Neosho man finds uses for pieces of recycled steel
Eagles, iguana and an eight-foot crocodile find their home on a town of Ashippun farm. While they may turn a few heads, they are not dangerous and Fred Kuck doesn't need a permit to keep them there.
The creatures are fashioned with recycled metal parts that would have otherwise been scrapped.
Kuck says, "My interest in creating other unique creatures from steel began in 1996 when my sister asked me to make an iguana to display in her restaurant. After that I just kept going with new ideas."
The 200-pound crocodile that rests in the shop where he works was actually a mistake, he confesses.
While it turned out looking just fine, he says it was actually much bigger than what he had been asked to create so he decided to keep it and start over again making a smaller version.
The pattern for the large crocodile was a rubber toy. "This big one is six inches for every one inch on the toy. When it was done it was too big so I started again and made it three inches to every one inch," he explains.
"I'd guess I have about 150 hours of time in this piece," he says.
The piece is created with banding steel, water pipes and electrical conduit. Silo hoops were used for the frame and teeth and ball valves for the eyes.
To form the creature Kuck lines steel bands from wood packing crates side by side over the frame. He welds them together and lays beads of weld to make the checkered pattern of the crocodile skin.
His name is engraved on a copper plate inside the alligator's mouth on that piece. On other pieces he simply signs his name with welding bead.
Kuck covered the entire creature with clear acrylic to prevent rusting. While it looks best on grass, he says it would rust if it would be outdoors all the time.
Concerned about his recycled steel creations rusting, he began making artistic pieces using stainless steel dinner ware.
"I go to St. Vincent DePaul and Goodwill and buy the flatware by the box-full. It is very good for shaping and is easy to find. Now most of the pieces I do are stainless steel." He points out, "Not all stainless steel is the same. Some pieces are so heavy I can't bend them so they won't work. A good stainless steel will not be magnetic. I like to work with that because it polishes and shines better."
These pieces are termed "surgical quality" and a magnet will not stick to them. He carries a magnet with him to check them before buying.
"I like the look of the finished stainless steel pieces because stainless looks richer when polished," Kuck says.
His most unique pieces are the shiny life-sized eagles he makes with the kitchen utensils. He uses photos of eagles as a guide and no two of his eagles are in the same pose.
Kuck begins by cutting handles off of spoons and then welding them together on a curved rod to form the head and beak of an eagle. The wings are fashioned with the blades of the knives together with the bowls of the spoons.
The pattern on the spoon handles also makes each eagle different. On one of them the engraved markings "U.S." are clearly visible, an appropriate extra touch for the bird that is the symbol of American freedom.
Kuck also makes some custom orders of steel art work including a railing for the balcony and stairway for a customer's home. The railing is made with steel stock that he bends and shapes to look like grape vine. Then he twists flat cut nails and welds them on the vine together with steel leaves and clusters of grapes that he purchases.
When that project was finished he liked it so much that he made some wall hangings, lamps and other pieces with the grape vine design.
Some lamps have a larger base that looks like a log. These are made from recycled stainless milk pipeline that he salvages from a local dairy supply shop. That stainless pipe is also used for frames in some of his other creations.
Since he was in the well-drilling business all his life he has access to many old parts. The shells from submersible pumps make a good lamp base. He also recycles brass pieces from the older pumps, finding a good use for them in some artistic piece.
Kuck made a table for his daughter using recycled silo hoops from a neighbor's farm. He made a violin for a Milwaukee musician by cutting and bending the steel to create an arty piece. He made a five foot road-runner to hold the mailbox outside his rural Neosho home where his shop is also located.
Kuck cuts his own steel with a plasma cutter that he says works on steel up to one-eighth inch thick. If it's heaver than that he takes it to another craftsman with a computerized laser cutter.
He generally completes one piece before starting the next unless he gets an idea for a new creation.
He says, "Sometimes I lie in bed and think about how to do something or wake up in the night with an idea for a new piece. Then I have to get it started so I won't forget."
Kuck grew up on a farm in the town of Ashippun and started helping his dad with the well drilling business when he was just 15. After high school he joined the business that he eventually took over. Now his son, Paul, runs the business, leaving Fred time for his hobbies.
Kuck says, "When times were rough in 1979 and 1980 we didn't have much well drilling so I started doing body work in the shop here. Things picked up when we added the pump service to the business."
His business is located on a farm where he and his wife live and also enjoy raising some beef cattle and hay.
According to Kuck, "Welding is a part of everyday life in the well and pump work as well as in farming. Over the years I have done many different welding jobs in my work and for neighbors and friends. These tasks were the foundation for my art."
He concludes, "It's like therapy for me. I spend a lot of hours out here. I used to often stay out here until 2 a.m. but as I get older I don't work quite that late anymore."