A model train

By Colin Linneweber

A steelmaker turns to David Madero to sculpt and fabricate a gift for a favored customer

July 2017 - “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around,” American literary icon Mark Twain said. “But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Unlike Twain, sculptor David Madero always relished spending time with his father, Rogelio Madero, who died in 2014. Madero didn’t formally train in art or metalforming, but he was able to master the applicable crafts by carefully watching his father at work. “I pretty much learned all about metal art from my dad,” says Madero, who established his metal art business, MADERO/CO., in early 2013.

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Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Madero has designed and fabricated many notable pieces. However, Madero’s sculpture, La Fuerza del Espíritu, remains distinctive. That sculpture, translating to The Strength of our Spirit, was installed directly in front of Los Pinos, Mexico’s presidential mansion. Madero’s work, which symbolizes “the victory of good over evil,” honors the service of every member of El Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP). EMP is Mexico’s version of the U.S. Secret Service.

A new challenge

After creating such a noteworthy structure, taking on a new project may have seemed daunting. Fortunately, Madero embraces a challenge: He recently completed Hopper and Tank Car, commissioned by the steelmaker Altos Hornos de México (Ahmsa) to celebrate a very important customer, Trinity Rail Group LLC. Ahmsa is one of the largest steelmakers in Latin America, and TrinityRail, based in Dallas, builds railcars.

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Prior to undertaking the commission, Madero visited one of Trinity Rail’s plants to gain an understanding of its production process. “It is awe inspiring to witness, up close, the degree of engineering and organization that goes into every train car that they produce,” says Madero.

After that tour, “I set out to design a sculpture that would honor both Ahmsa's steel and all of the intricate details of the train cars made by Trinity Rail. The biggest challenge for me was how to harmoniously fuse both concepts together. The final design would have a hopper and tank car on train tracks, emerging as if carved out of a solid piece of steel.”

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Raw materials

Ahmsa provided virtually all the raw materials, “everything from ⅛-inch steel flat sheets for the fabrication of the train cars to ¼-inch steel rods for the textured parts,” says Madero. “At a junkyard I was able to find a section of a railroad track that we then utilized to prop the sculpture up and give it height.”

Madero employed various methods to cut the raw materials to its required shapes and sizes. More than anything, Madero was determined to accurately portray the craftsmanship Trinity Rail dedicates to building each railcar. He says the company supplied "actual train car blueprints. We were able to scale them down and section the details of the train cars for the water jet cutter,” says Madero.

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“Once we had all the puzzle pieces ready, we were able to meticulously weld everything together to form to-scale models of a hopper and a tank car. The cavern-like part of the sculpture was first cut with a plasma cutter. We then spot-welded together several ¼-inch rods into the gap to form a hills-and-valley effect. We continued by welding thousands of beads over the rods, until we were able to seal the gap. This gave it a solid appearance with a highly texturized surface.”

Using numbers

As is often customary for artists, Madero encountered some issues and setbacks during the project. In particular, he struggled to arrange and connect the countless pieces of the sculpture and conceal all the welding marks. To overcome these obstacles, Madero relied on a numbering system that he established during childhood.

“The most complicated part about this sculpture was organizing, and joining together, hundreds of small pieces. I remembered working as a kid on model airplanes, which inspired me to come up with a similar numbering system for the different steps of the fabrication process,” he says.

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"Because I wanted to maintain clean lines and the train car’s aesthetics, I didn’t want the welds to be visible. To do this, we worked from the outside inward, as one piece would hide the weld of the last piece.”

Madero’s tactics were effective and the final result was a 5-foot by 6-foot, 400-pound piece of beautiful craftsmanship.

One might presume that the decision-makers at Ahmsa and Trinity Rail are pleased that David Madero absorbed his father’s teachings for Hopper and Tank Car manifested the skills of generations. FFJ


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