Bill Gatfield, Technical Division welder

Bill Gatfield burns 9.11-inch steel for the MINOS beam absorber. Photo courtesy of Bill Gatfield

How long have you been working at Fermilab?
In March it will be 35 years. I started out in the Village machine shop as a welder, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I’ve been welding all my working life.

What is a typical day for you like?
It varies. It can be physical — moving equipment, welding, climbing ladders. It can also be intricate. There are a variety of welding procedures, and I do just about all of them.

What is your favorite part of the job?
The large variety of work; everything changes. Also, being around different people. I’ve been all over the site and I’ve met more people than the names I can remember. It’s the people you work around that can make it hard or easy for you. So often the people I work around have bent over backwards to make things easier for me. They are very talented people.

What is the biggest challenge of your job?
The equipment around here is very expensive, and often it’s one of a kind, so you can’t make mistakes; you need to get it right the first time. I’d say the worst thing I can do out here is make a mistake — not only for the lab, but it bothers me, too.

What are your hobbies outside of work?
I started doing welded artwork during trade school, in 1970 and ’71. I went to Hobart Institute of Welding Technology in Troy, Ohio. While I was learning the many facets of welding, I had some spare time on my hands, so my instructor let me use scrap materials they had lying around to make small pieces of art, such as sculptures of birds.

How often do you make a sculpture?
Some of my sculptures have taken 10 years because I do a little bit at a time. It takes a lot of thinking, some failures. One I had displayed out here, the “Great Eastern,” took about 10 years, but I’ve had others that took half that time. Lots of times I end up going backwards more than forward, but I eventually get something made. I have the idea, and then sometimes I lie awake at night thinking, “What would be a good way to approach this?” In a way that’s kind of how the lab runs because you really need to think about how you are going to approach a job before you do it.

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