Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
During World War II before the days of television, newsreels were often shown before each movie. They changed two or three times a week, so it was a good way to keep up with the war news. Most of those newsreels concentrated on military stories, but sometimes they also covered what was happening on the home front. For example, they would take their cameras into defense plants where tanks, airplanes and naval vessels were being built.
They showed riveters, welders and every other type of worker you can imagine. My favorites were the welders. You might see a guy on top of a tank, welding armor sections together. He wore a large mask to protect his face from the flying sparks. There was a window in the front of his mask, but the glass in that window was so dark you couldn’t see through it. That’s what protected the welder’s eyes from the bright light from the arc welder.
I thought those welders were great. How neat would it be to be a welder, building a tank that could help us win the war. Maybe someday I could learn to weld.
Then one day in one of those newsreels, the camera was taken aboard a navy ship under construction. It was a pretty big ship, maybe a destroyer or cruiser. The camera zoomed in on a welder who was welding some kind of protective armor around a gun turret. When the welder finished the job and raised the protective mask, it was quite a surprise. The welder was a young woman.
From that point on, I saw more and more women welders in the newsreels. I think it was part of a program to encourage women to take jobs in defense plants. The newsreels stressed how good women welders were. They said that many women seemed to have a special touch for welding.
That was interesting, but I thought that they were probably exaggerating to get as many women as possible to take jobs in the defense plants. So I was a little skeptical of the “special touch” that women had for welding.
Now let’s move the calendar forward 30 years or so into the 1970s. I was in the “old car restoration” phase of my life. I had recently restored a 1931 Model A Ford, which turned out great. So I decided to try my hand at restoring a sports car, a 1957 MGA. I bought it in Columbus, where it had been sitting in some man’s garage for years. It was a real basket case, and unlike the Model A, this restoration would require some welding.
I thought I could probably find someone to do the welding for me, but a few days later I saw an announcement in the newspaper that some evening adult education classes were going to be held at the high school. One of those classes was arc welding. How lucky could I get?
I enrolled in the classes which started a week or two later. There must have been about a dozen of us in the class. The instructor was a man named George Selig, a veteran welder of many years. In our first class, he covered a lot of the principles of welding. Then he demonstrated various welding techniques that we would be attempting in future classes.
In the last half hour or so of the first class, George passed out two metal plates to each of us. Then we all got a chance to weld them together. “Don’t worry about how the weld looks,” he said. “I just want you to get the feel of the rod in your hand as you weld.”
As I slipped the welders mask over my head, I couldn’t help but think of that guy I saw years earlier in the newsreel, the one who was welding parts of the tank together. This was going to be fun. On the first day, I don’t think any of us were very good at it, but we had plenty of time to improve. My biggest problem was that I kept getting my welding rod stuck to the metal plate. But I think several others had the same problem.
Over the next few weeks, I think all of us improved a great deal. At the end of each class we passed around the metal plates for all of us to look at. We could see each other’s work to get a good idea of how we were progressing. I got a lot better, but it was obvious I could never make a living by welding. I think I was somewhere in the middle of the class.
As I looked at those welding samples at the end of each class, it seemed clear to me that one welder in our class was the best. And you know what? That person was a young lady, the only female in the class. I think her name was Holycross, but I can’t remember her first name.
It seemed to me that she was one of those women with a “special touch” for welding. If she had been born years earlier, I bet she could have worked in just about any of the defense plants. She might even have been featured in one of those newsreels. I was no longer skeptical of the “special touch” of women welders.
Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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