Big Bend Real Estate Guide November 2021 - Page 7

Background : The size and weight of the concrete work maxed out the capacity of
Thomas Lancaster ’ s shop equipment .
Belle ’ s ambition paid off , and the couple ’ s bid was accepted . They had only 32 days to complete the project , which included the foundations , a large concrete planter and the massive Blue Origin feather . Belle contacted a friend in Dallas , Bubba Bergeaux , an expert in stainless steel welding . “ Stainless steel is massively complex ,” she explained . “ Everything about stainless is hard . You have to change out every tool , every grinding wheel . If there ’ s any mild steel , even dust particles , that come in contact with the stainless , it ’ ll rust .” Belle spent a week fabricating the feather , made from half-inch 304 stainless steel and weighing 2,200 pounds . She decided to sandblast the piece to give it a matte finish , so the sunlight wouldn ’ t glare off the metal . “ I ’ m the only person on this project that was intimately involved with every aspect of it ,” she said . “ The design , the planter , the feather , the landscaping , the foundations — my hands and ideas were in everything .”
Once the feather was completed , the casting of the concrete base and planter was immediately begun . Belle returned to Alpine to assist with the project , which Tom said maxed out all his hoists and equipment due to its size and weight . The couple chose a blue tint for the concrete , which they cast in glass fiber reinforced concrete or GFRC , a normally lightweight and extra-strong material . Even so , the scope of the project meant that the shop was at capacity .
“ I love that we chose blue for the concrete ,” Belle said . “ It not only fits with the Blue Origin logo , but it also blends into the sky . I wanted the piece to be unobtrusive to the landscape , and I think we accomplished that .” Belle also submitted a bid for the landscaping in and around the piece , which she won . “ I wanted to use all native desert plants for the design , to make it a part of the landscape instead of something apart from it .”
Once fabrication was complete , the planter and feather were transported by trailer to the site for installation .
“ The foundations were the hardest part ,” Thomas noted . “ The most work went into the
The Blue Origin entrance on Highway 54 outside Van Horn .
part no one sees .” The soil at the site is sandy and unstable , necessitating deep piers to support the feather and the concrete work , which itself weighed in at 2,000 pounds . Additionally , everything necessary for the installation had to be brought to the site — generators , shade , tools , food and water — due to its remote location . “ It was something out of our wheelhouse , so it was stressful . We tried to think of everything we could possibly need , because we were under such a short deadline ,” Thomas said . “ We only had one chance to get everything right ahead of the launch date .”
“ It was hard , but enjoyable ,” Belle said of the installation . “ We all had to support each other to keep going . We had such an incredible crew of people , and that ’ s what made it possible .” Belle and Thomas used the expertise of Victor Carrasco from Vision Construction and Colin Kelley to complete the installation , the same crew that also worked on the concrete casting in Thomas ’ s Alpine shop . The four put in just over 40 hours in three days out in the desert heat , with temperatures hovering just above the 100-degree mark . Because of the challenges of the foundation and the size of the project , the engineering had to be specified and inspected by an engineering firm out of Fort Worth .
The piece was completed and installed two days ahead of schedule , in time for the world to watch the historic July 20 launch from West Texas that carried founder Jeff Bezos and three other private astronauts into space . Unfortunately , Thomas and Belle weren ’ t able to brag about their accomplishments .
“ The non-disclosure agreement meant we couldn ’ t talk about the project at all ,” Belle said . “ This is a huge project for a young portfolio . It was heartbreaking that we couldn ’ t say anything about it .” The company recently granted the couple permission to use the installation in promotional materials and talk about its fabrication , however . “ Now I get to claim all the hard work I ’ ve done ,” Belle said .
The couple were so busy catching up on
Belle and Bubba Bergeaux work on the stainless steel feather .
other projects that had been delayed due to the short deadline for Blue Origin that they missed the launch . “ All day , people were contacting us , mentioning us on social media . It was a good feeling , but it was fitting to be back at work , doing what we do . It ’ s great to be so busy with contracts ,” Thomas said .
Belle added , “ Blue Origin was a great company to work with . They sent us handwritten thank-you notes for the timeliness and value of the project . They really went above and beyond what you ’ d expect from such a huge , important company .”
Now that the project is completed , Thomas and Belle are back at work . They recently returned from delivering his-and-hers custom desks to Austin for a married couple who are CEO and CFO of a company there . Belle is exploring more designs in stainless steel , though she has other ambitions as she settles into her new career . “ Stainless is wonderful , but it ’ s very expensive ,” she noted . “ I want to learn about corten next . I love the way it rusts . It ’ s designed to rust on the outside , and it ’ s very beautiful . I ’ m also planning to get cast iron experience , which needs nickel rods . It ’ s nice to get a range of experience with different materials .”
Thomas , meanwhile , is playing with a casting of a dinosaur track from Glenrose , Texas . He ’ s perfecting a rubber casting technique to copy the ancient impression and intends to turn it into a custom sink .
Belle said , “ Steel is forgiving . It ’ s a pliable material , while concrete is very exacting . Concrete requires a trained professional , like Tom .” The couple are expanding their workshop to include the space Belle needs to expand her welding in the business .
With a storefront now open in Marfa , outer space is only the first step for Marfa Cement Works .
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