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Fabricating

Plebani’s rules

By Lynn Stanley

This story has been updated here for the July/August 2016 Top Webex issue.

Custom fabricator embodies patriotism, values through medium of metalforming

July 2015 - Founding father Benjamin Franklin believed the most important American qualities and values included determination, self-sufficiency, perseverance, hard work, frugality and reliance on a strong set of ethics. It’s a code Eric Plebani also lives by and one he wants to pass on to young people.

Like Franklin, the custom car fabricator is a patriot and staunch supporter of the military. “The sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made on a daily basis to defend my freedom have allowed me to pursue what I love,” he says. 

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For Plebani his love has always been cars. A National Hot Rod Association licensed driver by the age of 23, Plebani learned the skills of welding, fabrication and mechanical repairs in the harsh, unforgiving environment of racing. “Building things and putting my own creative spin on them has been my forte,” he says. 

His work ethic and skills caught the eye of World Racing, where he has handcrafted engine-driven works of art for more than 19 years. “The industry pushed me and my team members to try things no one else would do,” he explains. “Consequently, we were always ahead of the curve in areas like machining, metalworking and understanding the limits of metal fatigue for parts we were making. It’s the best way to learn.”

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Treasure hunt

In February 2015 he established Plebani Built LLC to support a new venture designing and building one-of-a-kind extreme custom welding helmets. He also confesses to a fascination with military equipment. “I’m a World War II history buff,” he says. “I bought a Hummer H1 about five years ago. I tore it apart to see how it was engineered. It was really rather ingenious.” 

The Hummer was originally designed exclusively for military use but due to popular demand, a civilian version of the four-wheel-drive utility vehicle was released in 1992.

“AM General used components that were readily available in keeping with the military practice that you don’t want to put unique parts on a vehicle being used in the field for obvious reasons,” Plebani says. “I discovered the H1 had older Chrysler Jeep parts, Ford components and a GM engine and transmission. It was really a collaborative effort between the Big 3. If you knew what you were looking for you could go to junkyards and find what you needed. I hand-fabbed the Hummer’s entire exterior with parts I found at a nearby industrial scrapyard.”

The restoration project took Plebani two years to complete. Oval snorkel-style exhaust, industrial chain link crash bar and a light bar with USA stamped in each link provide the details that mark Plebani’s style. “There was a learning curve because the parts were so big and heavy compared to the small, lighter weight race cars I work on,” he says. “I had to buy oversized tooling just to work on the Hummer.” 

The paint job is a urethane coating Plebani borrowed from the marine industry. “It’s a non-slip coating that has the texture of concrete,” he explains. “When I take it places the first thing people want to do is touch it.”

Plebani uses his workspace to expose students from area trade and tech schools to an active custom fabrication job shop. “I try to personify the characteristics this country was built on,” he says. 

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Standards

At the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin developed a list of 13 virtues that he attempted to live by. Plebani has developed his own set of standards to work by. “The investment of time and skill to handcraft or fabricate something requires commitment and common sense,” he says. “I share these ideas with students in the form of questions. ‘Is this something you would want to give someone?’ ‘Would you be happy with the work you did?’ ‘Would you want the product yourself?’ If the answer is no, then you have to redo it. It boils down to having pride in the work you do.”

Pride in one’s work is the quality Plebani finds among veterans when he’s looking to hire. “They already possess discipline and self-initiative,” he notes. “In this business you have to be up for the challenges and they are. I see a big disconnect in these areas with a lot of the students that are still sitting in a classroom.”  

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Social media has boosted the popularity of Plebani’s welding helmet creations and attracted a large following of military men and women, many of whom are mechanics. “I created stickers for my helmets and then threw them up on my website along with some T-shirts,” Plebani says. “I got an email from a female mechanic stationed in the Middle East asking if she could purchase stickers and shirts for her unit. I shipped the items free of charge because I felt it was a small way to thank them for their service.”

Plebani later found out that his stickers are being put on pieces of large military equipment and weapons being used at a forward operating base in the Middle East.

“That was the ultimate payoff for me,” he says. “I’m a custom fabricator and mechanic for the racing industry. That crew overseas is using those same skill sets to protect our country.” FFJ

Read more about Eric Plebani’s extreme custom welding helmets and why the one-offs are burning up social media platforms and sparking renewed interest in the welding industry in the July-August issue of FFJournal.

Sources

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