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14 Western & English Today EARLY SPRING 2014 MANUFACTURER profile Crafting a Legend, Bit by Bit Perfecting the time-honored tradition of handcrafted metalwork brings Tom Balding and the crew at Tom Balding Bits & Spurs well-deserved worldwide acclaim. T he puddle-jumper disgorges the dozen or so of us at the modest Sheridan, Wyo., airport, and although we've not yet met, I'm scanning faces among the handful of folks awaiting our f ight for Tom Balding, who'll be meeting me. I'm looking for the grizzled cowboy, natch. But one by one, the passengers depart with their greeters; only the youthful-looking mountain-biker type in the khaki shorts, trail-running shoes and ball cap remains. "Susan?" he says. "Tom?" I reply, spotting the embroi- dered Tom Balding Bits & Spurs logo on his cap. I'd later reflect that this f rst encoun- ter pretty much set the tone for my inaugural visit to Tom Balding Bits & Spurs — itself a paragon of classic, old- world artisanal tradition gif -wrapped in youthful exuberance. And you might say that the bit- and-spur business found Balding, instead of the other way around. Back in the '60s, a guy named Gary Hooker in South Ontario, Calif., hired the then-teenage Balding for what would be his f rst welding job. Hooker's brainchild: to boost power in drag racing and stock racing cars by balancing the intake and exhaust pressure waves. His innovative "Hooker Headers" would become racing legend. Bald- ing's second cousin, Hobie Alter, then tapped Balding for some welding expertise: seems Alter had been building some pretty darned good balsawood and poly- urethane foam surf oards for a decade or so, wanted to branch out into sailboat-building with his concept for a twin-hulled catamaran, and needed a welder. Before long, Hobie Cats would revolutionize sailing just as his Hobie Surf oards had surf ng. Playing second f ddle didn't satisfy Balding's innate creativity, however. So he hung out his own shingle in Southern California, specializing in tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, and for the next 12 years he performed government-certified jet aircraft welding. And our story could have ended there … but a horse intervened, a friend's horse that Balding decided to ride. Somehow, Below: Tom Balding, who learned metallurgy in the aerospace business and at the legendary Hobie Company, followed his dreams to Wyoming, where he's building his own legend. At right: The beautiful and innovative Switchback Ace of Spades bit. Photos and Text by Susan L. Ebert 0314 MnfProfile TomBalding.indd 14 2/21/14 11:43 AM

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