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Men of steel

Madison Iron Works creates
sturdy art for clients throughout the region

By Michele Turner
Contributing Writer

(August 2006) – Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors.” If true, then Doug Helton could be considered a good neighbor.

Doug Helton

Doug Helton

Helton owns and operates Madison Iron Works, located at 1108 W. Main St., in downtown Madison. It is there he fashions all sorts of iron creations.
Helton didn’t intend to go into the iron fence business, though. It all started when he was just being a good son.
Helton’s father purchased a home downtown on Third Street. When they ran out of fence for it, Helton offered to make some for his dad out of the small welding shop in his garage. When he finished his dad’s fence, one of the neighbors wanted one. One thing led to another, and soon a new business was born.
Helton learned a great deal through his work as a tool maker for Clifty Engineering, where he was employed for eight years. After working long hours at a couple of other places, he decided he was just working too much.
“My kids were growing up, and I was missing it,” said Helton. So he decided to start his own business. He worked for the first eight years in his garage. As he got busier, he outgrew the garage and had to find a new place.

Bob Ada

Photos by Michele Turner

Shop foreman Bob Ada displays one of
Madison Iron Works’ popular products,
wrought-iron fencing (below).

In 1999, he bought the building on West Main Street and worked to renovate the building to suit his purposes. The new location opened for business the following year. Helton now has four employees, and they are getting busier every day.
“Right now, we’re working about 12 weeks out,” said Helton. They do work in a 60-mile radius from Madison, including Lawrenceburg, Seymour, Columbus, New Albany and Vevay.
“One of our biggest customers is Belterra Casino; they’ve been really good to us,” Helton said.
Other examples of their work include the fence at the Jewish Cemetery on Wilson Avenue in Madison and the one around the restored caboose at the Madison Railroad Station Museum on First Street.
Madison Iron Works custom builds projects and then installs them. In addition to wrought-iron fences, they make driveway gates, hand rails, cast iron posts and cemetery arches. They also repair and rebuild old fence. They’ve done work on old homes, but more of their work lately has been with new construction. “We’re doing a lot of work on interiors, mostly making stair rails,” said Helton. “Whatever the job, we want it to look like it matches their home.”
One of Helton’s favorite jobs was repairing and rebuilding a fence for a private cemetery in Austin, Ind. He was hired by Janet Payne, who has family members buried in the cemetery.

Madison Iron Works Sample

One of her ancestors purchased the fence at an auction in 1926. The fence had originally been around the courthouse in Scottsburg, Ind. Over the years the fence had fallen into disrepair and needed a great deal of work.
“Doug and his people were really good to work with. They treated us with such respect in our desire to restore the fence. They took it to heart also,” said Payne.
Both Payne and Helton were impressed by the generosity of others to fund the effort. “The Paynes were paying for a lot of it themselves and then other people would come to visit the cemetery and see us working and they started making donations,” said Helton.
Payne said she has people comment to her frequently on how nice it looks. “I just can’t say enough how happy I am with Doug and Madison Iron Works,” she said.
Helton and his crew work with cast iron and raw steel. The casting is molten metal poured into a mold. Decorative castings are ordered from a foundry in Alabama. The price of steel fluctuates greatly.
“They used to give me a price for steel that was good for 30 days, now it’s down to just two days.”
Helton still gives his customers a quote for 30 days. Sometimes that means he loses money, but he feels that is part of running a good business.
That business happens through word of mouth from past customers who appreciate his work. He says he and his staff work hard to satisfy their clients.
“We want the customer as happy as we are when we leave,” said Helton.

• For more information, contact Madison Iron Works at (812) 265-6861.

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