Faculty Appreciation Month – Thomas Crews

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Thomas, 50, born in Amelia Island, north of Jacksonville, FL, is a welding instructor at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus. Thomas has been an instructor at TWS for more than five years. 

Thanks for your time, Thomas; how long have you been welding?

I’ve been welding since I was 18, so almost 33 years. Over that time, I think I’ve done a bit of everything!

How did you get started in your welding career?

I started a week after I turned 18. Back then we didn’t have internet, so we looked in the classified newspaper ads for jobs. I saw they were hiring welders at North Florida Shipyard here in Jacksonville. I went down, put in an application, and they called me back. They had me come in for a weld test. I’m sure it didn’t come out that well, but I can’t really remember, it was a long time ago! I know it wasn’t good because they ended up hiring me as a third-class welder, which is basically a glorified welder’s helper. 

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Did you do any welding in high school to help you pass that test?

I don’t know if I did pass that test because they hired me as a helper! But, yes, my high school had a short welding program when I was in 11th grade, but I wouldn’t really call it a welding class! It was just enough to teach us how to stick a rod in a stinger and make an arc basically. I knew how to turn a welding machine on, put a rod in it, and some other very basic stuff…but I wasn’t a welder. Basically, the guy saw that I was 18 years old, and that I wanted to work, and so he hired me.

You say you’ve done a little of everything, but where did you spend the bulk of your career?

The bulk of my time was spent in the Boilermakers Union. I worked in the shipyard for maybe a year, and then I went and did a four-year apprenticeship in the Iron Workers Union. My dad and my grandpa had both retired out of that union. After I got out of the apprenticeship, I worked about another five or six years as an iron worker. Then there was a boiler making job at a paper mill close to where I lived; they needed a bunch of boilermakers for a three-month shutdown. So, I went to the Boilermakers Hall and went out on permits through there. After that job was over, the superintendent asked me how I liked boiler making? When I told him I liked it, he invited me to join their local union. The next week I took a test and joined the boilermakers! I guess that was about 18/20 years ago.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?  

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a bodybuilder! I used to work out all the time when I was about 13 years old, but that was just a dream. I guess it was seeing Schwarzenegger and Stallone in those 80s movies!

What made you decide to go into teaching a few years ago? 

It’s kind of funny, but honestly, I never once thought about being a teacher, not one single time. But a buddy of mine that I worked with on a lot of boilermaker jobs used to work here, Darren Buford. He’s a good friend of mine. He called me one day in early 2018 and told me that he’d got a job here at TWS. We were talking and he told me he didn’t like teaching much at all! I didn’t hear from him for a while, and then about 10 months later, he called me back and said, “Man, I think I really like it here! You ought to come put in an application.” So, I came over, put in an application, took a weld test, and they hired me a few weeks later. 

You’ve been here for over five years now. What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I’ll be honest with you, I mean the first year or so that I taught here, I really didn’t like it much either. I had a different attitude at the time, I was treating it more like a construction job than a teaching job. I had to teach myself to be a teacher, to be a little nicer about things, instead of thinking I was still out in the field barking at people. Learning to teach is like learning to weld; you get out what you put into it. Once I started doing that, I really started enjoying the job, and now, I love this job. My students respond better, and it’s got to where I just really love helping people learn how to weld. If you look at something like everything’s going to work out, it normally does.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you?

Every once in a while, I get to talking about stuff and I’ll show students pictures of me 10-15 years ago and earlier. It blows their mind. I used to be really big, I used to bench like 470lbs, and my arms were like 20 inches. I’m not a little dude now by any means, but I’m not nearly as big as I used to be. A lot of times when I show them pictures of what I used to look like, they’re like, “Dang, that was you!?” I look totally different than I used to.

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be and why?

Maybe Abraham Lincoln or George Washington; you hear all kinds of stuff that people say was history, but  it would just be cool to really talk to someone like that just to see what really happened in their time. 

Tell us about your family, Thomas. Are you married?

I’m not married anymore. I was married for 16 years, but I’ve been divorced for the last 15 years or so. I have a son, he’s 29 years old and I’ve got two grandkids, Caden and Piper, aged six and five. 

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to new students?

Never give up. And keep practicing your welds. Unless you’re some sort of welding savant who just picks it up right off the rip, you have to practice. I’ve seen a few – very few – people be able to succeed without lots of practice, but there aren’t many of them. So, just practice all you can and don’t give up. I’ve seen people give up just before they’d almost got it. Some people get so aggravated, they just walk out and quit; they never come back. Those people just don’t keep plugging away. That’s the main thing I can tell them: if you give up, you’re never going to learn to weld. If you don’t give up, you will definitely learn it. It’s just practice and repetition.

What did you enjoy most about being a welder out in the field?

I liked traveling when I was in the Boilermakers Union, but at the same time, it gets old after a while. I liked seeing new places. I’ve been in coal fired plants, nuclear power plants, and paper mills all over the country. I’ve seen huge turbines; I’ve seen stuff that a lot of people will never have seen. There’s just a ton of stuff that you can see and experience that you’d never be able to see other than by doing this work. 

You get an unexpected afternoon off to yourself, what would you do with that time?

I’ve got a couple of acres of land, so I’d probably get on my tractor and go work on my property. That’s probably nothing too exciting for most people, but it’s enough for me. I do love my grandkids though; I spend time with them whenever I can too.

If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for making you the man you are today, who would it be? 

Probably a youth pastor I had when I was a teenager. Hi name was Richard Hodges; he’s dead now, but he just kind of kept me from going down the wrong road, a road I shouldn’t have taken, if you know what I mean? He was my youth pastor, but even once I got into my twenties and started working, he’d still reach out and call me every now and then. Like I said, he just always tried to keep me from going down a road I shouldn’t go down. He always just kept an eye on me, and if I could thank anybody, it would probably be him.

Thank you, Thomas for your contributions to TWS!