SANDPOINT — The fish are native species, from cutthroat and bull trout to mountain whitefish, they swim gracefully in the display near City Beach.
They aren’t suspended in the current of Lake Pend Oreille, however. Instead, the metal cutouts on the Bridge Street foot bridge are supported by concrete and they hang among steel.
“They are all native species,” Sandpoint High School welding instructor Yogi Vasquez said.
Working with the Pend Oreille Arts Council, the City and Idaho Fish and Game, his students cut out the fish and their metal backdrop last year, ground the burrs and hung the finished display on the bridge as part of a wildlife education and city beautification project.
It won’t be completed for a while.
“There will be more fish,” welding student Garret Belgarde said. “ They will go all the way across the bridge.”
The students’ latest project is not as serene.
It is a tow-behind-a-truck barbecue that looks like a pistol.
“It is a 500 Smith and Wesson,” third-year welding student Stefan Harlicker said.
The high school’s Industrial Mechanics III class fabricated the 15-foot long grill with materials purchased by Wrenco Arms, a local firearms retailer.
Harlicker’s father, Doug, is one of the company’s owners.
He and his son got the idea for the gigantic, pistol-shaped barbecue while perusing gun shops online. They printed a copy of the photograph and forged ahead.
“Here’s a picture, make it look like that,” Doug said.
He was surprised at the result.
“They have done a good job on it,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”
When the project is completed, which will require more grinding on the rough spots before being painted, it will rest in front of Wrenco’s Lake Street shop as a pragmatic marketing tool.
One that fires, but only to grill meat.
“We’ll use it for customer-appreciation barbecues, functions, and have it front of the store,” he said. “It’s kind of a neat little deal.”
For Vasquez and his students, it is an important learning project that provides a service, teaches students a skill and provides costly materials that might otherwise be out of reach in an atmosphere of shrinking budgets.
The school’s welding program is not entirely funded by the school district. Because it is a professional technical/program, additional funding comes through an added-cost reimbursement in which the state reimburses programs for equipment costs and supplies. Currently, the state is reimbursing only a portion of added costs for high school programs, according to the state’s Web site. Other costs are usually paid through a federal Perkins grant program.
That is why projects such as the fish on the bridge and the barbecue pistol are invaluable.
“They enable us to do something we couldn’t ordinarily do,” Vasquez said.
Class welding projects include ramping up lawnmowers for the annual Big Back-In, Spirit Lake’s Father’s Day lawnmower races, and refurbishing old cars like the 1953 Dodge pickup that hovers on a lift above the class. In the past, refurbished pickups have been sold to fund the program.
Wrenco Arms, Vasquez said, paid several thousand dollars for the materials for the firearm barbecue project, which began last September.
Once it’s completed, the students will split up and work on a ventilating system in the shop, or they will make more fish.
“Last year, we made a lot of fish,” Mark Ramsay, a SHS senior who plans to pursue a career as a mechanic, said.
When it comes to their abilities as welders, they don’t hesitate. They can all weld well enough to get a job after school, they agree.
“You can’t spend three years in Yogi’s class without learning how to weld,” Stefan, who plans a career in underwater welding, said.
As for the pistol barbecue, it may have been their best project so far.
“It’s sweet,” junior, Dylan Decrow said.
They can’t wait to use it.