Bill Gatfield retires after four decades

Bill Gatfield works in the Village machine shop. Photo courtesy of Bill Gatfield

Fermilab instrument welder Bill Gatfield started at the lab in March 1980, working on projects throughout the laboratory. Now, 40 years later, he is retiring. His last day is April 20.

“Bill has worked all over the lab, working on many different projects through the years,” said James O’Neill, Fermilab welding supervisor. “He has always strived for perfection, no matter how small the weld job or how thick the slab of steel he was proud of the work he did.”

Gatfield started in the Village Machine Shop as an instrument welder, working his way up to lead instrument welder. Each of the projects he works on has its own unique challenge. The work might be particularly physical — moving equipment, welding, climbing ladders. It might also be intricate welding on small delicate devices. Still others required him to burn steel at the railhead — using generator power — in all kinds of weather. Drawing on a wide variety of welding techniques and procedures, he treats each instrument with care, ensuring it works exactly as needed.

In one painstaking effort building the iron work for the DZero detector, he and a colleague poured more than one ton of stick welding rod to be installed 45 feet off the floor. The steel exhibited some quality problems and would occasionally crack from welding. For a year and a half, Gatfield and his partner grinded out the cracks in the steel and rewelded them to complete the project.

Another year, Gatfield and his partner cut and processed about 1,000 tons of 9.11-inch- and 12-inch-thick steel ingots fresh from the mill for shielding for both the NuMI horns and the Horn Autopsy Block House.

“Bill is an expert at cutting thick steel plate for shielding, and my guess is that he has cut 75% of the shielding at the lab,” O’Neill said. “If you are not familiar with cutting steel, you should know it is a ‘dirty’ job. That’s why Bill was known affectionately as ‘Dirty Bill’.”

Gatfield is a sculptor, and he’s shown a number of his works in the Fermilab employee art shows over the years.

During retirement, he’ll continue creating his large metal sculptures. He’ll also tinker in his vegetable garden and, he hopes, grow more 200-pound pumpkins. A trip to Alaska via train is on his travel wish list. Gatfield currently provides homemade meals to the Fermilab Fire Department and will continue to do so.

“Bill will be missed not only by me but the entire weld shop. We all wish him the best in his retirement,” O’Neill said.