OSWEGO — Labette County Fair agricultural mechanics judge Chuck Boelker examined the details of the teeter-totter in front of him, discussing with Brody Eichhorn of Bartlett different aspects of its construction.
The incoming Labette County High School senior spoke of how he constructed the metal and wood teeter-totter with a curved base design, differing from a regular fulcrum design typically seen on playgrounds.
Eichhorn said he stated building teeter-totters for the first time about a month after school started. His welding teacher brought in a similar one to give him an idea of something new he could build, given he was bored with building hay rings.
“I’ve probably built maybe 20,” Eichhorn said.
“I built probably 15 at school MIG welding because it is faster and neater. Then when school quit, I built them at home, using stick welding, which is a little harder because you have to get it flat and make sure you don’t burn it through. It takes longer,” Eichhorn said, though he has been reducing his time with each build as he gains a practiced hand.
Boelker noted the stick welds were not the best but were adequate for the durability of the projects.
Eichhorn talked about how he bent the metal, the type of wood used for the seats, the type of bolts and the painting and clear-coating used to preserve the metal equipment.
“They are fun to build and easy and kids love them,” he said. “And I know for sure they hold 500 pounds because we got to playing on the first one I built. We had four big guys on it.”
He sells the teeter-totters for $125 apiece through Kickin’ A Auctions in Chetopa.
Eichhorn said there are probably not many teeter-totters around Labette County that look like his that have not been made by him.
“I can paint them any color,” he said. “I normally paint them black, but I started doing blue, and I’m going to start doing red. If anyone has anything special they’d want me to paint it, I would.”
Eichhorn told the judge he has even painted one red, white and blue.
Given Eichhorn expressed he was looking for something more challenging when he started making them, Boelker asked if he had done any other designs. Eichhorn indicated he hadn’t, so Boelker presented him with potential new challenges — a bench teeter-totter that would seat three children on each side, or a four-way teeter-totter.
Eichhorn said based on those suggestions, he would expand on the design for an entry next year.
Gracie Gatton awaited her turn with Boelker, standing beside her welded swing bench, consisting of four hanging swings surrounding a center table.
“This is my first ever welding project this big,” she said.
Gatton discovered the swing bench on Pinterest.
“I was like, ‘That is so cool,’ but I went through and people actually sell them for like $4,000. I thought that this was something I could actually weld and make.”
While it had been two years since she had done basic welding of horseshoe crosses, she decided she would set out to build a bench of her own for her family and enter it in ag mechanics at the fair.
The ag shop at the high school let her in to build her project because she didn’t have room at her own house to build it.
Gatton managed to build her bench for about $300 with the supplies she had on hand.
When Boelker came over to discuss her project, Gatton detailed her efforts, noting the construction took her about three weeks. Other than her father holding the posts for her while she welded them on, she did the project on her own.
When she was finished, Boelker offered some suggestions to help Gatton improve her work.
Boelker questioned the safety of the ropes not being secured at the top, allowing them to tilt. He spoke to her about her choice of wood and choice of clear coat to preserve the wood. Boelker also talked to her about the little details, like boards lining up and sanding her wood between clear coat applications to alleviate dust and other bumps in the surface.
Cara Constock with the Wildcat Extension District said because schools shut down, Gatton and Eichhorn were the only entries in that division.
“I think overall you both did a very nice job,” Boelker said.
Based on some of the little details, Boelker decided to award Eichhorn grand champion and Gatton reserve grand champion.
Gatton said she was taking Boelker’s suggestions to heart and said he would probably see her next year with a new project to judge.
“It was pretty cool to make honestly,” she said. “It’s going to go in my backyard for my family. I’m excited to use it. I’m impressed with it. I didn’t think I would be able to do something like this.”