Richard is Lead Pipefitting Instructor at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. Richard, aged 70, has been in the pipefitting field for 35 years.
Thanks for your time Richard; how long have you been here?
It’s been a little over two years now.
What classes do you teach?
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I usually teach the first course of the pipefitting section of the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program, but I can teach the whole thing. I go wherever I’m needed. I teach the morning and afternoon classes right now, but we change out to give people a break every once in a while.
What did you do before coming to pipefitting in your 30s?
I came out of the Army and went to school for a little while. Then, I went to work at a steel mill. I really did a little of this and that until I decided I needed a new career. I took up maintenance mechanic work, and that led into the pipefitting field. I’ve been doing it ever since.
Did you go to school for pipefitting?
I went to apprenticeship school through Inland Steel for two years, but most of it I learned on the job. Just hit and miss mistakes along the way. If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t doing nothing!
Is Tulsa your first full-time teaching role?
Yes, it is. While I’ve not taught at another school, I am NCCER Certified [National Center for Construction Education and Research]. Plus, I’ve taught hands-on in the field for VCON Engineering, for FLUOR, as well as a couple or three other places. I’ve been teaching for about eight or nine years now.
What made you decided to go into teaching full-time a couple of years ago?
The trade has given a lot to me, and I wanted to give something back to these young people and help them along through the rough times.
Why did you decide on TWSTC?
I’d been looking round for a teaching job, and Tulsa called me for an interview. I liked it here and got the impression that they’re really going places. I wanted to be part of this team. It’s a great campus here. There’s an opportunity here for anybody that’s got the desire to learn. You need the desire. If you have that, we’ll do the best we can to teach you. We teach it. Whether you learn it is a different deal, it’s up to you.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
It just makes you feel good to know that you’ve helped somebody, that they are going to go out and be successful at what they do. It’s good to know that you’ve had a little hand in that. You get quite a few students that you’re proud of, you get really fond of them, almost like family.
We try to work with each of the students individually when we can because they all have different personalities. They all want to be pipefitters, but they all go about things differently. It can be hard sometimes, but it’s never boring that’s for sure!
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you?
I really don’t know anything that would surprise anybody. They all think I’m pretty goofy anyway. I’m pretty open; most people know all about me. I’m ex-military, I was in the United States Army for three years and two months. I got of high school on June 9, went into the Army on June 16.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
My mother. I was in my 20s when she died of breast cancer. I miss her a lot even to this day. She’s the one who taught me that if you treat people the way you want to be treated, you’ll be a lot better off.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting?
Set your goals high, and we’ll help you achieve them if we possibly can. You have to take pride in your work and have a passion for the trade. Really, there’s no limit to how much you can make. It comes down to how much desire you have to accomplish your goals. There are pipefitters out there making six figures if you want to work the extra hours, but it’s not all about the money. You can take a lot of pride when you walk on to a piece of open ground, and when you leave, there’s a power plant built there.
What’s your favorite tool? What could you not do without?
My torpedo level. It’s a nickname for a spirit level that you use in tight spaces. If you can’t make it level and square, you’re not going to fit it.
If you weren’t a teacher and money was no object, what would you be?
I used to like to fish and be outside, but to be honest I’m quite content with what I do. It’s very fulfilling and I’ve got good people to work with.
Tell us about your family.
I’m married, and I have six children. Two of them are in the pipefitting field, one’s a career soldier; the others are just working jobs.
How long have you been married?
Eight years to this wife, 23 years to the other one.
You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself; what would you do with that time?
I’d probably take the wife out, maybe go to dinner or something.
Thinking of your time in the field, what was your favorite part of the job?
Being around the guys. You spend more time with them than you do with your family. You get kind of close and there’s a camaraderie.
At 70 years of age, do you have thoughts of retirement?
I want to keep on working. It’s not so much about the money; it’s just being active. Some of my friends couldn’t wait to retire, but they just sit on the front porch and kind of wither away because they don’t do anything. I like it, I enjoy it, and my wife wouldn’t know what to do with me if I was at home. She gets after me enough when I’m there. I can’t imagine if I was there all hours of the day!
If you were to tell someone, “Thank You”, who would it be and what did they do?
Years ago, not long after I started in the trade, I worked with an old Hispanic guy called Hector. He was a pipefitter and he took me under his wing. He wanted me to learn, so he took the time to show me the right way to do things. He wasn’t worried about me being fast. He’d say, “I’d rather have it right, than you be fast and have to do it again.” I learned a lot from that – better to get it right the first time, rather than go back and have to do it again and again. Now I’m giving back what he taught me.