Students create T-Wrecks

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 13, 2001

Jesse Seavey and Joe Karow already knew how to weld, but it took a Jurassic effort to complete what some thought could never be done.

Sunday, July 11, 2001

Jesse Seavey and Joe Karow already knew how to weld, but it took a Jurassic effort to complete what some thought could never be done.

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"Every high schooler dreams of doing something really cool and doing it and becoming popular, like leaving their mark. For me, this is it," said Seavey.

The two recent Austin High graduates met each other halfway through the school year in Bruce Loeschen’s art class, and welded together a 900 pound metal dragon out of car parts.

"You hear a lot of that in the art department, we actually went out and did it," said Karow.

Loeschen, one of three art teachers at the High School, teaches Advanced Placement Studio Art, a difficult, year-long course in which students learn to master painting, drawing and aesthetics. This past year, each student was required to complete one major project, and track their progress on daily logs.

"Loeschen told us our logs were our paychecks," said Seavey.

Instead of working with tools they already knew, the two came up with the idea to try welding a metal sculpture, a skill Seavey learned in Hastings, where he started high school and Joe learned from his uncle on a farm outside of Austin.

When the students asked Loeschen if they could practice large-scale metal sculpture in the school’s welding shop, he told them that he could not supervise their work because of he knew relatively little about wire-feed welding, a relatively recent invention.

Additionally, a welding class had been canceled when enrollment dropped to six, which suggested to administration officials that people did not care about welding at the High School.

Loeschen told Seavey and Karow to talk to High School Principal Joe Brown, who could approve a project if the students could find someone to supervise them.

"These two kids were convinced that I would turn them down," said Brown. Instead, he gave his approval.

Karow and Seavey then approached Bob Christianson, who teaches home repair and wood working. He gave his consent as well, and supervised the two seniors during their art class and study halls.

Loeschen did not know what to expect, but his surprise grew as the project took shape.

"I’m assuming they were talking about a two or three-foot sculpture, and they may have thought that too," he said.

"Then they got turned on," he continued. "They had to get the rods and the flux and the raw materials, and that’s when their dream started, when they go into a junkyard and the guy says well, take whatever you need, and they started coming back with pickup trucks."

Seavey and Karow got their supplies from Crews Auto Salvage, which made them return everything they did not use. When Loeschen saw their collection of wheels, he realized that the sculpture was rapidly increasing in size.

"I kept insisting you guys are bitting off more than you can chew," he said.

Seavey and Karow had only one major argument during the project, which was how to design the legs. They compromised by working on different legs.

"Now that I look at it, I do wish I did it the other way," said Karow.

Their welding skills also improved as the project progressed. Once, Seavey set his pants on fire when a welding spark landed in his cuffs. Afterwards, he was more careful.

They also learned that galvanized pipe does not take to welding like cast iron.

"The problem with welding galvanized stuff is that you need to get the galvanized off," Seavey said.

Both students thought they could take the entire school year to complete the project. In fact, Loeschen hoped that they would finish it for the school’s art show at Oak Park Mall.

"Then we had to kick it into overdrive," said Karow, who thinks that he and Seavey put 75 to 100 hours into the work.

"The day before it was supposed to come out, we worked on it all day," said Karow.

While the students rushed to finish their dragon, Christianson and Loeschen worried that the sculpture might not leave the welding shop.

"Its one thing to make it, but if you can’t move it or transport it, you haven’t solved your problem," said Loeschen.

The students solved the mobility issue by dividing the sculpture into two parts, which weighed a total of 900 pounds

"It took eight guys to carry it," Loeschen said.

Most people who saw it were impressed, but many didn’t know what it was. Some thought it looked like a dinosaur, others a robo-snail.

Other students, who had enrolled in the canceled welding class, accused Seavey and Karow of stealing their idea. That didn’t deter the two art students who went to Loeschen and Brown with the idea of an independent study.

After the art show, Karow and Seavey had to deal with the dragon’s fate.

"Its not the kind of thing you just throw on the back of a truck and put on the sales table," said Loeschen.

According to the students, Loeschen wanted to buy it for himself, but his wife refused to have it anywhere near the house, while Seavey’s mother didn’t want it in the family yard.

"The last alternate was for it to go back to Crews Auto Salvage" said Seavey.

Kermit Watts, who owns Austin Auto Truck Plaza and is Seavey’s boss, saw the object when it was first put on display at the mall. He also had a vacant field west of his business.

"I thought it was a nice piece, I thought it was real unique," said Watts. "I thought Jesse had a home for the dragon, and apparently they did not, and Jesse came to me and asked if I would be interested," he continued.

Watts borrowed the dragon for a week, and had a naming contest for it. The piece proved to be popular, and Watts decided to keep the work. In return for the dragon, Watts donated $250 to the Austin High School Art Department.

Since then, Watts has run electricity to the sculpture, which will allow Karow and Seavey to turn on the headlights in the dragon’s eyes. The dragon also received a name, T-Wrecks.

Loeschen says that the project would never have been completed if the school didn’t have welding equipment: "Once you abandon a department like that, all of a sudden the stuff winds up on an auction block."

The equipment might get used this fall, because the new agriculture teacher may start a welding class.

By then, Seavey will be in the army. When he gets back to Minnesota, he will attend Mankato Technical College to study welding. Karow wants to study architecture and engineering, and will begin classes at Riverland Community College this fall.

Until then, the duo has other plans.

"Right now, were painting my car," said Seavey.

Call Sam Garchik at 434-2233 or e-mail him at