Welded to the past

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Jason Ritterling, right, stands with his dad Lyle outside of his Byron-based business. Ritterling learned welding as a teenager, and continues to take on jobs evenings and weekends after he finishes work as a mechanical design engineer at Haarslev Industries, Belleville.

Early mentors inspire Ritterling to continue machining skills as sideline

By Cynthia Scheer Telescope News
www.thebellevilletelescope.com

At the age of 12, Jason Ritterling was straightening aluminum irrigation pipe in exchange for cans of pop, candy bars and stories of Leon “Hank” Krause’s fishing trips and days in the Navy.

“These are memories that I cherish very much,” Ritterling said of his days in Krause’s Byron, Neb., welding shop.

It was this early experience in the welding shop that inspired the Belleville man to purchase Krause’s shop when he died.

Some of the other blacksmiths retired around the Byron and Republic area, he said, and he wanted to continue the service “that most consider a lost art.”

“I really enjoy the work and my time at the shop,” Ritterling said. “Krause was like a grandfather to me, and I started to work with him at a very young age. He and my father were longtime friends … [Krause] actually taught me everything I know about blacksmithing/ welding.”

“By keeping his shop alive, my dad [Lyle Ritterling]and I feel that we keep that part of Hank alive with it,” he said. Ritterling has been welding since he was 13 years old.

“I worked with [Krause] in the summers as an apprentice to earn a little extra money and learn the trade,” Ritterling said. “He was a great teacher. When I was 14 I started doing all of the irrigation pipe connection for my dad, Lyle Ritterling’s, business in Byron, Precision Irrigation. I did almost all of the work out in the field from my dad’s service truck with some help on bigger projects in the shop with Hank.”

Welding by night

Ritterling graduated from Belleville High School and worked the night shift at Alstom’s in Concordia while he pursued his associates of science and engineering degree from Cloud County Community College. He became a certified welder during that time. He also graduated from CCCC with a second degree in wind energy technology and worked for Meridian Way Wind Farm south of Concordia. He then completed his mechanical engineering degree at Kansas State University-Salina in 2011.

He is now a mechanical design engineer at Haarslev Industries in Belleville. After 4 p.m., though, he can often be found in his Byron welding shop. “I … stay quite busy doing repair work in the afternoons,” he said.

“If there is work to do, I am usually busy in my shop after 4 p.m. most week days and almost any other free time that I may have.” “When I get off [work], if I have jobs at the welding shop, I will go up and work on them until they are done or its time to go to bed.

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Jason Ritterling started welding as a 13-year-old. He has continued to pursue the craft while he obtained college degrees, and his day job is as a mechanical design engineer at Haarslev industries in Belleville. His mission to save a “lost art” has turned into a business he pursues on evenings and weekends.

The shop is more of a labor of love than anything. And I just enjoy helping people with a skill that seems to be dying out in today’s world.”

Ritterling said being a welder in a small community means being a jack of all trades. His projects range from sharpening lawnmower blades and servicing “little old ladies’ lawnmowers” to doing complete rebuilds and repairs on large farm equipment.

“I do most of my work in the summers on irrigation pipe and repairs, but I will pretty much take on any job that I think I can tackle,” he said, adding that he welds all manners of carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum and is proficient in MIG, TIG, Arc Welding, and brazing.

“The history of this particular skill and gift of creativity really means a lot to me,” he said.