By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

Almost certainly, the school project two Killeen Independent School District welding classes recently finished is the heaviest around.

A barbecue pit smoker that 20 high school students worked on from August to May weighs about 2,800 pounds, requires a vehicle to pull it and cooks a heck-of-a brisket.

Welding teacher John Bridenstine's classes are developing a reputation for building excellent pits.

They have won a couple of state championships in recent years, but this time around they built their project for a client.

Winning medals is fun, but Bridenstine said he enjoyed diving into the project with his eager students and was impressed with their level of teamwork and determination to meet a deadline like they would in a real job.

Travis Long, a plumbing and septic tank contractor based in Temple, knew the Killeen ISD welding instructor and had seen his students' past work.

Long provided the students with a 250-gallon propane tank and a trailer kit. The students and their teacher designed the trailer and wood box and welded together doors, hinges, axles and aesthetic features like Texas-shaped handles to create the rolling cooker.

Aston Litchfield, an Ellison High School senior, was one of the many students who worked on the project and was happy to show off some of its features.

He opened doors and pulled out griddles, displayed pullout plates and pointed out the welds holding the pit together.

"It was nothing like this before," Litchfield said. "We climbed up and welded it all out. We worked on it for a year. Now, it looks amazing. It makes me proud that I can do this, that I have the skills. It makes me want to do it again."

Students said that the project, which they worked on after completing assignments in their welding class, gave them a chance to work on a variety of welds and to be creative.

After working on the big project and other smaller ones during one year of welding, Litchfield said he was headed to a welding program at the college level.

"They applied what they learned," Bridenstine said. "Everything is kind of theoretical until it comes to pass. You can see their excitement."

The instructor said students used a variety of math, especially geometry and engineering skills to figure weight distribution and other factors in building the barbecue pit.

"I enjoyed working with them on it," Bridenstine said. "When they got caught up in class, they worked on it. There was always a clear objective and they worked together."

Long said he had been cooking a mountain of ribs, briskets and sausage for seven days straight for an upcoming family reunion and that he couldn't be happier with the pit.

"I love it," he said. "I couldn't be happier. It's way better than I expected, the attention to detail, everything."

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