Students at Strom Thurmond welded a water wheel for a local restaurant
Students at Strom Thurmond welded a water wheel for a local restaurant

Welding students create a water wheel at local restaurant

Courtesy the Edgefield County School District

Johnston, S.C. – Throughout his career in public education, Bill Cheatham has provided his Strom Thurmond Career & Technology Center welding students with meaningful challenges that advance both their knowledge and abilities. His most recent large-scale project asked them to take their burgeoning skills to even greater heights.

And as his students have so often done in the past, they rose to the occasion yet again.

In August, Cheatham’s welding students began work on what would eventually become a 13-foot-six-inch tall, more than 700-pound aluminum water wheel attraction, for the Sweetwater area eatery Old McDonald Fish Camp.

“We noticed the old one they had up there was worn down and rotten, so I suggested to (Old McDonald Fish Camp Owner Jay Bass) about letting my students build a new water wheel and that’s what we did. We took it from there,” said Cheatham. “It’s made of aluminum, and it will be there forever now.”

Strom Thurmond Career & Technology Center welding students stand in front of the water wheel they created for Old McDonald Fish Camp. Photo courtesy Edgefield County School District

The new water wheel, which is the third water wheel to be featured on the restaurant’s property (the previous two water wheels were constructed out of treated wood), was delivered to Old McDonald Fish Camp on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2023, and STCTC welding students installed it the next day. Bass, a Strom Thurmond High School alumnus, beamed with pride while standing next to the water wheel.

“It was better than I could have imagined,” Bass said of his initial thoughts when he first saw the completed water wheel.“They did an awesome job and it’s been a neat experience working with Bill and the students. They did all the work. I told them the dimensions and then I left them alone.”

The students utilized TIG and MIG welding techniques on the project. The techniques allow welders flexibility between slower precision welds and those where more speed is desired.

Welding student Sara Wates, who had the idea of using a wooden barrel to flow water down onto the water wheel, said the sheer size of the frame, a 12-foot octagon, was the most challenging part of the process.

“Just because of how big it is it was hard getting things on top of the water wheel,” Sara stated. “It was fun to see it all come together.”

Student Ben Blythe took a job at Old McDonald Fish Camp a few weeks before the project began. His primary duty is preparing the restaurant’s signature hush puppies.

“I thought it was kind of funny that we started working on something that would go out here as soon as I started working here,” commented Ben. “The hush puppies taste great, but the water wheel is pretty cool too.”

“The whole process has been awesome,” stated Bass. “I’m very proud of it and I’ve been blown away. Years from now these students can go across the bridge and tell their kids they built that water wheel. I’m proud that it came from (the Strom Thurmond Career & Technology Center).”

“When they put their minds to it, it surprises you what they can do,” Cheatham added. “They did it and I’m proud of them.”

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