It’s not uncommon for a father to pass his livelihood along to a daughter, but typically it’s something like real estate, accounting or perhaps a retail business.
Jimmy Byrd’s 30-year-old daughter, Kristin, is getting into her dad’s craft, one with a lot of pop and sizzle. She is going to weld.
Byrd, who has welded professionally since he was 18, said his daughter and two sons were all around his shop as children. Both sons were welders although one, tired of being around construction sites everyday, has moved on to another job.
Of Kristin, he says, “She dabbled in it. Now she’s serious.”
So is her boyfriend, Jeffrey Wildes, who has been with her at Byrd’s Welding and Propellers daily. They’ve both been practicing welding pipe to prepare for an upcoming evaluation of their skills at Local 177 of the Plumbers and Steamfitters union. The skills test will determine there placements in an apprenticeship program, which Kristin Byrd acknowledges, is unavoidable.
She knows about schools and training programs, having earned diplomas in industrial mechanical systems and industrial technology at Coastal Pines Technical College and taken runs at others.
“I thought I wanted to be a safety engineer,’’ she said. Then she learned of the rather steep penalties for failures, so she decided to not pursue that.
She also tried studying nursing, a profession once filled almost exclusively with women.
“I don’t like touching other people, and smells get to me,’’ she said.
Welding is not the toughest work she’s done. She drove logging trucks for companies in Blackshear and Hortense, wrestling trucks out of the woods and hauling long wood to the pulp mill in Brunswick and to a pole yard in Alma. She worked in maintenance at a biomass plant, but that didn’t suit her either.
It was strenuous work, but that’s not what bothered her.
“When I was learning to be a mechanic, I hated every minute of it,’’ she said.
Long ago, she also tried acting and did some modeling.
At a lot of the rungs along her diverse career ladder, she encountered welders and found herself giving men pointers. For the past couple of years, she’s been headed toward welding and, her father said, mastering pipe welding will mean she and Wildes can handle about anything because it is among most demanding and exacting.
Although his daughter had bounced around a little, Jimmy Byrd has pretty much stuck to his craft, one he shared with his father.
“Dad was welder, but he welded nuclear stuff until I was 12 or 13,’’ and then he moved on, Byrd said.
“I was always fascinated with welding, period. When I was 18 years old, I walked up to Jack Dominey’s,’’ he said of the long-time welding shop just over a mile away. That’s where Dominey specialized in repairing propellers, a business that his son has taken on as Tyler Dominey Propellers.
“He took my name and called me back that night, and me and him worked all night,’’ Byrd said.
Byrd will quickly tell anyone he has a business he loves today because of Jack Dominey. For his part, Dominey has said he wouldn’t have established his successful business had not his old Jane Macon Middle School principal, the late Vernon Evans, gone out of his way to persuade Dominey to stay in school and learn a trade.
“Little things change your life if you let them,’’ Byrd said.
He left Dominey’s after about four years, worked at other shops and became a pipe welder. Those good at welding pipe can stay as busy as they want, he said, and he formerly had about half a dozen employees at another shop. At one time, he welded elaborate and artistic stair rails in multi-million dollar homes for some of the area’s top contractors and keeps photos of that work.
Now he operates his business out of a work bay at Ellis Marine, which gives boat owners a one-stop option on repairs. Ellis’ staff can work on their motors and Byrd can custom weld about anything they want on their boats. Many boat owners say there is nobody better than Byrd on aluminum.
He takes in damaged brass and stainless steel propellers and repairs them. He held one stainless steel prop — which he estimated cost $800 new — with the edge of a blade folded back on itself. The damage didn’t occur from hitting some underwater obstacle.
“Backed into a gas pump,’’ he said.
Nearby, a huge brass propeller sat partially repaired mounted horizontally beneath a precision tool to get the pitch of the blades exactly right.
Byrd said becoming a good welder comes from “practice, practice, practice,’’ of the sort his daughter and Wildes are going through.
“I’m not the best, but I’m one of the most versatile,’’ having learned techniques that he says his daughter and Wildes will have to master to become successful.
Wildes and Kristin Byrd make precise cuts in sections of pipe and then weld it back together, and Byrd inspects their work, over and over.
Welding requires putting on a helmet, thick leather gloves and long-sleeved heavy shirts most often in areas where there’s no air-conditioning and sometimes with not so much as a fan or a natural breeze. When Ellis Marine installed a taller hoist to accommodate bigger boats, Jimmy Byrd went to the top and welded the steel under a blazing sun.
Before she sets to work, Kristin Byrd tugs a snug cap over her blond hair before she dons her helmet. The top that protects her arms is a shade of green usually seen in hospital scrubs.
Although his daughter isn’t blazing a new trail as a woman welder, it was once unusual. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Byrd said he knew of only two or three at any given time in Local 177.
He was and is an admirer of their work.
“They make good welders. A lot of finesse,’’ he said.
And some have more patience, a must in slowly and meticulously putting down the beads. For her part, Kristin Byrd said she’s learning the patience that was absent in her youth.
For all his versatility, Byrd doesn’t weld as much pipe and has settled into the marine niche that he finds rewarding in ways that don’t fit a materialist lifestyle.
“I’ve got all I want right here,’’ he said as white light shines from the tip of a welding rod his daughter carefully guides along a groove.