For Sedalia family, welding is in the blood

Monday, May 8, 2006

SEDALIA, Mo. -- For Allen Strange Jr., melting, cutting and bending metal runs in the family.

Strange grew up a welder.

When his father, Allen Sr., opened Al's Portable Welding in his garage on Ingram Avenue in 1976, Strange, now 41, was a middle school student.

"I remember, at 14, I helped drill holes, hold rails and did a lot of sweeping," Strange said.

Now the father and both his sons, Allen Jr. and Jeff, work full time in the shop.

"Years ago, it was lawn chairs and lawn mower blades people would bring in," Allen Strange said. "Now, with our throwaway society, that's changed."

When his father first started the business, he spent most of his time roaming from property to property fixing farm machinery, ladders and decorative railings. In the 1980s, the family shop spent a lot of time making wood-burning stoves and stands for 6- to 8-foot satellite dishes.

Now, business has changed again with more technology, an array of cutters and torches, throughout the shop.

"Only 20 years ago, a truck, welder and grinder was all you needed," Strange said. "Now it's like computers -- you buy something and it's outdated. Welding has reached that point, too."

Work includes large metal tubes that barely fit into the shop door used by Edwards Fiberglass to make their products. Other jobs have included a 16-foot tank for a North Dakota company experimenting with making paper out of potatoes, a giant bracket to hang a retired fighter plane at Whiteman Air Force Base, and a tank, several yards long, to bleach Wrangler jeans in.

"I just always liked to work with my hands," Strange said. "It was just kind of an opportunity that was always there to make money. I enjoy building something; making it look good to fit the surrounding decor."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, when the price of steel skyrocketed, many of the family's jobs have come from outside of Sedalia and in all shapes and sizes, from door hinges to truck trailers.

Strange teaches welding at State Fair Community College, where he studied the craft as a high school student.

Other family members also have been part of the business, including Allen Strange Sr.'s cousin and daughter.

The younger Strange's son, 17-year-old Austin, has shown an interest in welding and may eventually study welding engineering.

"He comes down and helps out," Strange Jr. said. "He sweeps and drills holes and holds things."

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