HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - Sheet metal shaper Patrick Brubaker is in high demand as an instructor.
But his profession is slowly going the way of the buffalo. It’s a paradox that puzzles the 31-year-old Hastings resident as he forges ahead in his mission to educate, offering classes on shaping sheet metal in six states, the Hastings Tribune (https://bit.ly/2oJp96y ) reported.
“It’s just kind of goofy that time has forgotten the sheet metal man when they’re still needed,” he said. “There are only a handful of guys my age who do this kind of work.
Anybody who knew how to do this is pretty much dead.
“Every day older guys are tiring, and there aren’t guys picking this up who want to be apprentices. For the older guys who have been doing it a long time, it’s abusive to the body. To make a quarter panel takes 700 hammer blows, and you send that shock through your joints.”
“Even though I have some metal working machines, it’s very physical to push the metal through. You have to manipulate it, and as long as you’re running it through the machine, you’re absorbing the vibrations through the piece into your body. It’s abusive to your joints and muscles.”
Brubaker’s metal shaping expertise is mostly self-taught. Racing go carts, mini-sprinters, and outlaw midgets with his older sister, Erin, from age 8, he learned how to keep those vehicles running with help from his father, Gary.
The hands-on experience has served as a template for his career.
“We ended up making a lot of our own parts because things just weren’t available that we wanted to do,” he said. “That was a great thing for me as a kid. You make race car parts and you see cause and effect right then and there. I started engineering things at an early age and it was a lot of fun.
“When you crash a race car, there isn’t anything left to fix most of the time. You just make new. That translated real well into making car parts and vintage pieces you just can’t get anymore.”
As a professional, he has further developed his skill set through reading aircraft building manuals and interaction with masters at various car shows he’s participated in across the country. He credits sheet metal experts from Poland, Italy and Sweden with helping fine tune his already advanced skill set.
“I learned a lot from those guys,” he said. “I was very fortunate to get to work side by side with them.”
His methods seem unorthodox to some. But as he has demonstrated time and again, it’s what the finished product looks like that matters most.
“I have a good friend who manufactures English wheels and he just laughs,” he said. “He says, ‘There was no one there to tell you shouldn’t do that!’”
A lot of the very traditional things are so complicated they get in their own way.
“The sheet metal simply does not care what you do to it. As long as you end up with the shape you want, that is the correct way to do it.”
To hobbyists - particularly those who work on cars or sheet metal art - Brubaker’s know-how is of incalculable value.
Teaching classes of four students at a time, he is able to impart the necessary skill set through hands-on instruction to enable students of all levels to master the fine art of sculpting metal creations from scratch.
“Any more than four students and I don’t have enough time to spend with each person,” he explains. “It turns into more of a demonstration-type thing. With four people over four, 12-hour days I get to spend a lot of time with each person and work through specific things with them.
“I’ve done demonstrations for groups of 50 people and everybody wants to be involved and ask questions. It’s hard to keep moving and get parts done so you can see it from concept to finished piece.”
From forming sheet metal into car body parts to fashioning chassis components and other specialty fabrications, Brubaker’s courses empower those seeking to build, restore or create magic from metal the knowledge necessary to achieve their desired results on most any kind of metal shaping project conceivable.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “We do a lot of custom things. People bring us either a model that is built to scale and want us to make pieces or we can make a car body from a pencil sketch. If someone wanted an absolutely unique car body, if they have a sketch and rough dimensions we can build them the only one that will ever be.”
During a recent four-day class at his Custom Works facility in Hastings, Brubaker walked a class of four through the finer points of fashioning automobile panels for a 1930 Ford Model A body.
The mostly-complete car body will be sold, with proceeds used toward a tuition-free class session featuring door prizes for all who helped build it.
To Allan Grayek, 59, a retired banker from Lexington, the classes have brought him that much closer to his dream of fashioning his very own car from scratch.
A car enthusiast before age 2, the former body shop owner has passed on his passion for hot rods to his son, Chad, and grandson, Noah. The trio builds, drives and sells the cars for sport.
As a body man, Grayek admits that some techniques taught in class took a little longer to grasp than others. That’s because the strategies and techniques used in body work are considerably different than those implemented in metal shaping, he said.
“Body men are taught to ‘sneak up’ on repairs,” he said. “We will tap, tap, tap and finesse it into place. Panel shaping is a lot different. The first time Pat showed us I about had a heart attack when he hit it! Wham!”
“You hit it pretty hard with hammers, and I was surprised. But through the class we understood why it’s necessary to do that.”
Despite the differences between the two, Grayek said he’s already applying techniques learned during the first class to projects at home.
He credits Brubaker’s hands-on instruction for clarifying that which once seemed foreign to him.
“Pat knows his business,” he said. “He can explain it to somebody that doesn’t understand it and it’s just like a light bulb comes on. With some people, it takes a little more work or more watching to learn, but he always comes through.”
For his second class with Brubaker, Grayek invited Chad to join him for the lesson. He plans to let Noah in on the fun next time around.
“Pat’s a super guy and great to talk with,” he said. “We have a lot of fun. It’s not so much work, it’s a good time.”
John Jacobsen of Mankato, Minnesota, is recently retired after 40 years of owning a metal fabricating and construction business.
A former dorm mate of Brubaker’s father, Gary, at Hastings College in the early 1970s, he stumbled upon both father and son at the Good Guys Car Show in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2015.
With a stable of classic cars including a 1925 Model T touring car, 1946 GMC pickup, numerous Ford Model A’s and a 1940 Buick given to him by a neighbor when he was in junior high school, he saw Brubaker’s class as a means of honing his restoration skills.
“Although I’ve done a lot of different things, I need a higher level of skill now that I have time to work on them,” Jacobsen said. “There are very few people that conduct classes like this, and the ones you see in magazines are overpriced, with too large of a class size to really be effective. I came down here in January, talked to him, saw what he was doing, and signed up for three classes.
“This has been fabulous. The guy is brilliant. I have learned so many tricks and techniques the last few days. I can’t say enough about him or what I’ve learned that I can take back home with me.”
Information from: Hastings Tribune, https://www.hastingstribune.com
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