NWP Employee Spotlight: Ernest Buckner

Collage of Northwest Pipe Company products and employees working.>





NWP Employee Spotlight Series:
Illuminating Stories from the People of Northwest Pipe

At Northwest Pipe Company, our team members are the foundation of our success, and we take pride in our diverse and talented workforce. This series shares the inspiring stories and career journeys of employees from different departments and locations. In each installment, we interview one of our team members and delve into their experiences, challenges, and accomplishments, and discover why they choose to build their career with Northwest Pipe Company.

Ernest Buckner – Lead Fitter-Welder III | St. Louis, MO

Spotlight on: Ernest Buckner

Lead Fitter-Welder III | St. Louis, MO

Ernest Buckner has dedicated the past 25 years to building his career at Northwest Pipe Company’s Permalok® plant in St. Louis, Missouri. As a lead fitter-welder, he works collaboratively with his team to produce high-quality trenchless pipe products that customers rely on for precision and performance. He also shares his decades of skills and knowledge with new employees, ensuring they have the resources they need to do their job successfully and safely. Celebrating his retirement this year, Ernest shares some insights into a rewarding career journey that has left him with no regrets.


What made you want to become a welder?

I’ve been a welder since my high school days. I graduated from O’Fallon Technical High School in St. Louis, Missouri (now known as Gateway STEM High School). It was a vocational school and my father told me that if I studied welding, I wouldn’t ever have to look for work. He was right about pretty much everything up to that point, so I followed his advice.

How did you find your way to a career at Permalok?

I’m a former union worker and previously held shop steward and committeeman jobs. I worked for a company called Harvard Interiors which manufactured furniture for the government. I welded metal frames and parts for office furniture, like the brass bases for office chairs. When I was changing jobs, Dennis (the former Permalok operations manager), called me and the rest is history.

Tell us about what you do as a Lead Fitter-Welder?

My main responsibility is fitting and welding rings onto pipe ends. The rings are the machined, interlocking joint ends on Permalok pipe pieces. I attach the rings to the inside of the pipe, and then it goes to the subarc welder who secures the rings on the exterior. But, I put myself in a position to be helpful anytime, anywhere I’m needed. For example, I help add bevels to the steel plates after they leaves the cutting table to prepare them for rolling. I also train new employees, teaching them how to fit the rings. It’s always good to show how we do things here and how we do them safely.

What’s one thing that new Fitter-Welders at Permalok need to know that will help them succeed in their role?

It doesn’t matter how big the pipe is, once you know how to fit the ring, you can do any size. The bigger the ring, the better the fit. They may run into fitting it too big or fitting it too small, but the rule is—the pipe should fit the ring and the ring should fit the pipe. This is something I’ll teach by showing the proper way to do it.

Ernest prepares to weld a piece of Permalok® pipe at our St. Louis facility.
What do you look forward to each day at work?

I appreciate having a good group of people to work with—we trust each other, help each other, and work well together to get the job done.

Describe a favorite project that you’ve worked on?

A Tampa Bay project comes to mind. What’s unique is that the pipe was 151” diameter and project specifications required a 5/8” band to be welded on the inside and outside of the male end of the pipe. The project had about 15 of these large-diameter pipes that needed bands. The finished pipe barely fit out of the door, and it had to be specially routed to transport it out of Missouri and into Florida. It was pretty interesting!

What stands out to you about the culture at Northwest Pipe Company?

It’s the willingness to try to make everyone feel like they belong and a genuine sense of caring for everyone here.

Is there someone at NWP who has inspired or motivated you along your career journey?

Yes, my friend, brother, and overall good human being, Andy Rednour. He’s the Sub Arc Welder Lead at Permalok. He started on the night shift, got good at the job he performed, and since I was the lead in my department, he asked if he could join the daytime team. He learned very quickly and over 22 years, we’ve gotten to know each other really well and bonded as coworkers and friends.

Name one thing that always brightens your day outside of work?

Knowing that at the end of each workday, I did my best and left it all at Permalok. I always go home feeling good about doing my share to meet our production schedules.

How does working at Northwest Pipe help you maintain a work-life balance?

Being safe enough to go from my first job at Permalok to my second one refereeing high school basketball year-round, which I’ve done for 39 years. I have a great love for basketball—I played in high school and we were the state champions my senior year. We had the biggest auditorium in the district and would play with a full house, standing room only. I was offered a scholarship to play in college, but decided to enter the workforce as a welder instead—and I have no regrets about that.

Ernest completing the internal weld to attach the Permalok® ring to the pipe end.