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Petals of metal: Eye-catching Yuma bouquets
Sometimes strangers follow Rick Orta as he drives down the road. Other times, they drive alongside him to stare or snap photos.
“There was a lady that was following me,” he says. “I noticed this little car behind me, and I would get out of the way. Then she would pass me and take pictures, so I pulled over.”
As it turns out, that woman who gives a whole new meaning to the term “stalking photos” was just curious about the metal flowers towering over the flatbed trailer he pulls behind his vehicle.
The three-dimensional, two-foot radius flowers stand up to 13 feet high, and several of them atop a flatbed trailer create quite a spectacle on the highway.
Orta, whose day job is to operate his business, Arizona Overhead Door, spends many afternoons and weekends making the flowers from scrap metal at a shop in his father's backyard.
“I use a acetylene torch and a welder to make them,” he says.
When asked how it feels to use such equipment to transform junk metal into intriguing works of art, he hesitates.
Then he laughs and says: “It feels hot! I've got burns all over myself from it. I don't have any weird feelings. I don't get a rise out of it. I just like welding stuff together.”
His daughter, 6, draws pictures of flowers, and then he and his son, 13, try to make them out of scrap metal. “It's a good way to teach my son how to weld,” he says.
Quality family time is one benefit of making metal yard art, and relaxation is another.
“It takes my mind off of all the other stuff that's going on in my life,” he says. “It gives me something to do, and it's very fun.”
His enjoyable hobby started last year at Christmastime when his girlfriend, Christine McConnaughay, asked him to make her a big metal flower.
“I made her one for a Christmas gift,” he says. “It's probably about four feet high with two flowers on one stalk.”
His father, who is retired from the plastering business, provided some of the materials used to make that first flower. Orta says, “The petals are made out of an old mixer hood my dad had out in the backyard, so it's all rusted with white — I think there's some plaster or something on it.”
Like a real flower that blooms, goes to seed and then becomes more flowers, Orta's metal flower multiplied.
McConnaughay liked it so much that she used it as decoration inside her house and asked Orta to make her some more. “She's got about 20 of them around her house now,” he says.
His brothers and sisters started wanting him to make them some, and after he showed photos of them to a friend, she wanted one. “So I made her and her husband some — which stand in the entryway to their house — and made some for my mom, and people started to see them in front of my mom's house and wanted me to make them one!”
He uses old rebar to make the stalks and cuts shapes from 5-gallon barrels to make petals and leaves.
Although he buys the barrels from the recycling center, he bartered for the rebar. “I got the old rebar from Evan's Concrete. I made (the owner) and his wife a couple of flowers, and they gave me a bunch of their old rebar.”
Some of the barrels are rusted, and some are painted. “Some of the flowers are the color of the barrel, the natural color from rusting, but I spray them with clear sealer to shield them from rusting more from sprinklers if people put them out in their yards,” he says.
Rusty barrels most likely contained oil at one time, he explains. But some barrels that contained food products have been powder-coated, meaning that a certain type of paint was applied, and then the barrel was heated at 500 degrees Fahrenheit to bake the paint coating onto the metal.
“So the flowers I make out of those barrels, when I burn them with a torch, the edges turn black and it winds up having three or four different colors from the heat. It looks pretty sharp.”
Although he started welding at the age of 8, his recent discovery of painted barrels and their reaction to heat from the torch amazed him. “It was just a surprise! It floored me. I didn't even know barrels were painted inside and how the torch, after heating and cutting, changed the color.”
He discovered the color changes after using a water hose one day to scrub black soot from the torch off of a flower he had made from a powder-coated barrel. The pleasant surprise he experienced may have contributed to what he jokingly refers to as an addiction to making metal flowers.
“I make one about every three days, and it is kind of addicting. For a while there, when I wasn't charging for them, it almost made me go under in my garage door company because I was paying for all the recycled metal and wire, gas for the torches and to run the welder. My electric bill went up $200, and I was, like, whoa! I've got to slow down here.”
Now he figures in all those costs plus his labor when determining the price of his flowers. Prices typically range from $100 to $700, depending on the size of the piece and other factors.
He says the sale of his flowers helps offset the expense of making them. But people don't have to hope they will happen upon his flatbed trailer with flowers on the highway just to see his handiwork.
He either leaves the trailer on a lot on Avenue 5E and 32nd Street or in front of Bird's Nest RV, 6776 E. 32nd St. For more information, Orta can be reached at 446-7480.
Petals of metal