Every morning before she hops in her specially rigged welder truck, Lori Marie makes sure she is wearing something pink. It's her quiet statement of femininity in a man's world of welding in the hot Northern Arizona desert.
Today she has on a pink cap with a caterpillar logo, a reminder of why her co-workers affectionately call her Pinky.
Marie, a 50-year-old single mom of five and grandmother of nine, more than holds her own in her job as primary welder for Tiffany Construction Company in the Verde Valley. Nonplused by summer heat, a welder that reaches 145 degrees, and slag that burns chuck holes in the skin, Pinky worked hard to win the respect she now receives.
"I'm very aware that I'm a woman in a man's world, " Marie says with a grin. "I'm not as a strong as a man. And, I'm still in a position of proving myself. Each challenge is a test." Tall and lanky, Marie speaks with a strong voice filled with confidence.
Twenty-five years ago, she was the first woman hired as a welder's helper in the oil fields north of Bakersfield California. At that time she had to "fight tooth and toenail for everything, including respect."
After three years she worked her way up to Field Foreman. Things are different now, Marie muses. Gender lines blurred once women went into firefighting, smoke jumping, and combat.
Marie first learned welding in high school because she wanted to design and build a horse trailer to haul six horses. When she was the single mom of two small children she decided she needed a way to make good money. Hence the job in Bakersfield.
When Marie first came to the Verde Valley she tried out the usual "female" jobs like waitressing. She even ran a restaurant for a couple of years but found that loving to cook isn't the same as running a successful restaurant. Add to those forays 10 years in the jeep tour industry.
When she started with Tiffany Construction Company, barely two years ago, she was a parts chaser-someone who picks up parts that workers need to fix equipment. She had no insurance and used her own truck. Her "real" job began when she was at a welding job site and she remarked, "I can do that."
She did such a good job her foreman asked, "What else can you do? " From then on she was up and running. Now, as primary welder she has a job that pays well, retirement, and medical insurance. In fact, the company recently built her "a Big Girl Truck," a full welding truck with a crane and boxes, completely rigged for her work.
"I'm very good at what I do," Marie comments.
Although welding has long been considered a man's job, many members of the welding industry believe that women possess the characteristics that make up a good welder, including a steady hand and meticulous eye. Some even contend that women offer better skills in hand-eye coordination and detail work.
Marie attests she loves her job, particularly experiencing the diversity of work, as well as enjoying the good pay and benefits. The scenery is an extra benefit.
"Look at what I get to look at every day," she says as we drive past Cathedral Rock en route to a job site where she'll repair a multi-million dollar 1055 Trencher made to dig rock.
Her to do list reads: Dove tail brace, trim grouser, cutting edge loose..."
The phone rings, and she takes the call on her blue tooth. She listens a moment and then asks, "What's the amperage on the grinder, Hon?"
After the call she mentions that she got the blue tooth because she "fried" several phones while welding. The welder creates a magnetic field, so now she leaves the phone in the truck while she has the welder on. She also mentions a detail about how she relates to her co-workers. "I can't remember the names of all these guys, so a lot of times I'll just call them 'Hon'." Besides Pinky, they may call her Mom or Miss Lori.
We arrive at the job site and she greets a co-worker who shoots back "Hi Pinky."
It obvious that a working plus for Marie is being a valued team member who appreciates the comraderie of working with others. Much as she gets along well with her co-workers, Marie also values solitary "hood down" time. When she is welding, behind her welder's mask she is totally focused on the metal and the welder's arc. She has to be; it is dangerous. Marie goes up to the equipment, analyses what needs to be done, turns on the welder, and gets to work.
To relax after a long day she loves to read-she usually has five books going at a time-and soak in a bubbly bath-to rinse all the muck of the job. Most of all though she loves getting together with her family. Reflecting on her job and her life Marie muses, "This is the best time of my life. How many people can say, 'I love my life'?"
Just then she answers another call. Talking into the speaker she answers, "What am I doing? I'm having a blast as usual."