[Masthead] ~ 57°F  
High: 62°F ~ Low: 45°F
Monday, May 2, 2016

Aurelia metal master turns welding into art

Monday, August 30, 2004

Jeff Tuttle, Aurelia, was taught welding when he was only 10 years old by his dad Ernie. Many years later, he is using that skill to create unexpected art.

He and wife Rita are the proprietors of Orna-Metal - located in the old Farm Service building on M27.

Though Jeff had done a great deal of welding through different jobs over the years, it was only a few years ago that his creativity came to life. He was asked by his dad to construct a gift for his mom Florence and he came up with a unique metal plant stand that resembled an old tricycle. She enjoyed the gift and soon he had orders for 10 more of the planters.

Always an antique tractor buff, he decided to model a planter after an Old John Deere, complete with the skeleton wheels. After perfecting the John Deere, he had orders for International and Allis Chalmers planters as well. The Tuttles knew that they had something going.

They purchased the Farm Service building in the fall of 2002 and spend many, many hours there. Jeff spends a great deal of the day restoring full-size tractors for others. Rita has recently become Jeff's full-time partner at the shop. She fabricates many of the pieces for the miniature farm equipment they create. It's difficult for them to stop working on the metal pieces and they are often at the shop late into the night.

The Tuttles have constructed a miniature two bottom plow and two-row planter which can hold small plants. Jeff also perfected a replica of a manure spreader and wagon.

They are always up for new ideas. "If anyone has an idea, I'll bet we can make it," said Jeff. "I've never turned down a challenge."

One of the most challenging was a grill resembling a train engine. The 3/4 ton finished product was specially ordered by a man in California who was very pleased with the detailed work the Tuttles put into it.

he couple has made customized railings, trellises, twisted gazing ball holders, signs of many kids using their plasma cutter and a variety of mail-boxes. Customized memorial stands for use at cemeteries are becoming quite popular. They recently constructed a large lighthouse for a customer's lawn; she has a collection of small lighthouses she also displays indoors.

The process from dreaming up a creation to completing it is long but fun. "This really isn't work," Jeff said.

The couple works well together. While Rita cuts the parts and does the fabricating, Jeff welds the pieces together and then does the spray painting in a unique paint booth he rigged up. Many pieces also require hand-painted detailing.

The steel used in the projects is purchased in 24-foot pieces from Shines in Spencer. With the many pieces of equipment, pieces of any size can be cut or formed with the scroll former and the open face roller, among other pieces of equipment.

"Everything that comes out of here is meant to hold up," Jeff said. Industrialized paint is used so that the items may be placed outside, though many people display the unique art in their living rooms.

Jeff enjoys making the farm items which come out of the 1930s - and the interest is out there as well.

Many of the old farmers that purchase the items recall using the equipment similar to what the Tuttles create in miniature. "Many of them remember buying those tractors new and working them for years. It's nostalgic to them," he said.

In the rural area, the items are good sellers. They have begun to sell many items at shows throughout the Midwest and are getting a larger response. "It's interesting going to shows and talking to the old guys that come through. A lot of them will say, 'I remember when...' Seeing these things brings out a lot in people."

Tuttle also remembers growing up with such equipment, and admits that many of the items are built from memory.

Many items on display at Orna-Metal. Everyone is welcome to stop in with their own ideas.