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These wagon rings, formerly used on covered wagon wheels, will serve a new purpose when they are welded into a sculpture or fencing.


on the Prairie By Jocelyn Pedersen A


n Oklahoma man makes beauty from the mundane, and whimsy from the common, by painstakingly welding metal to metal to form art on the


Oklahoma prairie. Joe Smith, who lives in Leedey and is a Northfork Electric Cooperative (NFEC) member, has spent over 30 years welding horse- shoes, wrenches, farm implements and more into beautiful cacti, peacocks, weathervanes, a tornado and even a biplane. Yes, a biplane that moves in symphony with the Oklahoma wind, complete with pilot and co-pilot seated in an open cockpit, hair streaming behind them. Smith, who said he started welding as a means


of keeping up the farm, has turned a utilitarian skill into nothing short of art. It took him about six months to make the biplane, starting with the wings first. Although he admits to experiencing some trouble with the fuselage, he persisted. “It’s just a lot of time,” Smith said. “I don’t ever give up on anything.”


Smith’s perseverance pays off and can be seen in the fence panels that frame his land and that of his children. Although panels contain saw blades, shovels, an occasional tractor seat and wrenches to name a few items welded into the construction, it’s clear he has his favorites.


Joe Smith holds one of the many wrenches he’s collected over the years. Photos by Jocelyn Pedersen


“I like to use cast iron wrenches,” Smith said, “because they’re neat.” He used 151 alligator wrenches on his gate, for


which he said he paid anywhere from $1 to $10 each, adding, “you can’t find them anymore.” Over the years, Smith has collected and stock- piled many items to weld: wrenches large and small, wagon rings, and more. He has buckets of them, walls adorned with them, and benches laden with them. Smith said he finds most items at sales and some have come from as far away as Kimball, S.D. But Smith takes it all in stride, say- ing, “it’s just a bunch of unique stuff,” referring to his various collections including tools, wind- mill weights, grease turns, anvils and squedge blocks.


Smith tells the story of obtaining an anvil used to reshape wagon rings. When he brought it home, an old shirt fell out along with five plastic bags and $105 in silver coins. Although this mon- ey quite literally fell in his lap, Smith has no de- sire to sell any of his creations. “No. No, period,” Smith said when asked about selling his wares. “I don’t need the money. I’m 88 years old. I want to do what I want to do.” Others who know him appreciate his work even


though it’s not for sale. Dan Dye, a lineman for Northfork Electric Cooperative, said he met Smith over 25 years ago when Smith had an out- age and Dye helped in the outage restoration ef- fort. Dye has seen and appreciated Smith’s work not only on family property, but elsewhere, too. “I love it,” Dye said of Smith’s work. “He built


the longhorn statue in Elk City. He’s an awesome guy. Ideas just come out the top of his head.” Those ideas have come to fruition in many forms. Some of them can be found at the homes of his daughter, Annie Switzer, and sons Lowry and Monte Smith, all who live nearby in Leedey. “He’s pretty impressive,” Switzer said. “He has


made a roadrunner and I’ve had the privilege of watching him through the process from looking at it on an iPhone to having him take little pieces of metal and make them in the shape of a bird, then turn it into a three dimensional sculpture. It’s unbelievable. It’s not like he has instructions or patterns,” adding that her father made the air- plane when he was in his mid-80s. Switzer recalls that as a child, her dad ran a dozer and sculpted on the side. She said as he ages he spends more time in the shop.


30 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


“It’s amazing. Every time I go down there, I see something new. It’s intriguing. He was self-taught, doesn’t have a college education; everything he’s learned he’s taught himself,” Switzer said. “It’s pretty impressive.” Switzer said she was the recipient of one of the two roadrunners Smith made and the second is so close to the first, “it’s unbelievable.” Smith’s most recent endeavor was to take the bull wheel off a circa-1900s grain binder and make a weathervane with an arrow on top that turns. When interviewed, it was still under con- struction, but it now moves with the wind at Switzer’s home. With ideas in his head and plenty of welding materials on hand, Smith will likely start another project soon—perhaps one that will adorn his yard next to the biplane and tornado that move with the winds that grace the Oklahoma prairies.


A welded tornado spins in the Oklahoma breeze on a sunny day near Leedey.


Whimsy


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