Welder Jerry Hubert helps farmers hold it together
When things are falling apart on the farm, Jerry Hubert is a good guy to know.
Although Hubert has over 30 years of welding and metal fabrication experience, it wasn't until 2014 that he went into business for himself and took his sought after skills out on the road.
"I had heard that two welders in the Kaukauna area were planning to retire from this niche business, so I bought some of the equipment from one of them who promised to send his contracts my way," Hubert said. "That was a blessing because I have probably gotten $40,000 worth of work since his retirement."
Hubert's business, Wedltech Welding & Fabrication is based out of the Kaukauna area where he has set up shop. As a mobile welder, he travels up to 60 miles from his home base to perform work. Many of those jobs are on farms where he repairs freestall partitions, fixes farm equipment and machinery, builds gates and more.
"Just last month I fixed 30 stalls that had broken off at the bottom. Instead of replacing the whole stall, I made custom brackets," Hubert said.
Hubert says the road from his home state of Texas to Wisconsin was a long one. While living in the Lone Star State, Hubert worked as a union iron worker on and off for years while trying to maintain a ministry as a full-time evangelist.
"I had heard about a church up in Wisconsin that didn't have a pastor and here I am," he said with a laugh. "This is the last place on the planet that I thought I'd ever be living and I've been here now for 21 years."
The father of four says his pastoral background has come in handy out on the farm, especially during tough times.
"My business fluctuates with the milk prices and they've been pretty low for awhile. So often I'm out here repairing the bare minimum for farmers. I've even traded work for a side of beef," Hubert says. "I always tell my farming buddies that I'm praying for them. Most of them are open to that. The farm community seems to have more of a connection with God. After all, they depend on the rain and the earth for their livelihood. They're just good people to work with."
Hubert is also a lifesaver for farmers, especially during planting and harvest when many of them are working around the clock. He advertises 24-hour emergency service and has been called out to the middle of a farm field many a time to repair broken machinery.
The Kaukauna man says most of his business is derived from farms milking 600 cows or less, as many of the larger farms have maintenance crews on the payroll. He recalls a recent visit to a small one-man operation.
"(The farmer) had just bought a farm and was milking 100 cows. He was literally a one man show that was trying to stay afloat by moving the animals using a system of gates," Hubert said. "These gates were falling apart so I welded him some new ones that will last 20 years."
Hubert understands that farmers are busy people who often make do with as little as possible. That becomes a problem when it's time to repair a well-used piece of equipment.
"I've seen stuff that has been patched so many times that there's no metal left to weld to. That's when I tell them it's time to build a new one," Hubert said. "I've had to get pretty creative when rebuilding some equipment but that's what I do."
Hubert also custom builds equipment for farmers including feed pushers.
Keeping the trade going
Hubert says he's pleased that Gov. Scott Walker is placing emphasis on youth apprenticeships in the skilled trades, where demand for new workers is outpacing supply.
"In my years of welding, I've trained a lot of young men in this trade who are out there today making a good living for their families," Hubert said.
Hubert and his wife, Janna, home school their children Jonathan, 14, Johanna, 13, and Joshua, 11. Welding and manufacturing skills are part of the curriculum.
"My 14-year-old son is out in the shop learning the trade. I hope to help him become a certified welder by the time he's 16," Hubert said. "I told him if he learns this trade, I can help set him up someday with a welding truck so he can earn a decent wage."
The couple's oldest son currently works as a machinist in Wisconsin.