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LC State Welding Technology students replace benches at Hells Gate State Park

LEWISTON – During his trail walks at Hells Gate Start Park, Lonny Gehring noticed the wood benches along the paths that were installed almost 20 years ago had really deteriorated. Rather than call the Army Corps of Engineers office to complain, the Lewis-Clark State College professor in welding technology saw an opportunity.

So when he called the Corps’ office, he offered to help them by having his students build new benches and install them.

“The person I talked with was kind of in shock,” Gehring said. “They finally said ‘Gosh. That would be awesome!’”

Gehring made it a class project by supplying the blueprints and the materials for the project and having the students do the rest, including measuring, cutting, and welding the metal benches, which will hold up better than the old wooden benches.

Michael Dow of Moscow and Alexandrah Crow of Boise, both wrapping up their first year in the welding program, were among the students who were paired up to work on the project. They said it took about a week to work on the frames and get everything ready in the LC State welding shop. The students then hauled the frames, seating, and other parts to the park, and then packed it about a half-mile up the trail to different locations. The students then completed the installation.

“Some aspects of the project were challenging but it was a good overall learning experience,” said Dow, who wants to eventually become a traditional blacksmith and make knives. “We got the opportunity to put what we have learned to use.”

In all, they installed four benches and Gehring said next year’s class will replace and install the final four benches.

Gehring said the Corps allowed the students to pick the color of the benches and make nearly all of the decisions during the process. He said once they decided on the powder coat, they tried to have it be an earth-tone tan color to match its surroundings. The benches have a hammered metal finish texture, which better hides dings and scratches. Custom Coat in Lewiston did the powder coating for the benches.

“It was nice to get outside and do something that will be lasting,” said Crow, who is interested in piping and fabrication and also is pursuing a business degree. “It’s nice knowing that we helped the community.”

The students said they were surprised the project took as long as it did. They originally thought they could do it in a day, but quickly realized there was more work involved. Gehring said the students realized they had to make sure they were efficient and do it exactly right without making a mistake because, in a sense, this was a project for a customer rather than just some random thing they were working on in the shop.

“They had to use their thought process and make sure their measurements and cuts were right so it was good for them,” Gehring said. “It was a little different for them because, with a customer, time and money involved you want to be efficient, but you also want to be safe.”

Earlier this spring, the students also helped with some projects at the Rotary Park in Lewiston, just off Prospect Avenue.

“It’s good for the students to be involved in the community,” Gehring said.

LC State offers a two-year associate degree and a one-year certificate in welding technology. For more information on the Welding Technology program at LC State, visit its website.