Contemporary blacksmiths wield flame, hammer, and welding skill in the evolution of metal-working.
Five years ago, Barney’s Welding and Fabricating replaced Barney’s Blacksmith Shop at a rustic 2,000-square-foot shed in Saginaw County’s Carrollton Township. But who needs a blacksmith? For that matter, who needs a welder?
Today’s owner of Barney’s Welding and Fabricating is Carrollton-born Ken Curnutt, and he explains just what a modern blacksmith can do with tools such as heat torches and the right welding know-how. He connects the history of Barney’s Blacksmith Shop to his ongoing business. He has maintained the name “Barney’s” in honor of the original 1920s startup proprietor, Barney Neumeyer, who purchased and converted Bethlehem Lutheran Church’s former late 19th-century, one-room schoolhouse into the blacksmith shop.
Curnutt’s enterprise specializes in attaching trailer hitches to automobiles—most often four-wheel drive pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles—but he also assists customers in salvaging a wide array of metallic household items, anything from collapsing iron patio chairs to porch railings to broken-down lawnmower decks. Curnutt explains that he often spies objects on garbage-day curbsides, such as old lawnmowers and metal patio chairs. If only folks knew and understood that he could weld and repair those items, he says.
Curnutt notes that many purchasers of trailers fail to consider where they will go to repair their box u-hauls or their campers, for such parts as axels and bearings. Many patrons also decide after a few months or years of vehicle ownership that they suddenly desire a trailer hitch.
Then there are local sources in need of welding services. Curnett has performed work for Thomas Township, west of Carrollton, welding and fabricating steel frames in poinsettia flower shapes for Christmas decorations to adorn streets throughout the township. And when the Saginaw Fireworks Committee displayed a giant American flag on the Fourth of July, Barney’s Welding and Fabricating constructed the rod, known in the trade as the “header,” to support the heavier-than-we-may-imagine Stars & Stripes.
The welding trade takes a lot of skill and expertise. While attending Saginaw’s Arthur Hill High School, Curnutt split his prep academic schedule with half-day job training sessions at the formerly named Saginaw Career Opportunities Center (COC), now the Saginaw Career Complex. He chuckles when he recalls that he selected welding at COC because “all the other classes were full,” but he preferred working with his hands in a trade.
Curnutt emphasizes that there are good careers available in the trades—not only in welding, but in such areas as appliance repair, automotive repair, and construction. At a typical high school career day, he observes most parents raising their hands in favor of their children attending four-year colleges. That’s fine, he says, “but there are good-paying jobs in the trades.”
He envisions retiring one day with his wife, Jill, and handing down the business to his two sons, Corey and Sam Curnutt, who were taught the modern-day blacksmithing trade by their father.