GILCHRIST – Brian Wachs often gives tours of Gilchrist Junior/Senior High School’s shop while his manufacturing and technology students work on projects using metal, wood, and computer design software.
The shop – with its welding stations, 3D printer, plasma CNC, vinyl cutter, laser engraver, and high-tech computer lab — is one of the gems of this small, rural school tucked in an often-struggling mill town in northern Klamath County.
Wachs’ guest last month, Jim Neiman, new owner of the former Interfor mill, now Gilchrist Forest Products, was impressed. So impressed that he returned to the next day and handed the school a $15,000 donation for the program.
Gilchrist Principal Steve Prock was moved by Neiman’s visit and his commitment to the community.
“I would like to thank Jim for his generous donation and look forward to partnering with his company for future projects,” he said.
Neiman owns Neiman Enterprises, Inc., which purchased the Gilchrist mill in October 2020. The Wyoming-based family owned company also operates mills in Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado.
Wachs was excited, and immediately started a shopping list – two mig welders, a drum sander, a shaper, and a new plasma torch for the shop’s plasma CNC.
“It was for upgrades and to keep things going,” Wachs said. “A drum sander, for example, will enable students to do industrial level, quality projects.”
Wachs took over the program eight years ago. Since then he has expanded the shop to accommodate the latest technology as well as student interests. Manufacturing – commonly known as shop — classes today are different than they were years ago. Students must understand math and learn computer design programs and other technology.
Two students in a recent class were ready to make their project come to life after three days of work. They donned their safety glasses, watching closely as the laser cutter began to transfer their design onto metal. The cut was too close to the edge. They called Wachs over for a consultation.
In another part of the shop, a student printed designs on T-shirts for the school’s Spanish Club. Other students were working with CAD software, designing knives, signs and metalwork. They can work with wood, composite and carbon fiber, and metal.
Wachs has a degree in range management as well as teaching, but his specialties and interests cover the spectrum. He is a licensed UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operator and his latest project is guitars – how to play and how to make them.
He also focuses lessons around “real-life problems.” If a student has a broken ax handle, for example, he will teach them how to fix it.
“Every one of these students is different, and at small school I can work with them,” Wachs said. “If a student wants to do something I don’t know how to do, I’ll learn how so I can teach them.”
Wachs, who lives in Redmond, commutes nearly an hour one way to work each day.
“The ability to run my program like this – it’s unique,” he said. “It allows me a creative outlet, and the students really need what I offer.”