Detroit Lakes resident Ben Weekley has been teaching future boiler operators across Minnesota the skills needed to get their boiler operator licenses for more than 25 years, since 1994. Yet he expects that the lessons he's uploaded to his personal YouTube teaching channel, titled "Boiler Ben," will reach more students in its first six months of operation than he's taught in the previous 25 years combined.
"It already has over 5,000 views," says Weekley, adding that he has loaded 11 different instructional videos onto the "Boiler Ben" site since it was launched on Jan. 7. The channel now has 228 subscribers.
The videos include an introduction to low-pressure boiler operation, a nine-episode tutorial covering various aspects of boiler operation, and a Minnesota-specific lesson that covers all the different levels of licensure requirements for boiler operators across the state.
Each video ranges between 30 and 50 minutes and is meant to be used in combination with textbooks — which can be ordered online for around $100 each or checked out from some local libraries — that cover the same material in more depth.
Weekley, however, is not charging anything for the class, stating that he sees it as a way of paying it forward
"This whole project is my gift to the industry that supported me for so many years," he said, referring to his years of working as a maintenance supervisor for the Detroit Lakes School District as well as being a licensed boiler operation instructor, most frequently through the district's community education program. "It makes me feel good to do that.
"That first (introductory) boiler class has over 1,665 views as of right now (March 18), and lesson two has 1,810 views," Weekley added, noting that his in-person classes did not often have more than 20 students per session.
YouTube site analytics have shown that all those page views added up to a total of nearly 1,004 hours of viewer watch time. "That just blows one away," Weekley said.
In addition, he says that a combination of site analytics and personal "thank you" messages has shown that his videos are being viewed by people not just throughout Minnesota, but across the U.S. — and beyond.
"Last summer, I taught classes in Thief River Falls and Alexandria, and I've also taught in Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Perham, Blackduck, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Hawley, Audubon, and helped out with a class in Waubun," he said — but since launching his YouTube channel, he's had viewers in Canada, England, Pakistan, Africa, Myanmar and more.
"It's just amazing to me," said Weekley. "I never expected this."
He credits his grandsons, Skyler and Bridger Weekley, with helping him to set up the YouTube channel, film the videos and upload them to the site.
Skyler, in particular, has been helping him a lot, using the expertise he gained from setting up his own YouTube channel to explore his passion for rocks and rock collecting — a passion that his grandfather helped him to develop.
"We used to babysit them a lot," Weekley said of his grandsons, and in the process of trying to keep Skyler and Bridger entertained, he hit on the idea of taking them out to collect rocks from a nearby gravel pit.
Skyler took those early rock collecting sessions and ran with them, teaching himself about all the different types and uses of rocks, then used that knowledge to launch his own channel on YouTube, titled "The Midwestern Rockhound." As soon as he found out about it, Ben said, he became one of Skyler's earliest subscribers (he now has over 200 and counting).
So impressed was he by Skyler's efforts, Ben said, that when he first came up with the idea of launching his own channel to do boiler operator training, he went to his grandson to help him with the process, and they enlisted Bridger's help soon after.
"They introduced me to all this new technology," Weekley said, adding that with his grandsons' help, he was able to film all the videos on his cellphone, produce them via the YouTube Studio app, then upload them to his new YouTube channel.
"It's succeeded beyond our expectations," he added.