HEDGESVILLE – Gabe Eller, a student at the James Rumsey Technical Institute, remembers walking down the hall, crossing Principal Donna Van Meter.
“Ms. Van Meter walked up to me in the hallway, looked at me, and said, ‘You’re exactly the person I’m looking for.’ Usually when Ms. Van Meter says that, it can either be really good or really bad,” Eller laughed. “She handed me those plans, and at first I was blown away, because I didn’t think that we could do it. I really didn’t. Then everyone was telling me it was unlikely, stuff like that. It gave us the motivation.”
What Eller thought he and his classmates couldn’t do was forge a sword, a sword designed by Musselman students Avery Nine and Jillian Eicher for the Golden Horseshoe sword forging contest of the first lady Cathy Justice. The designers were paired with the technical students to forge the actual sword, and the final product was recently named the state winner, the sword that will now be used in the Golden Horseshoe winners’ knighting ceremony.
“I was actually very surprised at how well it turned out,” Eller said.
The team that forged the sword included welding students Rumsey Eller, Memphis Hartle, Jasper Edens, Carter Jones, Logan Pittsnogle and Mason Nelson.
Looking back on that hallway meeting, Eller said it was a completely different feeling when the group Eastern Panhandle was announced as the winner.
“When we got to Charleston, it kind of settled in: stay there and keep winning, when we just won,” he said. “To think back to when Mrs. Van Meter handed me the plans, it was like night and day; my mind was blown.
And the feeling of winning, Nelson summed up with a “show”.
“It was mostly shocking. A lot of other really good entries were there,” he said.
To forge the sword, the welding students took on a project they had never really delved into before, with the program focusing more on the industrial side of welding as the students are prepared for the job market.
“We really had no idea how to make a sword to begin with,” Eller said. “It’s a welding shop, so we’re not really into that kind of intricate fine art stuff. We’re more industrial, certifications, welding big stuff. It was way out of our comfort zone, but we used some of the material we had in the store.
With clear intelligence and passion, Eller shared that the team took an I-beam and cut it down to 3ft 6in, cutting nine pieces and grinding them down to make the blade, which was to be five eighths inch wide. .
“The first problem we encountered was when we cut the I-beam it warped or bowed,” Eller said. “It just didn’t work, but ultimately the last one we cut, cut perfectly straight.”
The blade that went to Charleston was sharpened for five days, with the boys doing it by hand from a square-cut piece. It was also hand sanded and finished with a clear coat, which took four times to get the right finish. The high carbon content of the I-beam causes rusting, with the beam materials initially causing the clear coat to fog up.
The forge became a bit of a trial and error as the welders took on the whole new world for themselves, but it also allowed them to bring out some creativity and become artists for the project.
“While (Eicher and Nine) are designers, these guys are also designers and fabricators,” said welding instructor Kyle Albright.
He added that the boy band went above and beyond, making a holster to go with the sword.
“It wasn’t even part of what the girls had in the (design). In the collaboration, you have the designers and you have the makers, who are also designers,” Albright said. “They have to take in someone’s idea and then make it realistic.”
The art process on the boys’ side took an already impressive design from Nine and Eicher and made the sword stand out among other entries. The original wooden handle design became a 3D printed object because the boys wanted to keep everything in Rumsey.
Several other parts of the sword were also 3D printed at the school, including the visible seals on the hilt. Braided yarn brought extra texture to the handle and the use of real horseshoes added to the design, and for Eller, the color scheme and leather wrapping on the handle sealed the deal.
“The biggest thing we changed that I think really made the sword stand out was the leather wrapping on the hilt,” he said. “I don’t think it would have been the same without it.
“It was really cool to see everyone step out of their comfort zone and use their artistic abilities. Being handed a piece of paper is one thing, but making that piece of paper a reality is something totally different that people take for granted. Few people have the ability to do it, but we did it.
With the prize claimed and the sword forged, the group of six welders now enters, along with Eicher and Nine, into West Virginia history, something the boys hold dear.
“It’s pretty cool to know that you did something that will go down in history,” Hartle said,
Pittsnogle added, “Something that’s going to stay in the Capitol building for at least the next 20 years.”