TRIMONT - "Garden" and "welding" are not two words most people would think of together, but as it turns out making small garden statutes is a good way for amateur welders to gain experience.
One example is the 4-H project of the year: to create a sign for each club in Martin County.
"The idea is to have a sign for each club," said Tracy Melson Saturday morning, as he stood by the completed Galena 4-H club sign: a metal life-size stick figure holding up the "Galena" name plate. "It's not a judged event, it's not a win/lose, it's just for fun."
Christian Melson demonstrates his welding skills during a 4-H workshop Saturday morning.
The club assignment asks that the sign be made from recycled metals. It can be no bigger than 10'x10' and should be secured, as not to tip over. The signs will be on display during the fair.
"A lot of what we found is in the old groves," Tracy said. "We've got piles and piles. ... Whatever we can't use, we sell to the scrap-iron place in Estherville."
With welding being one of the hot commodity jobs right now, learning to weld can be a useful skill to acquire. Tracy showed off some of the projects his son Christian did as he was learning to weld.
"This was his first welding project," Tracy said, as he brought out part of a bike that appeared to have rusty skis where the wheels should be. It gets a couple of chuckles along with an embarrassed groan. "We even have a chain to hook it up to the snowmobiles .... This is going to be in the Smithsonian someday."
A walk around the Melson property shows several points of welding handiwork, from the birdbath, to the cornstalk down the road holding up the neighbor's mailbox.
"He did these three flowers," Tracy said, pointing to a small flower-garden area, where three large floral sculptures are on display. "He made about 200 of those when he started welding five years ago. They're now selling at Trimont Greenhouse and Floral for $25 apiece."
But Christian has moved on to much bigger projects: a restored 1948 John Deere B tractor.
"We thought there was a cracked cylinder block," Christian said. "There was a small hole, but I was able to braze it shut. It took about two weeks to get it running again and all the painting and sanding took about three or four months."
The younger students at the Melsons' workshop Saturday morning were most taken when the sparks began to fly, as Christian demonstrated a simple welding technique.
"You can make pretty good money welding," Tracy said. "It's long hours and you get hot, sweaty and dirty, and a lot of people don't like that."
The younger kids were not doing any welding themselves on Saturday.
"You can't teach people how to weld in an hour," Tracy said. "It's better to do that one on one."
But the boys there took interest in some of the Melsons' other 4-H projects, from animals, to the stained glass creations made by Tracy's son Seth.
"His grandfather did stained glass and he tried to teach the rest of his grandkids, but Seth was the only one who really took to it," Tracy said.
As an adult leader of 4-H and having all six kids going through 4-H, Melson feels it has helped give them skills, and kept them out of trouble.
"It keeps them off the streets, and there's not much time for playing video games when there's pigs and sheep to feed," he said. "I've been in 4-H all my life, all six of my kids are in it. After the youngest, I'll be ready to take a break. ... But by then, maybe there'll be grandchildren ready to go."