Artisan combines business with love of welding
By Candace S. Hughes
APACHE JUNCTION — Brad Williamson learned the art of welding from his grandfather in Michigan, but when he moved his teacher’s equipment to Apache Junction in 1995, the business became more than a repair shop.
He opened Old West Iron Art within view of Superstition Mountain and now creates Western designs for landscapes and interior decorations.
A cowboy by a campfire placed outside his business has been purchased by Adobe, a Gold Canyon homeowners’ group, and it soon will be sitting along U.S. 60 at the entrance to the area on Kings Ranch Road.
“I go down the streets around here and see lots of my pieces,” said Williamson, who estimates he and his employees have made thousands of individual creations. One of his most notable pieces is a horse used by the Pointe Hilton at South Mountain as its logo.
Prices range from a $25 candleholder to a $6,000 large outdoor installation, with the most popular piece an agave ranging in prices up to $150 depending on size.
He had very little starting capital and sold his Michigan home to begin the business. At first he rented the workshop at $1,500 per month, but he now owns the property.
“I had to borrow to make ends meet at the beginning. What they say about it taking five years to get a business going is true,’ he added.
Owner works with city of Apache Junction to expand business
The business is growing by 20-25 percent annually and he soon hopes to add more fabrication space on his property if the city of Apache Junction approves.
Customers from Maine to Germany have ordered items. Shipping of steel is expensive, plus it’s hard to find the perfect box for the unique creations, he said.
The 37-year-old Williamson owns a manufactured home on two acres across the street from the business, but only stops by occasionally to grab a sandwich for lunch. Williamson works from 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. estimating and ordering for the business, averaging a 65-hour work week.
“I couldn’t afford to build my own home when I was starting this business,” he added.
Although Williamson started by himself, he now employs a supervisor who oversees three full-time and two part-time employees. Some of the workers have been trained in an Apache Junction High School welding class and others at East Valley Institute of Technology.
Much of his time is spent measuring for residential and business gates and ensuring that the finished pieces fit and operate correctly. Gates range in price from $350 to $2,500 depending on size.
Grandfather’s assistance brings success
“The time to move here and start this business was good due to the growth in the East Valley, but without my grandfather’s help I couldn’t have done it. You have to build a good name. It’s part of being successful,” he said.
“You have to build trust, meet their needs and follow through with what you say you’re going to do,” he emphasized.
He has worked with other artists such as Betty Braig in Gold Canyon who has designed art. Williamson’s mother, Vicky, also assists with ideas.
Customer requests are welcomed. “The most unusual piece so far has been a cowboy roping a pig,” he laughed. If the customer asks, the shop will refuse orders for replicas.
Ninety-five percent of the items are created for residences.
He receives customers from the Arizona Opry next door, he says as a large RV with out-of-state plates slows down and turns around to have a second look at the weathered art displayed outside the oval-shaped structure. “We’re busy all year round, but especially during winter visitor season,” he added.