Signs of Mackay ag students’ creativity are cropping up throughout the Lost River Valley.
Large, custom metal signs they have designed and built can be seen at businesses, ranches and community venues.
“It’s been fun driving around, seeing their work,” says Trent Van Leuven, agri-science teacher and FFA adviser at Mackay High School.
“Orders have been picking up because people see the signs or hear about our metal fabrication program,” he said. “The signs are professional quality and designs are amazingly creative. Whatever someone envisions, students can make it become reality.”
People pay for the signs, albeit prices are low. The money is used for college or trade school scholarships for Mackay graduates, helps pay for equipment maintenance and supports community events organized by the students.
At the Houston Pioneer Cemetery, a sign at the entrance features a silhouette of the Lost River Range.
The typical sign is 4-by-8-feet, but a sign for Crystal Springs Campground near McCammon is 14 feet long and had to be created in two sections that were welded together.
Students use a computer numerical-controlled plasma table to create the signs. Other metal fabrication equipment includes an industrial Apex EZ sander and a brake to bend sheet metal. Learning to use the equipment prepares students for diverse careers.
“They’re definitely learning skills that can open doors for them after they graduate,” Van Leuven said
The most recent project hangs on an arch at the entrance to Bill and Holly Seefried’s ranch south of Mackay.
“It was really interesting to watch the machine cutting the design,” Bill said of the 30-minute process.
He had a ¼-inch thick piece of 4-by-8-foot steel that was ideal for the project. Granddaughter Trinity Seefried, a 2022 Mackay graduate, designed the sign, combining the words Seefried Ranch with mountains, a cross, U.S. flag and vintage tractor with wheel spokes.
“There were about 6,000 lines of computer code to make it,” Holly said. “You think it would cut from left to right, but it doesn’t work that way. The first letters of our last name were the last thing it cut. We’re so pleased with how it turned out and feel fortunate we could get it done locally while also supporting students.”
Van Leuven said the sequence of the machine’s cutting pattern “is due to an algorithm to minimize collisions with tip-ups. That’s when a metal piece is cut, partially falls and leaves a piece above the sheet surface. As the plasma torch is on a magnet, if it collides, it will throw it off alignment and cause a very costly cut if not found.”
Students are working on two signs now. One for the Bear Bottom Inn combines the local landmark of Mount McCaleb with the hump of a grizzly bear. Another sign is for Riverence, an aquaculture company that recently bought Clear Springs north of Mackay.
Some signs are completed during open shop nights in the evening. “During the school day, students have such a short amount of time in the shop,” Van Leuven said. “It seems like they’re just getting started, and it’s time to quit and clean up. In the evenings, they can accomplish more, working two to three hours uninterrupted.”