The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.lift
    MORENCI student Dalton McCowan puts everything into a dead lift attempt Saturday morning during the Wyseguy Push/Pull event. Lifters helped raise more than $1,600 for the family of the late Devin Wyse, a former Morenci power-lifter who graduated last year. Commemorative T-shirts are still available by contacting teacher Dan Hoffman.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.F.office
    NEW OFFICES—Fayette village administrator Steve Blue speaks with tax administrator Genna Biddix at the new front desk of the village office. Village council members voted to use budgeted renovation funds targeted for the old office and instead buy the vacant bank building on the corner of Main and Fayette streets. The old office was sold to Sherwood State Bank. When everything is put into place in the spacious new village office, an open house will be scheduled. Council member David Wheeler donated all of his time needed to make changes in the bank interior to fit the Village’s needs.

Taking a dive: Durke Ferris working as an underwater welder

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

When Durke Ferris’s mother thinks about her son’s new career as a diver and underwater welder, she expresses one regret.

“My mom says, ‘I wish I’d never bought the fins and snorkel for you,’” Durke says.

That was years and years ago, and he’s been in the water ever since.durke_suiting_up

Diving is a good job and it pays well, but the risks involved are somewhat greater than most jobs on land. Durke could lose his air supply or his communication with the crew above. There’s the danger of electric shock and explosions. He could come in contact with radioactive particles—that one really did happen, but that’s another story.

The 2001 Morenci High School graduate started thinking about a diving career when his Vo-Tech instructor, Donald Stawowy, talked to the class about his past welding experiences. When he mentioned the field of underwater welding, Durke took an interest.

“It just struck an arc in me,” he said. “I started reading about it and looking up schools.”

He chose the College of Oceaneering near Long Beach, Calif., considered the best in the nation. Durke first earned his scuba diving certificate in Michigan, then headed west in September to start the 50-week program.

It’s a tough program, Durke says, and more than half of the initial class of 60 dropped out. Twelve hour days starting at 3 a.m. were bad enough, but the book learning made it worse.

“It was a lot more fun after we got out of the classroom and in the water,” he said.

His first water experience, however, was in metal cylinders on land.

“I think the hardest part of school was in those open tanks,” he said. “They told us to practice drowning.”

Trainers gave them a hand by suddenly shutting off the air supply or issuing masks with the back side missing. It was all part of getting accustomed to the water.

Students eventually practiced skills out in the harbor where they would spend up to two and a half hours of “bottom time.”

They practiced salvage work that could be used to cut apart a sunken ship. They moved heavy pipe to simulate work at an oil rig.

Most jobs incorporated the use of a lift bag that would be inflated under water to assist in moving bulky items. Divers have to be cautious in judging the correct amount of inflation needed for a job—a detail that varies with the weight of the object and with the working depth.

“You have to be careful or it will shoot all the way to the top and take you with it,” he said.Work in the harbor brought its own challenges.

“Ninety percent of the time you’re working on zero visibility,” Durke said, because the muddy bottom gets stirred up. “If you’re lucky, you can see three feet. It’s almost better at night without the sun’s reflection.”

Visibility improves nearer the surface but mid-level work is more difficult the bottom, lead weight keeps a diver planted on the floor. In between, there’s a delicate balance of remaining at the right level.

Durke also had the added challenge of his ex-Navy SEAL instructor.

“I swear that man didn’t like me,” Durke recalls. “He’d set me up for failure every day. He was on me that bad, 10 hours every day.”

Eventually, Durke won him over and the instructor lined up his first job.durke.walking_on

On the job

Many of Durke’s classmates headed for the oil rigs of the Gulf of Mexico. They went through a lengthy apprenticeship program above water; Durke started diving right away.

He signed up with the Underwater Construction Co. office in Baroda, near St. Joseph on Lake Michigan. The company is based in Connecticut and takes on jobs around the globe.

Durke’s first assignment was at the General Electric power plant near Ludington. A couple of miles of fencing is installed underwater to keep fish and debris out of a large water intake tube. There’s plenty of maintenance work needed on the netting and Durke began spending 10-hour days in about 50 feet of water.

The visibility was fantastic with the sandy-bottomed Lake Michigan, and an overhead barge provided warm water to flood the wet suit and take away the chill.

On his last day there, he learned that his assignment would take him to the Perry Nuclear Plant near Cleveland. The first step was to fill out about two inches of paperwork for security clearance.

Then began the long, tedious job of changing sensors in the pool where spent fuel rods are hung to cool. They glow a purplish-blue when they’re still “hot.”

One day the edge of some severed conduit caught on his head gear. Durke thought he felt some moisture but figured it was sweat. When he pulled down on his helmet housing, the tear widened and he was flooded with water.

He was pulled to the surface and whisked out of his suit. He was cleaned, tested two days in a row, and found to have very minor contamination.

“The water is really clean,” he said. “It isn’t radioactive, but there are particles in the water that get stirred up from the bottom.

“It freaked me out at first, but it was such a low level of detection, they had to do a total body count to find something.”

Things don’t always go as planned, Durke says, but that’s what makes the job interesting.

“It might seem like the same routine, but it’s not. It’s a learning experience every day.”

The incident didn’t sour him on the Perry job. Now his crew has moved on to another pool where the reactor is located. After that comes the suppression pool, and each location offers a new experience.

New experience—that’s what Durke is after. He would love to tackle a salvage job and there’s always work on the many hydroelectric plants across the country. For a real thrill, there’s the penetration dive in which a diver snakes through a pipe to inspect the welds. That dangerous job pays by the foot.

Durke thinks he might have to go off-shore sometime to give the oil rig environment a try.

His friends tell him he’s crazy to spend his life this way, but so far he’s enjoying everything about it.

“You’ve got to have a passion for this job,” he says, “and I hope I don’t lose it. I want it to stay interesting to keep my drive alive.”

He’s come a long way from the fins and goggles that his mother bought him as a kid, but he still has a long way to go.

    – Nov. 13, 2002 

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