Lee the Welder

Saturday morning started with a trip to a different part of Sheffield for a “quick welding project.” Or at least that was what I had assured the welder I was looking for. My email to him explained that I was looking to weld four bolts to the bottom of the Rascal so that I could fit a piece of sheet metal for a sump guard. Oh, and by the way, did he have a piece of sheet metal to sell me? We agreed on a time and place to meet as well as a more than fair price.

I arrived at Lee’s house after only taking two or three wrong turns. While I am getting better about driving on the “wrong” side of the road, Sheffield’s plethora of roundabouts still leave me scratching my head. There are maybe four stop signs in the entirety of Sheffield. The rest of the intersections are maintained by roundabouts, sometimes with as many as three lanes circling them and four ingress/egress points. Somehow it all seems to work out, but I am sure that I have caused more than one person to shake their fist at me.

Lee greeted me with a wave and a “You all right?” I was then invited in to share a cup of tea with him and his two dogs. As we stood in his back garden in the mid-morning sunshine, we got to know each other a bit better. Lee was born and raised in Sheffield, his parents still live in the same house just a few miles away. He’s one of the few mobile welders left. Everyone is getting out of the business for one reason or another. Welding is not just technically difficult, it is tough on the body.

“I have lung congestion,” he says as he fishes a cigarette out of the pack. “My doctors want me to give up smoking. But it isn't the cigarettes that are causing the problems. It’s the welding.” I wasn’t sure how much I believed him, but the thick, fragrant cloud that later enveloped him from the generator and welding equipment drove the point home. Thirty years of that is enough to give anyone health issues. It's amazing that he is in as good of shape as he is. Perhaps it is the years of martial arts (Karate, Taekwondo, and now kickboxing) that have kept him young.

He asked why I was going on this fool’s errand. I explained that it was for charity and told him about my grandfather. Lee then told me about his uncle who has Parkinson’s. It is still strange for me to meet people who know about Parkinson’s or know someone who has it. When my grandfather was diagnosed in the mid-80’s, people had no idea what it was. I was constantly asked if he still recognized me and knew who I was. I had to explain that Parkinson's is not dementia. The true tragedy of it is that the person with it is acutely aware of what is happening to them.

After the tea was drunk Lee got to work. He jacked up the Rascal and crawled under to take a look. I had brought along eight sturdy bolts (mostly so that I could use the spare nuts as spacers) for the job. Lee gave them a good once over. I said I had chosen them because they had big heads and I figured that would make the welding easier. He just smiled at me and said, “Even if I cut the heads off I could weld them.” I liked the guy’s confidence.

He walked back to his garage and raised the door. Inside was a treasure trove of tools and steel. Right in front was a beautiful piece of sheet metal. He pointed to it and asked if it was what I was looking for. I did a double take. I had been expecting some piece of rusted scrap laying about. This was beautiful no pristine. I said that it would be great. (I was eyeing some latticed metal, but he told me that was reserved for a massive barbecue he was going to construct out of an oil drum.).

He crawled back under the Rascal and took some measurements. A few minutes later he crawled back out and began drawing intersecting lines on the sheet metal. I had expected a rectangle but was getting a trapezoid instead. Once it was cut out, Lee was back under the Rascal starting to weld the bolts in place. I figured we were getting close to being done. I was going to pull out some puppy dog eyes and ask if he’d be kind enough to drill holes for me. But when Lee rolled out he immediately grabbed a large hammer and went to work shaping the metal sheet to fit the contours of the Rascal.

I’ll save you the technical details, but suffice it to say that my “quick” weld job ended up taking nearly three hours, the fabrication of two brackets, and the creation of some angles in the metal I’m still trying to wrap my brain around. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Lee was having fun!

When he was finally done we talked a little more. He showed me pictures of his grandkids. We talked a bit more about the trip. The neighbor even came over to take a look at the Rascal. Eventually it came time to settle the bill. I asked Lee what I owed him. He just shook his head and quoted me a price less than a third of what was fair. He wouldn’t hear of taking more. I shoved all the cash I had in his hand (still nowhere near what was fair) and shook his other hand. I really felt like giving him a hug. I cannot begin to explain the feeling of relief I have knowing that not only do I have something under the Rascal to protect the engine from giant rocks in the middle of the “road”, but it was put on by someone more interested in doing quality work than making a quick buck.

Once again I am struck by the people I meet. How many people would go out of their way to make you feel at home, go above and beyond with the job they do, and then send you on your way with sincere wishes for success? I know one for sure, and he welds in Sheffield (but he will travel!).

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