There’s a New Rodeo in Town

Written by: Farah Yamini Image: Bronco sculpture by John Lopez
Written by: Farah Yamini
Image: Bronco sculpture by John Lopez

The word rodeo usually invokes scenes of cowboys roping steer and riding wild bulls in front of a cheering crowd. However, for a growing number of people, the word rodeo conjures up images of welders going toe-to-toe in a contest of skill and creativity. These people are thinking about the welding rodeo, a timed competition that challenges teams of welders to create beautiful sculptures out of piles of metal scraps.

A welding rodeo can be a single or multi-day affair. For example, the competition hosted by the Florence-Darlington Technical College in South Carolina is an eight-hour event that begins in the morning when welding teams quickly sift through a scrap pile of metal and transport what looks like junk to their stations. For the remainder of the eight hours, welding teams strategize, design, fabricate and weld their sculptures, with only one 30-minute break. During this time, onlookers witness a one-of-a-kind transformation—an evolution from scrap to sculpture. At the end of the day, sculptures are judged, winners are announced, and all sculptures are auctioned off with proceeds going directly back to the college.

The Benefits of a Welding Rodeo
Welding rodeos give welders the opportunity to showcase their skills and help schools in their community. And although welders aren’t riding broncos or wrestling steers, the event is still intensely physical for participants and quite entertaining for spectators. For some onlookers, it’s their first glimpse into the world of metal fabrication and welded art.

Welding rodeos were created to raise funds and improve less-than-stellar enrollment in welding programs. These events are primarily hosted by colleges and universities to help raise money for their welding departments. These programs often need significant funding in order to provide students with the necessary supplies. Even more funding is often required to update equipment and facilities – a necessity in any high-tech industry.

Delilah the giraffe was the winning creation at the first BTC welding rodeo in 2002. The 14-foot-tall sculpture graces the lawn of the Bellingham Public Library.
Delilah the giraffe was the winning creation at the first BTC welding rodeo in 2002. The 14-foot-tall sculpture graces the lawn of the Bellingham Public Library.

Colleges and universities around the country have also used welding rodeos to change people’s perception of welding from one of dead-end drudgery to the challenging and well-paying career option that it is today. Bellingham Technical College (BTC) advisory board member, Marshall Judy, says that welding careers should be highlighted for their ability to provide “good paying jobs that people can support their families with and have life-long careers.” Welding rodeos have done just that for BTC. The welding department at BTC has tripled its enrollment and expanded the number of welding certificates and courses due to the success of its annual rodeos. In fact, BTC’s welding rodeos have become “one of the premier welding competitions in the Pacific Northwest.”

Welding rodeos reach an ideal balance of community outreach, fun and education. Community members get to witness an epic day in the life of welders and purchase metal artwork created right before their eyes. In the process, the general public comes away with a very positive view of welding as a potential career. BTC, a technical college located within the city of Bellingham in Washington State, had little presence among Washington state locals; it was eclipsed by Bellingham’s scenic vista of Mt.Baker and Bellingham Bay. However, now, even people in the bustling city of Seattle know about BTC’s welding rodeo. BTC welding instructor, Jere´ Donnelly, notes that “Bellingham isn’t easy to find, but now we’re on the map. Everyone knows the Welding Rodeo. You go down to Seattle and mention it and people say ‘oh yeah, we know about that.’ It has a life of its own now. It’s amazing. And we’ve brought a lot of attention to this campus. A lot of people have come to this campus that didn’t even know we were here.”

Williamsburg Technical College Invites the Public to its First Welding Rodeo
Due to the success other technical colleges have had with raising their public profiles and fundraising for welding departments, Williamsburg Technical College (WTC), located in South Carolina, has decided to host its first welding rodeo on Saturday, September 24 from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. Proceeds are needed to fund equipment and renovations for its welding program. This particular rodeo will host teams of amateur and professional craftsmen from the region. The theme is “American Patriotism,” meaning that all sculptures created for this event should reflect American culture and values. As such, you may find sculptures of an American eagle or a larger-than-life U.S. flag. At 4 PM, the sculptures will be judged by an independent panel of judges and prizes will be awarded to top teams. All sculptures will be available for purchase through a public live auction.

Have you been a participant or spectator at a welding rodeo? Please share your experience with us in the comments section below.