When Erik Eick, Kyle Kibler and Corey Bedford decided to study welding this year, they didn't expect to become sculptors and artists.
The three Royalton-Hartland High School juniors had no idea their welding torches, hammers and other tools would turn into the paintbrushes and chisels of their imaginations, enabling them to create a 12-foot giraffe from an abandoned oil tank that once stood in some long-lost basement.
The three made the giraffe as part of their welding class at the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services Center.
An impressive giraffe it is, spots and all.
So good that BOCES Principal Carolyn Bova would not let their welding instructor, Eric Sarrell, sell the beautiful, shiny beast when a woman who works near the school -- on Shelby Basing Road, between Middleport and Medina -- offered to buy it for $200.
Bova said she liked it so much, she wanted it to adorn the school's foyer and possibly be placed outside in a garden setting someday. She has kept a large steel butterfly there as well, after it was created by some members of a 2004-05 welding class.
Of their creation, Erik, 16, said, "We did what we could. I didn't think it was going to turn out that well."
Sarrell told the students to make something out of the oil tank -- "something big," Erik said. "He gave us a couple of ideas and we had a few of our own, but I'm not sure why we ended up deciding on a giraffe."
Kyle, 17, said he didn't expect to have to be creative with welding. "It was the first big project we did. We're all taking welding for the first time this year.
"I did mainly the head and neck. Corey and Erik did most of the body and the legs. We all worked together on it for three weeks. I just cut up the metal and heated it with an Oxy-fuel torch and pounded each piece with a special hammer until it looked right. Then we welded them together."
Kyle said the students learned things, like how to set the welders so you don't burn through the metal.
Erik said he and Corey cut the tank drum up into several pieces for the body and then shaped out steel tubes for the legs.
"We seamed the metal parts together so it would look like the giraffe's spots. We were going for that to make it look as realistic as we could," Erik said.
Corey, 17, said he and his classmates also tried to make the giraffe look a bit like a Greek or Roman bronze statue.
"We tried to make it look like that by using a grinder with a polishing grinder on it. That made it shiny and gave it that bronze effect," Corey said.
All three students are interested in making welding a possible career.
"I love welding," Corey said. "I don't think I would be enjoying any other class as much as that. When I get out of high school I might work at my grandfather's shop. He owns Gasport Welding."
Sarrell said he likes to give his students creative projects to do "because it makes them practice their welding skills even though they're doing something different -- in this case, something big and tall.
"They did a lot of nice welding on it," he said, "especially for being brand new students. They were only here a month when I had them start on it."
Also, he said, "I wanted to get rid of the scrap metal without scrapping it."
Sarrell said the school had several offers on the giraffe during a craft show.
"Four or five people asked me how much it was, and I kept saying $200, but I probably could have got more," he said, "but our principal loves it so much, she wouldn't let me part with it."
The school may make another and sell it.
Lisa Bielmeier, a BOCES public information assistant, said Sarrell's welding course is so popular that BOCES had to hire him on a full-time basis this year. He was a half-time instructor last year.
Sarrell said welding is needed in many job areas, such as building and repairing bridges and roads. He said the state Department of Transportation always needs people with those skills.
Once his students are out of high school, he said, they can walk into any entry-level fabrication job because of the skills they learn at BOCES.