Zany critters take over Clear Creek FFA shop class
Photos Courtesy of Lynne Latham
Sometimes even the craziest ideas can turn into profitable ventures. The Clear Creek FFA Chapter has found a new use for scrap metal making Patio Pals. The idea first became reality three years ago when one of the students started welding together pieces of scrap metal during ag shop class. After seeing the first critter, Ag Advisor Lynne Latham and her students started researching similar items. “We had a burst of creativity, and came up with our line of critters,” she said. Within the line is a moose, sheep, cow, horse, pig, rooster and a reindeer.
Patio pals are critters made out of metal and powercoated to withstand the elements. In the center of each critter, is a 6-inch flowerpot holder. The patio pals can be displayed indoors or outdoors, and are designed to enhance any flower.
“The sheep has been the most popular so far,” Latham said of the patio pals. However, she readily admits the zany critter may have had an unfair advantage since there was a Basque Festival in nearby Buffalo, Wyo., last summer. “It took us all summer to get 75 sheep patio pals ready for that festival,” she recalled. “We sold them all in three hours. We could have sold more if we had them made,” she added.
Most of the patio pals have been sold outside the community. “We are a very small community, and everyone gets hammered for fundraisers,” she said. “So, we haven’t marketed them much in our own community.” Other communities found out about the clever project through the Clear Creek FFA ag sales team. “We built some as a project for the ag sales contest,” Latham explained. “At the contest, the judges liked them so much, they started buying them for real. Word spread and we started to get orders from neighboring communities,” she added. “We filled a big order last spring when one of the judges from Northwest Community College ordered them for her own store. She thought they would be popular with the tourists,” Latham said.
This spring, the students haven’t been quite as aggressive marketing the patio pals. “We are thinking about making some to sell at local craft fairs this summer, but we haven’t made any definite plans yet,” she said. One place people will be able to find some is in the Mercantile store at the Wyoming State Fair in August. “This is their 100th year anniversary, and we are very excited to be part of that through the Mercantile,” Latham said. “We are a member of the Wyoming First group.”
By making the Patio pals, the students have been able to fine tune their measuring, cutting, and welding skills during shop class. “I think it’s important for the students to learn how to build a quality product,” Latham explained. “I personally inspect each one to make sure it’s perfect according to my standards. I want them to be very stable and last a long time, so I test every weld,” she said.
The pals have become easier to make since the students designed some jigs. Now they just have to lay them out on the metal, cut them out, and piece them together. “It still takes about two to three hours to make one from start to finish,” she said. The community has donated horse shoes and oil field pipe for the students to use. Nuts, washers and round rod are purchased to finish them off.
Most of the students are involved either in production or marketing of the patio pals. “One of the neatest things that came out of it is the students have seen where you can take a wild idea or brainstorm and turn it into a business,” she said. “In the beginning, everyone looked at it as a scrap iron creation. The ideas developed from there. A lot of students were involved with a lot of different designs,” she explained. “It has been a group effort through the entire process.”
When the students were preparing the patio pals for the Basque Festival, it became almost like an assembly line trying to finish them in time, Latham said. “From that experience, I think they found out how repetitious it could be doing that type of job,” she said. “Some of them were burnt out from the experience.”
Since then, Latham has left it up to the students to decide where they want to go with the project in the future. “As the school year draws to a close, some of the students are finishing up their own shop projects, so they are moving on to making some patio pals,” she said. “These are very unique critters that have been a lot of fun for the kids and I to make. It has also proven to be a good fundraiser for us, but I have left it up to the students to determine where the project goes from here.”