Douglas High inherits pieces of the past

Raymond and Elaine Chester walked through the old barn that until recently was the site of Douglas Fabrication in downtown Minden. Their son-in-law, Bruce Wise, operated the welding and metalwork business for 20 years, but the Chesters have owned the century-old building for more than 40 years and have decided to donate a large amount of the business's equipment to Douglas High School.

From 1960 until 1985, Raymond Chester operated the business, previously Douglas Ironworks, and worked as a blacksmith forging branding irons for various ranchers, repairing farm equipment and manufacturing metal products.

"At one time, I had five employees working for me," Chester said.

He showed pictures of his shop taken decades ago. One showed a worker standing over an anvil with a huge hammer.

A newspaper clipping from The Record-Courier showed Chester holding a branding iron he designed for a governors' conference at Lake Tahoe, the iron shaped like the state of Nevada.

In 1985, Chester retired because of health problems and leased the building to Bruce Wise.

In 1990, the Chesters moved to Washington, and last year relocated again to Oregon.

Two weeks ago, their son-in-law moved Douglas Fabrication from the site, and the Chesters returned to Minden to decide what to do with the building.

"We're thinking about selling it, but it's still too soon to say anything for sure," said Elaine Chester.

On Friday, the Chesters made their way through the barn now devoid of heat and electricity, walking through dusty metal scraps, rusted bolts and large pieces of metal-working equipment. History hung in the air.

"There's been a lot of good years here," Chester said.

White dots marked the equipment chosen to go to the school: a welding rod, a welding table, a metal bender, metal muncher, bolt shredder, drill press, iron puncher and oxygen tanks.

"He enjoyed working with the kids, and he knew that the school could use this stuff," Elaine said of her husband.

Chester said he used to be an advisor for the welding classes at Douglas High.

"I know this will give them a lot more stuff to experiment with," he said.

Jared Hyatt, Douglas High's welding teacher, lauded Chesters' donation.

"The donation is outstanding," said Hyatt. "The time I've spent with him (Chester) has been a history lesson. Everything in there's got a story.

"We're going to get tons of mileage out the stuff. With all the history behind it, the kids are going to get a sense of community that really doesn't exist anymore," Hyatt said.

Douglas High senior Mackenzie Bennington, who's been in welding class for two years, said he looks forward to using the new welders and other equipment.

"It means a lot to the class," Bennington said Monday, when he and others students helped their teacher transport the equipment to the school. "It's really cool seeing this antique stuff."

Bennington said that after high school, he wants to become a welder.

The Chesters dedicated the donation to their daughter Cathy Wise, who died several years ago.


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