The fun thing about metal fabrication is how a fabricator's vocation can also be part of his or her fascination. Some use their welding skills to create art. Others use their metal bending and finishing skills to restore old automobiles. In one instance, a metal fabricator has even applied his metalworking skills to guitar-making.
Brad Ufford's work has sparked the fascination of a whole town, if not a whole generation of people. The fabricator, who works in the R&D department of Sukup Manufacturing Co. (http://www.sukup.com) in Clear Lake, Iowa, did most of the work on the new artwork anchoring Three Stars Plaza. By the way, those stars would be Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson—the three music legends who died in a plane crash after wrapping up a concert at the town's Surf Ballroom on a chilly night on Feb. 3, 1959.
The artwork is designed to mimic a central spindle with three stacked records. However, these records are not made of vinyl but of seven-gauge stainless steel, with a combined weight of 3,900 lbs., and a 15-ft., 24-in.-diameter steel spindle that weighs 1,600 lbs.
Ufford said one of the most interesting parts of the project was all of the gas tungsten arc welding that was required. Even with the stainless steel discs suspended in the air, the designers and project managers wanted the records to be cosmetically perfect, which meant no blemishes. So he had to work and etch out all of the blue marks left on the stainless steel finish after the welding.
Ufford doesn't think about the work as being that special. Sure, it's the focal point for a town so closely linked with the legendary musicians, but from a fabricating standpoint, it's just another project. In fact, Ufford said he gets more of a kick working on his automobile restorations.
"Buddy Holly is a little bit before my time," he said with a laugh.
It's before my time as well, but the music still remains pretty important to me. It's an extension of my childhood—always listening to my dad as he played his 1950s tunes even into adulthood. He never really progressed musically with the times, but that was OK. He didn't miss much in the 1970s.
Today that rockabilly sound lives on in bands like Jason and the Scorchers and the Reverend Horton Heat. They aren't household names, but they and other bands are keeping that original sound alive—albeit at a slightly faster pace. A tribute album to Buddy Holly was released in 2011, again proving Don McLean may have been a little premature in singing that Feb. 3 was the day the music died.
(If you don't like artist interpretations of original music, you might want to steer clear of this CD. In fact, Paul McCartney's performance of "It's So Easy" might scare you away from tribute albums forever. Sorry, Sir Paul.)
Once again, a metal fabricator's work makes a big impact on a community. Ufford and Sukup Manufacturing can feel confident that their contributions won't fade away.