Elysia Connor 307-266-0509,
Sparks flew as welders worked at tables or knelt next to oil production skids. The raw steel base is transported to the oil field to secure the equipment to the ground.
Last week, a welder stood by a plasma table while a welder’s arm was lowered onto a 4-by-8-foot steel plate. The tip glowed and sparks flew as the shape of a prancing horse was carved out of the metal plate.
Double D Welding and Fabrication Manager Jason Dye said the machine was not made for that purpose. The company originally acquired the company to make large hinges, gussets, custom parts and more for industrial equipment.
But tough economic times call for creative ways to make ends meet. So about three years ago, crews began building wall hangings, signage, fire pits and home bars alongside regular oil field and natural gas supply work. Most often, plasma his tables are carved with Wyoming motifs.
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“We’ve been doing a little bit of everything,” Dye said. “I think the biggest thing that helped us was always staying open to new things.”
In August, Mr. Dye opened the 307 Metal Works store on Wolcott Street downtown to display and sell the industrial shop’s home, garden and decorative projects.
Staff come up with an idea, draw a picture and turn the concept into a finished product in the store, Dye said.
“It kind of keeps the creative juices flowing,” he said. “We have a lot of people with great ideas who are always coming up with new things.”
The walls of 307 Metal Works are decorated with creative projects from the Double D Welding and Fabrication team. There are steel cutouts of wildlife, crosses, mountain scenes, and of course lots of bison, bucking broncs, the words “WYO” and the number 307. There are also signs for corporate, wedding and home addresses. Some items are both decorative and functional, such as wall-mounted coat hooks. Some are attached to old barn wood. Antique milk jugs, scrap metal, and other recycled materials are also incorporated into many projects.
Larger pieces include a fire pit and a home bar with a gleaming steel top and matching Wyoming-inspired bar stools. Last week, a large fountain featuring a steel backing blasted water onto corrugated panels near the front windows.
Dye said the welding business was Double D’s main source of income until energy became available downtown in 2008. However, difficult circumstances forced creative changes.
“Then a switch was flipped to not work. I didn’t know which direction to go in,” Dye said. “We didn’t have the diversity and the opportunity to really spread our wings and go out and do different things.”
The company survived, which Dai attributes largely to luck. In response to the economic downturn, the shop diversified into projects such as stairs, handrails and platforms for the city of Casper, government agencies and schools. That included the railings at Kelly Walsh High School.
But the expansion into art and home decor began about two or three years ago when Dai built a fire pit in his backyard. They started selling on consignment through a local company, and sales were brisk.
Dye said the division doesn’t make a lot of money, but it’s enough to keep some key employees employed, which was the goal in the first place.
The store created all of Gaslight Social’s bar tops and vanities and generated a lot of interest in the 307 Metal Works storefront.
“This whole store is kind of the idea for that,” Dye said. “People can basically get an idea of the space they would have in their home or business, and we can customize it.”
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Welder Rick Carper never thought he’d be using a plasma table to make decorative cutouts. But two years ago, he said, the store was so busy with orders for signs for Christmas that he and Dye showed up late on a December night to work on the signs. He enjoys working on various projects as a break from his daily routine.
“Rather than just sitting down and welding the same skids and pipes, you can be a little more creative and open up your mind,” Carper said.
After cutting shapes on a plasma table, workers polish the raw steel coating to create a bright, shiny bare metal. The grinder leaves a swirly pattern on the surface, giving the finished product an interesting character. Other pieces are placed in acid baths to remove coatings for different effects, Dai said. You can either clear coat the metal as is or paint it other colors with chemical stains.
Last week, Mr. Carper sprayed a copper-colored coating on two bar stools with a bucking bronc outline carved into the top. Simply apply a clear coat over an antique milk jug to create a rustic bar.
“It takes a common bar stool and transforms it into something cool,” Dye said.
Recent projects have also included custom “man cave” signs with deer, elk and gun hunting themes. The crew sometimes works on their own projects, like the fire pit for his Gators in Florida, which Carper built for his girlfriend. Carper’s brother plays on the team and she’s a fan.
Tyler Lynch also specializes in skids and also does drafting. He draws designs freehand using a computer mouse from his reference photos and connects the artwork to his plasma machine. His images include mountainous landscapes with bears and elk, and log cabins surrounded by pines. He created a metal image of his client’s deceased dog that looked exactly like the photo, right down to the color.
Also, when planning his designs, he uses his creativity to choose where to cut out shapes to emphasize lines or create shadow and highlight effects. Since it is made of steel, it can be displayed both indoors and outdoors.
For Lynch, these projects became a way to reconnect with his artistic side. He said his great-grandmother painted and he enjoyed art as a child, but didn’t pursue it after that.
“Once I figured out how to do it on a computer, I fell in love with it,” Lynch said. “It’s great to bring a new brand of art into the world. The colors you can now do with metal, the scenarios you can do with metal, it’s not just an ordinary painting, it brings a lot of other things to life.”
Although the oil field business has been making a comeback recently, Dai said there is a reason to keep the stores and projects that supply the oil field in place, as bankruptcy is expected in the future.
“Our store is getting busy, so having something like this forces us to keep going,” he said. “It would be scary if he kept running away and when the bottom fell out, he was recaptured with all his eggs in one basket.”
Follow reporter Elysia Connor on Twitter @erconner