Hailey metalworker Bob Wiederrick, now 57, grew up as an itinerant “Air Force brat.” Born in Tucson, Arizona, he moved from airbase to airbase as a kid, from California to Texas, and as far away as the Philippines.
His mother and father, a Vietnam-era medic, eventually settled back in their hometown of Salmon, Idaho. That’s where Wiederrick first took up a welding torch. Wiederrick’s Custom Metal Works has a reputation in the valley and elsewhere across the country for artful designs.
After learning the welding basics in a high school shop class, Wiederrick built wood stoves and sold them in Salmon. At Idaho State University he aimed to become an architect, but then decided on a fine arts major, studying painting, sculpture, weaving and printmaking.
“My parents never said a discouraging word about my choice,” Wiederrick said. “But I know they must have been wondering what I would be qualified for with an art degree, but it turned out alright. I enjoyed the metalworking and jewelry-making the most in college.”
After taking a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves, Wiederrick wound up back in Salmon with his wife Michelle. At the town library he saw an ad for a job opening in Ketchum seeking someone who could weld and read blueprints. He took the job and learned how to make ornamental ironwork.
“After one year I was in charge of eight people at the business,” said Wiederrick, who soon left to start his own successful metalworking business, crafting custom metal fire screens, and other items. One claim to fame is his giant bicycle sculpture on Main Street in Hailey.
Bob’s wife Michelle handles the accounting and business side of the business.
“But she’s also pretty handy with a plasma cutter and good at making patinas on metal,” Wiederrick said. “All the big homes in Sun Valley have been our staple clients over the years.”
When the last recession struck, the Wiederricks found good fortune when the Google search algorithm shot them to “page one” under searches for “custom fireplace screens.” They found customers as far away as the East Coast.
“I got a call from someone in Washington, D.C., who said, ‘all we have is lawyers around here, but nobody who can actually do anything,'” he said.
Wiederrick taught his son Joe some of the skills that supported the family. He helped him build a battle-axe in middle school. When Joe died tragically about ten years ago while enrolled in college, Bob built a metal bench for the bike path in the shape of a longboard to honor him.
“As a parent, you never get over that kind of loss,” Wiederrick said. “Joe loved longboard skateboarding.”
In 2014, Wiederrick was driving by Deerfield Park in Hailey when he noticed that the wooden playground had rotted away. He got with city officials and his fellow Kiwanis Club members and put together a plan to raise money from recycled aluminum cans to pay for new playground equipment.
Since then, the program has also gathered funding support from the Hailey Parks Foundation, the Rotary Club and the Papoose Club, and has now supplied playground and recreation equipment in six city parks. Wiederrick’s recycling efforts have raised $22,000.
“At about 35 cents a pound, that amounts to 31 tons of aluminum,” Wiederrick said. “Thankfully, Karl Malone Powersports nearby has a forklift that they let us use to load the truck.”
Wiederrick said being an Army officer helped him become disciplined and follow through with projects. His college art teachers helped him gain an eye for design, fit and finish.
“There’s a lot of cowboys out there who weld horseshoes together and call it art,” Wiederrick said. “And I do that, too.”