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Armuchee blacksmith creates custom ironwork, ratrods

On a hot summer day, Kevin “Skeeter” Holloway stands at the anvil in his workshop on Old Dalton Road, wielding a hammer.

The warmth of his gas-powered forge blazing nearby only adds to the heat.

As he wipes the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his navy work shirt and moves to strike the red-hot metal, he talks of his “fiery passion” for everything steel, and of how he has formed that passion into his unconventional career.

Holloway, 27, of Armuchee, said it has been more than a year and half since he quit his manufacturing job to follow his dream of starting up Mosquito Customs and Ironworks — a shop that creates customized vehicles, or ratrods, as well as functional artwork from iron and steel.

“I’ve got a great passion for steel,” he said as he pounds away on the metal before him. “I’ve always liked steel. I can’t think of anything better to do with steel then to bend it to the wheel. It’s a fiery passion.”

Holloway said he started working with metal about eight years ago. At the time, he was working nights delivering Rome News-Tribune newspapers.

“It all got started when I found a welder on the side of the road,” he said. “I was on the paper route when I saw something red in the ditch, so I turned around, and it was the welder that I’ve still got in my shop. All I did was fix it up a little bit, and it worked. It worked great. I still use it.”

Holloway then taught himself how to weld and started applying it to his previous, self-taught knowledge about cars and trucks.

“I’ve been working on cars for a long time,” he said. “The cars I’ve always done, but they started to get more creative after that.”

With the welder, Holloway said that he started to create cars from parts that were lying around in his shop. Since then, he has build ratrods like the 1937 Chevrolet-part truck that he drives today and several other vehicles for customers.

“I literally started from nothing,” he said. “The ’37 Chevy was just a pile of parts that were laying in the shop that became a car. The cab itself is the ’37 Chevy. That’s what the VIN plate is, so that’s what it is when you register the car … but the whole thing varies from parts from 1929 to 1966.”

After working on cars and trucks for several years, Holloway said he started the hobby of blacksmithing when he saw and purchased a coal-run forge and anvil at a flea market in Collinsville, Alabama.

“The blacksmithing work has probably picked up in the past three years,” he said. “The roses were the very first thing I started making and, as intricate as they are, I didn’t start simple. I just had the idea for it. The tools were all there and just started making them. From there, it just exploded.”

After leaving the newspaper, Holloway got a job making countertops at HON in Cedartown. He planned to keep his steel interests just as a hobby, he said, but a motorcycle accident pushed him to chase after his dreams.

“I really enjoyed working at HON. I was content,” he said. “But after my motorcycle wreck about three years ago, I went back to work and it got harder to do my job. I broke both my wrists and my hip. My hip doesn’t bother me much but in my wrists, I was facing arthritis.”

Holloway then started thinking that he could make a career out of his passion — a move he said he used to not recommend.

About 18 months ago, Holloway left HON to work full-time in his workshop as a “custom specialist.”

“I always tell people don’t do what you love for a living, but that’s what I’m doing now,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s different every day. I don’t do the same thing every day. I don’t even do the same thing every hour. So it’s completely different from going to work and welding for 10 hours and going back the next day and doing the same thing.”

When it comes to blacksmithing, Holloway said he has been working on several functional pieces of art.

Holloway takes steel rods and sheets of steel and places them in his forge to get hot. He then moves them to the anvil where he hammers them into shapes and uses a chisel to etch designs into the metal.

After he’s finished with the piece, he places them back into the forge to get hot and applies a beeswax and linseed oil mixture to weatherproof and coat his work.

“It helps keep it from rusting,” he said. “Plus it gives it that rich black finish that everyone knows in ironworking.”

Some of his best sellers, he said, have been the candleholders and the roses and vases he creates.

He also has been commissioned by several pin-up pageant shows in Atlanta to create trophies resembling high-heeled shoes.

But one of his favorite new pieces is a design of his own — a towering barstool with swirling designs that he calls the “Beetlejuice Chair.”

“It was something I just drew up one day and decided to make it,” he said. “I have lots of ideas I’ve drawn up, I just haven’t made them yet.”

Holloway’s smaller items, like necklaces, start at $10. Roses are priced at $40. Prices vary for custom works like the “Beetlejuice Chair,” which was priced at $150.

Holloway said he hopes to start selling his pieces at arts and crafts shows and he plans to set up at this year’s Chiaha Harvest Festival, which is slated for Oct. 25-26.

Holloway has started a Facebook page to showcase his art and for commission work.