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Passing the torch

The sketch of the man in red above is my grandpa, Howard Fredrickson, on the cover of the Bates Technical College (Tacoma, Wash.) trades pamphlet.

My grandpa was a welder.

I feel like I’ve forgotten so much about him, but I still hold a few special memories. He died suddenly when I was 11 or so, but I remember his rough and cracked hands the most. I remember him working on classic cars in his garage with those weathered hands, one usually holding a Budweiser. I also remember a pint-sized metal digger he built for us kids so we could scoop mounds of sand in the backyard. It was hard to comprehend that he built it himself. I remember him on his motorcycle with his bristly gray whiskers.

But those leather-like hands that I can still feel when I touch tree bark, built so much more. My grandpa welded equipment for the Port of Tacoma as a plant superintendent for Star Iron & Steel—later Canron—when they were in their heyday. He helped erect the cranes that handled incoming shipping containers.

“A giant for its time, the 242-foot-high Peiner crane was constructed at Terminal 7 on Sitcum Waterway at a cost of $1.2 million. It began operational testing late in 1970. Initially painted red, winning it the nickname ‘Big Red,’ the crane had a reach of 14 containers. Big Red was unusual among container cranes because, unlike most, it was able to lift not only containers but also bulk or general cargo, as the need arose.
Big Red, which was eventually painted blue, moved containers at Terminal 7 for 35 years, during which the Port of Tacoma acquired many more container cranes and rose to become one of the world's leading container ports.” (

My grandpa also helped build equipment for the Alaska pipeline.

“The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, designed and constructed to carry billions of barrels of North Slope oil to the port of Valdez, has been recognized as a landmark of engineering.
“With the laying of the first section of pipe on March 27, 1975, construction began on what at the time was the largest private construction project in American history.” (

Like many of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, my Grandpa Howie—we sometimes called him “Papa Owie” because of his chaffed hands—was part of that sturdy generation that helped build this country before so much of it dissolved into desk jobs and rush-hour traffic.

This is just one of the many reasons I’ve decided to make my next children’s book in the Tiny Tradesmen series about welders. As I research for my book, I get to learn about the process, as well as all the amazing things one can do with welding. And I get to look back and maybe understand a little more about who my grandpa was and what made him come alive. As a new friend, a welder, explained it, welding is like sewing with metal (the imagery works for me, as my mother is a seamstress—by trade).

So, there it is! THANK YOU to all the welders out there! Thank you to the hard-working men and women who have forged ahead and laid the foundation for all those who follow behind. We only pray we can be as rugged and remarkable as you.

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