April 24, 2013
A welding instructor and two of his seniors have been working together since early November to fabricate a smoker of epic proportions. But in the process the students have found their future calling and their teacher has found a kinship with both.
Sometimes a fabrication project morphs into so much more than just a final product. At least that’s what Gary Kurpgeweit, welding instructor at Eisenhower High School in Yakima, Wash., has discovered. Sometimes it’s about the friendships you forge, the effort that goes into carefully fabricating each piece, and, most important, the bonds that you form in the process.
For the most part, Kurpgeweit’s roughly 130 welding students show up to class, do their work to fulfill their requirement, and leave. But then there are the students like Chris Crosslin and Jose Farias, both seniors, who have taken a special interest in the class.
With the help of their teacher, both students have been working together since early November to fabricate a smoker to end all smokers. But in the process Crosslin and Farias have found their future calling, and Kurpgeweit has found a kinship with both.
Two years ago Kurpgeweit and a group of student welders attended SkillsUSA in Kansas City, Mo., and were so fascinated with all the different smokers around town that they decided to make their own. Their first attempt was a fairly simple version using 36-inch by 6-foot pipe. It was functional and worked well for cooking at fundraisers and other school functions, but Crosslin and Farias wanted to take another stab at fabricating one on a much grander scale.
During their research phase, they attended professional cook-offs and searched online to get a sense of what they liked and didn’t like about other smokers.
“They decided that they wanted something that was self-contained and clean-looking. All of the smokers that we scouted, we didn’t think many of them looked very clean. You could see the propane bottles underneath the vehicle; you could see the bottoms of the sinks; you could see everything,” Kurpgeweit said.
They decided to design it with no holds barred. Their smoker would include a three-barrel sink, refrigerator, 45-gallon freshwater tank, 48-gal. used-water tank, storage cabinet, and both wood and propane heat capabilities. They wanted it to have every amenity that a professional cooking outfit would need while boasting a clean, streamlined appearance. Their intent was that this smoker be a symbol of what their high school welding program was all about.
“We wanted something that we could take to functions and show off the quality of work that went into it and have it stand out in the community as far as quality goes. We also wanted to be able to make hamburgers that are out of this world,” Kurpgeweit joked.
The first smoker project provided valuable lessons on what to do and what not to do the second time around. First, they learned that their next attempt needed to be reverse-flow, which means the heat from the wood box would need to feed underneath and eventually up and over the grilling surface, which would provide the coveted smoky flavor. A pan below the grilling surface filled with water would create steam to keep the food moist during cooking.
With the original smoker, they had problems keep the fire lit.
“Every time we closed the door, the fire would go out on the propane side, so we cut vents into the bottom of the smoker so the tubes that carry the propane could get air. We ended up cutting them off so they went only half of the distance of the smoker.”
To give their smoker a more refined look, Crosslin and Farias designed and fabricated each water tank so that it could be hidden from view. They built a wood box designed to fit in between the water heater and the sink, again hidden from view.
Also, their rolling kitchen needed plenty of storage space, so they included a 6-ft.-long storage container that has 2,500-lb.-capacity drawer guides for pots, pans, and various other essential barbecue and cooking utensils.Every smoker of this magnitude needs a name. Crosslin and Farias chose “Patriot,” which meshes well with the school’s colors of red, white, and blue.
But it’s not all fun and games. This is Farias’ and Crosslin’s senior project, after all, and the goal of their instructor is to prepare them for the challenges awaiting them at the next step of their welding journey.
“All craftsmanship and the welds that have gone into it really make it look professional. I was in the welding business all my life so I demand quality because you can’t get a job if you don’t do quality work. These kids have been welding for four years. The quality of work that they do is really good. This is really going to be a showpiece,” Kurpgeweit said.
With just a few weeks left of Crosslin’s and Farias’ high school career, each has the desire to continue their welding education after graduation. For Kurpgeweit, their departure is bittersweet. As a teacher, he is proud of how far they’ve come and the commitment they’ve displayed while fabricating the Patriot.
“I don’t like them to hear this too often because their heads get so big they can’t hardly fit through the door, but I’m going to be very sorry to see these two kids graduate. It’s been a lot of fun. We joke around a lot, and that makes the day go by,” Kurpgeweit said.
He added, “It’s kind of tear-jerking to look at this and how much thought and work went into this project. We’d work 15 hours in one day, and they were still ready to come back and work again the next day. They really got into it, and it was more interesting than making a little chisel or slag hammer.”
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