CALAIS – The metal was glowing, the bed of coals was red hot as a group of young women from all over Washington County tried their hand at forging for the first time ever.
It was all part of the Totally Trades Expo, a daylong hands-on workshop held at the Washington County Community College on Friday for girls and women from eighth grade to adult.
And there were some fun workshops. Some of the young women rushed off to a carpentry class where they built toolboxes, while others learned the fine art of firefighting. Some got to drive a forklift while others climbed the rock wall.
But it was the welding class that had a spirited – but sweaty – group of young women hard at work. Dressed in hard hats, safety glasses and heat-resistant gloves they dipped their metal plates into the center of the coal forge bed and watched as the flame licked up the sides turning the plates red. They picked the plates up with something akin to long metal tongs and moved them to a mold where they pounded them into shape.
Then they welded a metal rod onto the plate.
“I burnt my first piece,” Laura Jamieson, 12, of Cooper said. She attends the Alexander Elementary School. She wasn’t the only one, several of the metal plates burned up in the bed of coals.
Welding instructor Will Dupuis stood ready to help. “Some use gas forges and some use coal forges,” he said of the welding business. ” We’re using coal. It’s much hotter than gas, it’s much faster than gas and it costs us almost nothing to use.”
And he wasn’t kidding, it was hot. The temperature inside the forge bed was 5,000 degrees; inside the room it was hot enough to peel down to T-shirts.
But when they were done, the young women had made some pretty neat candlestick holders.
Then it was off to the forklift workshop where young women who’ve never driven a car were scooting around inside the college’s work area.
“It was fun, but I didn’t want to run into anything and when he [the instructor] told me I had to back up,” Chynna Parks, 13, Baileyville said. “I thought I was going to run into them [her fellow students]. It was kinda scary,” she said.
After the morning workshops it was back to the gymnasium where the Culinary Arts students had prepared a tasty lunch. While students were waiting to eat they also visited several agency booths. “There are a lot of great local agencies that are serving women and this is an opportunity to show them what there is,” said organizer Georgie Kendell. There also were several booths promoting area businesses and higher education.
Elizabeth Mercer, spokeswoman for Downeast AIDS Network of Machias, said the young women asked good questions.
Mercer demonstrated how a 20-minute saliva test can help detect HIV. She performed the test on herself.
“In the past we’ve had to send the test to the lab and ask someone to come back seven to 10 days later,” she said. “Unfortunately, what happens then is the person is too frightened to return so they don’t come back to get their results and they either think they have it and they do not have it; or they do have it and don’t check it out and they’re giving HIV to someone else because they’re not using protection.”
Kendell said attendance had doubled from last year, describing it as an “absolutely incredible turnout.” She added: “We had about 120 last year, today we have 222. So we have 20 schools from around the county.”
Kendell said she hopes to hold the expo again next year; Maine Department of Transportation funded the program.