By Jordan Wickstrom
FULTON, Ill. —
Sixty years ago, Clifford Smith started a welding service outside of Fulton in Garden Plain, Ill.
Today, his son, Gene Smith, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the shop the only logical way: by working hard on his next project.
Working on a railing and stairs he was commissioned to put together, Smith said he didn’t even realize until about a week after the official anniversary (Aug. 1) that the shop had turned 60 years old.
“We’d been planning on it all year, ramp up some advertising, getting stuff out to people and doing a little bit of this, that and the other,” Smith said. “We were busy getting ready for everything and it was like Aug. 8 and I said, ‘wait a minute, I forgot Aug. 1 was my anniversary!’ So I guess maybe it’s not hard to believe. You just don’t think about it.”
Smith himself is celebrating his 30th year in charge. Prior to becoming owner of Smitty’s, Smith said he found it difficult to stick with one job.
“Growing up, I was in here off and on, and even when I was real little, I think my mom brought me a little seat with wheels to roll around on and I would roll around the floor,” Smith said. “As I got older I would sweep the floors, wash windows, put stuff away and stuff like that. After a certain time, (his father) started teaching me how to weld. I guess just watching all the different things he did was kind of interesting because I worked in factories when I was younger and at one time worked in John Deere. It just didn’t interest me doing the same thing over and over again. All in all, pretty much every day is something different.”
Finding the right job to keep his interest was not the only problem for Smith. After three decades of being in business, he’s also faced the problems the economy has faced; meaning he’s lived through three recessions.
Still, the shop remains and business is as strong as ever despite Smith being the only employee there, which can tend to be overwhelming at times.
Being an independent business, Smitty’s has also had the challenge of trying to get ahead of the competition by offering services not yet seen at some of the bigger welding shops.
He said he still works on trailers every once and a while but it’s not the specialty area it used to be. He has since been working on railings. Though it may be difficult for Smith to imagine a day where he’s not in charge of this place, at age 58, he said he’s getting closer to retirement. At this point there’s no one in line as the heir apparent but Smith hopes someone will come and take the place over when he’s ready to leave.