Barney Ash does a lot more with one hand than many folks do with two.
Oh, and he only has three fingers on the one hand he does still possess.
Barney, an Azle native now living in Springtown, lost use of his right hand and two fingers on the left in a welding accident in 2011. His career suddenly came to an end.
However, a new one was awaiting, creating artwork out of iron. While many of his creations are gifts and for special occasions, he does take a few items to Lola’s Rummage Sale in Fort Worth and to farmers markets.
“In 2011, I began working for a manufacturer of fracking pumps. We were working 65-hour weeks, the hottest July on record, and on July 21, at about 11 a.m., I let a 900-pound I-beam frame get away from me,” Barney recalled. “It fell on me, pinning both hands to the floor.
“Here’s the funny part...they told me that, ‘If I had been an inch taller’ the frame would have hit me in the head and my brains would have been on that floor, not my right hand and the two middle fingers of my left hand. You know, I was always okay with being a boy-sized man. That day, being short became my favorite personal achievement.”
Barney, who will turn 74 in March, spent the next couple of years rehabbing and learning to be left-handed, as he was unable to dress in any clothing that required buttons.
“I had learned 20 different knots while rigging as an iron worker. Now, I could not even tie my shoes,” he said.
As reality sat in, so did depression.
“I was pretty down. I drove only 20 miles during 2011 and 2012. I had to go through a lawsuit and learned to type with my left forefinger, writing reports and depositions. In 2014, we settled amicably,” he said.
Barney was a standout football player at Azle High, along with being a member of the National Honor Society and student body president. It was while in the Future Farmers of America at AHS that he learned welding – and he placed third in the state in milk judging competition.
His first marriage was even to the daughter of a union iron worker, who taught him the skill of tying rebar (wire). He put himself through college at the University of Texas-Arlington tying rebar and working on several of the buildings on campus.
“I received an Associate in Science degree in 1968 and went to work for the only people I had interviewed with, Chicago Bridge and Iron Co., in Houston,” he said. “I was taught welding, cutting, and X-ray testing of welds, and worked on jobs on the Texas Gulf and a two million-gallon water tank near Traders Village in Arlington.”
He was later inducted as a member of the Boilermakers Union and became a certified welder.
With one dropped beam, that career ended. Little did he know a new one was waiting.
But then, Barney has made a habit out of getting the most out of any situation. For example, while his friends were getting drafted and going to Vietnam, he aced a test (scoring 99%) to get into Army security, learned Russian and served in West Berlin.
And yes, he made money there by welding rusted bum
pers back onto Volkswagens so they could pass inspection.
He even became a country preacher and planned to use his Russian language skills in a missionary program in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. However, the U.S. boycotted those Olympics and he never got the chance.
His return to the states led him to work on practically every 40-story building in downtown Fort Worth as a member of the Iron Workers. It was at the Chaparral Steel Mill that he learned a trait that would come back to serve him following his accident.
“I started making crosses for gifts out of scrap metal. I li
ked Southwestern art, and started cutting out Kokopellis (a fertility deity and symbol of several native American tribes) and roadrunners, cacti and horse silhouettes,” he said.
He continued doing this after remarrying in 1992 when his wife worked at a gallery in the Stockyard Stations. He made hundreds of crosses and Southwestern art pieces for her gallery, while still welding full-time in an ornamental iron shop with his son and son- in- law.
“Between 1995 and 2003, I had a website, welded all day, came home and welded more. Some weeks, I made more selling metal art than welding fence panels. I was even preaching on Sunday and taking college classes at night,” he said, never realizing he’d learn to do this one-handed in the future.
To escape, he and his wife bought a used motor home in 2014 and moved to Washington State. They purchased an 80-year-old barn which had been the main building for a vast strawberry field. He remodeled the place, painted, put in a clawfoot bath, built fences, and even built a 12-by-12 foot deck in the back yard.
He also realized something. His right hand was not entirely useless.
In 2017 they sold the barn, which he has appropriately named Barney’s Barn, returned to Texas and bought a little ranchette in Springtown. It has a shop building.
You can guess what came next.
“Using my son’s welding machine, I started building some stands for his bee hives. I had not touched a cutting torch since July 2011, but in 2018, I tried cutting out a Celtic cross. It was horrible,” he said with a chuckle. “I tried again, and got better.
“This Christmas, I made crosses for my two children, and for my granddaughter and grandson who will both be getting married this year. Actually, they were some of my best work, ever.”
Despite his story, Barney said he doesn’t see himself as an inspiration.
“I’ve seen inspirational artists with no hands at all,” he said. “My story is one of always believing God has been with me. When He – or She – made me 5’3”, when I was bleeding out on the floor of that welding shop, I know I am too blessed to be stressed.
“I’m going to keep making art. Who knows what the steel might want me to do it next?”
(Written by Rick Mauch, Hoopla Correspondent)