Sculpted elephant shows tradesman’s artistic flair

The circus is coming to Camano Island.

Well, not the whole ring and tent, just a fanciful retired elephant.

James R. Shields III, who grew up on the island, fabricated the pachyderm at Everett Community College.

She’s a beauty — in metal.

“Elly started with a three-way, 4-inch pipe fitting that looked like the beginnings of a trunk, and grew into a partial head when the body showed up,” Shields said.

The body is a working air compressor tank from the 1940s that was bound for the college scrap pile.

From there, pipe fittings made the legs, thanks, Shields said, to Rick Brydges, who teaches pipefitting. Fittings were also welded to make the legs and trunk.

The spine and tail are fashioned from rebar.

“I got to use 350 pounds of scrap welding wire, and spent more than 200 hours, to make Elly,” he said. “She will be on display at Freedom Park at Terry’s Corner on Camano Island.”

Elly has bright eyes, tusks and a trumpeting trunk on a wrinkled body that truly looks like elephant hide.

Children can climb aboard when they go on safari.

Shields is the son of Betsy and Jim Shields, who live at Maple Grove. The Eagle Scout went to Stanwood High School. He received a degree in anthropology and a minor in communications at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

He found his heart by working with his hands. James Shields hopes to graduate in the spring with degrees in welding and fabrication and advanced manufacturing.

“I learned to weld from Darryl Main at Stanwood High School,” Shields said. “There is a deficit of welders and other trade jobs. As people focus on education, the world must still be built and repaired.”

Main, a career and technical education instructor, agrees that the world needs more workers in the trades.

“The industry and trades are crying for qualified people to do skills such as electricians, mechanics, welders, fabricators and engineers,” Main said. “The reason we need to teach welding is we need to let kids see a different aspect of life.”

He said Shields was a class leader, a very social kid who could make anyone laugh. Shields applied himself when learning about welding, wiring and small gas engines.

“If he wanted to do or learn something, he was going to do it,” Main said. “Nothing was out of his grasp.”

Main said a student who goes on to work a trade may make upward of $30 an hour with fine benefits.

“It’s a good living,” Main said.

Welders are needed to build boats, high-rises, pots and pans, a kitchen table leg, attach a tongue on a trailer or fashion the body of a truck. Welding is one of those things used in everything we do, he said.

Main and Shields both complimented the welding program at Everett Community College. Shields said he appreciates the work of instructors Dan Minzel and Dave Taylor.

“Elly could not have happened if not for the awesome program,” Shields said. “It is one of the only community colleges in the state with a fabrication program.”

Sometime in the next few weeks, Shields will head to Freedom Park with a forklift, a truck and his work of art.

“I’ll be setting Elly free,” he said.

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451,

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