Eldon and David
Image: Daniel Root


When looking for new talent, managers at Northwest Pipe once counted on a steady stream of students from regional community colleges, but lately, this pool seems to have evaporated. Interest in technical welding has waned, says Northwest Pipe fabricator David Brieher (right), even though the average worker in his position earns close to $50,000 a year. “The way I look at it, the people who don’t get into it? It’s better for me,” shrugs Brieher, 41, who has been with the company since the day he completed Portland Community College’s welding trade school in 1996.

The tradesman says he’s fortunate to be mentored by Eldon Hopkins (left), 65, a veteran welder and equipment designer. Together they build, install and rebuild machinery, with Hopkins serving as designer (armed only with pencil, graph paper and 40 years of experience). “Every day, it’s an education,” says Brieher. “Eldon shows me things he built 30 years ago, and they’re still running.”