Continued from page 5 . with the complex requirements of forming and casting concrete , she hasn ’ t been deeply involved in Tom ’ s business until last year , when Covid forced a change in her career path as well . She left her job during the pandemic to focus on their son , Ellis , and found herself at loose ends . Having earned her undergraduate in marketing and an MBA before achieving her teaching certificate at Cambridge University in England , she decided to take her career in an entirely new direction .
“ Thomas jokingly asked if I wanted to become the family welder ,” she said . “ He was tired of paying the high cost for the quality of welding his work requires . I thought about it and decided to give it a try .” Belle contacted Frank Lopez , a local Alpine welder , and asked to apprentice in his shop . “ I went every day , and I think Frank was surprised . I just kept showing up .” After a week , she told Thomas that she wanted to pursue welding . “ I realized how much I loved it ,” she said . “ I bought a little Hobart welder and just kept at it . I knew absolutely nothing about even the basics — cutting , measuring . It was intimidating to try to learn so much , but I also think it was best to start from scratch .”
As she progressed in her welding skills , Belle was able to start fabricating bases for
Cenizo Fall 2021
The Blue Origin entrance on Highway 54 outside Van Horn .
Thomas Lancaster and Belle Pena
Thomas ’ s work . “ It ’ s the first time in 23 years I ’ ve really seen her be passionate about her work ,” Thomas said .
Earlier this year , Thomas received an email from Blue Origin , Jeff Bezos ’ s space exploration company . They were inviting him to bid on the large entrance sign they were planning for their facility on Highway 54 outside Van Horn . “ There were a number of locals bidding on it ,” Thomas remembered . “ They already had a bid they found acceptable , but we wanted to give it a try .”
“ I got ambitious ,” said Belle . “ Their original idea was to have the whole thing made out of concrete , but the time frame was very short . It would have been almost impossible to execute . So I suggested welding the feather out of stainless steel .”
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 .”