BY STARRLA CRAY
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Four young welders from the area recently placed first in the Minnesota SkillsUSA competition, and will advance to the National SkillsUSA competition in Kentucky the end of June.
Dassel-Cokato High School senior Keegan Rufer placed first in the high school welding division, while a local team attending Ridgewater College Caleb Streich of Cokato, Jesse Wamstad of Montevideo, and Spencer Randall of Hutchinson placed first in the high school welding fabrication division.
Another high performer was Josh Mattson of Cokato, whose welding fabrication team took second place.
Rufer, 18, is the son of Jason and Sara Rufer of Cokato. He attends Ridgewater College post-secondary full time, and plans to finish his two-year welding degree next year.
“The first time I ever started welding was when I was probably about 12,” he said, adding that he’s been working at his family’s business, Design & Fabricating in Cokato, since he was 16.
After college at Ridgewater, Rufer plans to train to become an underwater welder. Projects in this profession could include cruise/navy ship turbine repair, drilling support, inspecting/stabilizing underwater oil pipelines, and more.
At the Minnesota SkillsUSA competition in Anoka April 1-3, Rufer and the other welding competitors were given contest drawings and a set of welding procedure specifications. All drawings, welding symbols, and welding terms conformed to the latest edition of the American Welding Society standards.
Through a series of stations, contestants were tested on various aspects of welding, such as laying out a plate and using oxy-acetylene equipment, MIG, TIG, and Arc welding.
“Some of the prints took time to figure out, and others were easy,” Rufer said. Competition was strong, and Rufer noted that he beat the second-place contestant by one point.
For the welding fabrication competition, Streich, Wamstad, and Randall used their skills to construct a theme-based project based on prints they created. Each team was required to be skilled in several welding and cutting processes, and be proficient using the common tools of a workshop.
Streich, Wamstad, Randall, and Rufer received various prizes for their first-place finishes. Rufer donated one of his prizes, an auto-darkening welding helmet, to the Dassel-Cokato High School welding program, run by Steve Ellis.
“I put a Ridgewater sticker on it,” Rufer said, explaining that he’s grateful for the opportunities the college has provided. (At Ridgewater, the welding instructor is Dassel-Cokato High School alumnus Jason Eastling.)
Rufer, Streich, Wamstad, and Randall are looking forward to the national competition, which will have more complicated welds.
“If you place first in nationals, then you get to represent the United States at internationals,” Rufer said.
Donations are being sought to help cover the expenses of the trip. Monetary contributions can be sent to Ridgewater Welding Club, 2 Century Ave. SE, Hutchinson, MN 55350.