus acre farms, and many of them go on to work on the family farm or on other farms in the region as soon as they get out of school. As a result, the Colcord ag program prepares students for real-world situations and careers by giving them opportunities to engage in real-life projects.
The program includes a welding component that teaches students light repair, patch work and fabrication, with a focus on farm and ranch applications. The students complete welding repair and fabrication on everything from livestock feeding and handling equipment, such as hay feeders, creep feeders, hay spikes and gates, to trailer repair and shop stoves. Gilstrap gives the students proper training in shop safety and teaches them Stick and MIG welding procedures. He also teaches them the basics of Flux-Cored welding.
“On a farm, stuff is always going to break. So there’s always stuff you need to repair. It’s the type of industry where things get old fast,” Gilstrap says. “Maybe you have a good year and you’re going to buy a new tractor or trailer. But you might not be able to do that again, so you’ll have to make that one work for the next 20 or 30 years. Or maybe you inherited a farm and you have to use grandpa’s old stock trailer and you’ve got to be able to keep it rolling. Welding, to me, goes hand-in-hand with the mechanical side of things.”
Gilstrap knows a thing or two about making old tools work as good as new. His classroom is filled with Millermatic® 35 welders that were manufactured in the 1960s, alongside a few newer Miller welders including Millermatic 200, 210, 251 and 252 machines.
“We’re proud to say we still have them around,” he says.
His students at Colcord learn the basics to cover many welding repair and fabrication needs they might encounter on a farm or ranch. Most of their welding class projects are community-driven, which means they build or repair whatever the community needs: Trailers, gates, hay feeders, corrals, chairs and wood-burning stoves are some examples.
“We try to build ownership and support the community that supports us,” Gilstrap says.
A few of Gilstrap’s students have gone on to become welders and to have side businesses in welding, but most of them use the skills in their day-to-day life on the farm or in working for other local farmers.
His hope is that they will all learn enough about welding to be able to repair or fabricate something when the need arises — and save themselves or their operation money in the process.
“Anytime you can cut the middle man out, it’s money in your pocket,” he says.
Gilstrap’s advice to young welders is “Always wear personal protective equipment and never stop trying. Learn something new every day and put it into practice.”