“It’s cool to see all the parts coming together.

Posted: March 27, 2017
Last modified: April 24, 2017

Heather Thorne
Welder, Area 3
Resides: Bushnell

On any given workday, commuters passing through downtown Orlando are likely to find Heather Thorne working off to the side of Interstate 4 by the shore of Lake Ivanhoe, operating a welding torch that burns several hundred degrees hotter than the Florida heat and sends sparks flying.

For safety, she’ll be wearing a hard hat, protective welding hood, gloves and heavy leather coverings – all adding to a heat index that can top 100 degrees on summer days. For Thorne, dealing with heat is just part of the job, something she’s learned during 10 years of welding. It adds to her sense of accomplishment.

“It’s cool to see all the parts coming together and becoming something big,” she said, pointing to the scene around her, where steel and concrete seem to be sprouting from the ground on their way to becoming ramps and bridges.

She often welds sections of steel pilings that have been driven deep into the ground to support those bridges. Piles may extend more than 300 feet deep, so several sections must be welded together, as they are driven into the soil.

To do so, a crane lowers each heavy section of piling, and Thorne and her fellow welders guide it to the right spot. They then fuse the new piece to the end protruding from the ground. Powerful hammers drive or vibrate the welded steel farther below ground. At other times, Thorne may be cutting through thick steel or welding together long beams to create templates used to guide the heavy piles into their exact location.

Thorne enjoys her work for SGL – the construction joint venture of Skanska, Granite and Lane. “I get to build things and I like being outside,” said the Bushnell resident.

In her spare time, Thorne and her boyfriend raise and train quarter horses. She also works with her father, who created and sells a special cart for hunters. Her dad, a former welder, inspired her to learn the trade.

Years ago, when Thorne passed one of her first qualifying tests as a welder, she gave him the piece of fused metal she had worked on. “He still has it.”