|Vol. V, No. 2, Fall 1991|
By Terry Bloodworth
The peeling sign identifies the property as the "Table Rock Theater," but even a quick look around tells me I'm a long way from the bright lights and sequined cowboy shirts of 76 Country Boulevard west of Branson, Missouri. I am, in fact, in the weed-grown parking lot of the Stock Metalworks, a low, squarish building hard by the entrance to Table Rock State Park in the shadow of Baird Mountain.
As retirees in travel trailers and sportsmen pulling bass boats whiz by on Highway 265, this vacant-looking place hums with life on an early autumn afternoon. Inside the building it seems there is work going on in every one of the 2,000 square feet of the work area. Lathes spin, polishing machines rumble, and molten metal pops and gurgles. Everywhere I look there is human activity as well. It takes my eyes a few moments to adjust from the bright sunlight and my mind to accept the fact that all that human work is being done by only two people, Paul, Jr. and Kandie Stock. They are in constant motion, but there is great economy to their movements as they see to dozens of tasks with what appears to be great speed but little haste.
I ask Paul how he got started in the business. He pours a last ladle of molten pewter into a casting machine before answering. "I was a freshman at the University of Missouri in '77. I was supposed to be studying for finals when it hit me that what I was really studying for was how I could get through school quickly, get into my career in prosthetics and orthodontics, then take early retirement and become a metalworking craftsman.
"In the middle of the night, I decided to take a more direct approach. I loaded up the car and drove home to St. Joe. My dad wasn't too happy to hear that I'd quit school, but when I told him that I wanted to take the money I'd saved for college and buy a metal spinning lathe for us to use, he knew he had a serious partner for his business."
Paul's dad had been a drop-out of sorts himself, quitting a long time career as a supervisor at a large sheet metal fabricating company to open a one-man copper and tinsmithing operation.
In 1982, the whole family moved from their home near Savannah, Missouri to the Ozarks and opened P.V. Stock and Son Metal Works, a lease shop at Silver Dollar City. In 1989 Paul, Sr. died of a heart attack, and Paul, Jr., still in his twenties, found himself the primary support and emotional anchor of his extended family.
Stock knew that his small shop at Silver Dollar City would not support the number of people for which he was now responsible, so he made the tough decision to cut back on his beloved hand work in copper and pewter and do two things he detested--borrow money, and become a "manufacturer."
While still handcrafting items for his Silver Dollar City shop, Stock borrowed funds to buy and equip a former music theater as a manufacturing facility for copper and pewter giftware. "About 65% of my sales come from wholesaling outside the area," Paul tells me as he threads his way through a jumble of machinery and partially-filled shipping crates. "We cast pewter hummingbirds for the West Coast market and sell spun copper candle holders in Atlanta. Right now we're finishing up an order of pewter buttons and pins for a distributor in the Northeast."
"How many?" I ask.
"Thousands," he answers.
"Tens of thousands," Kandie corrects from across the room. She should know; she has either cast, trimmed, polished, or packed every one of the tiny, heart-shaped buttons.
The investments in time and money are beginning to pay off, but the wholesaling and manufacturing are clearly just means to an end for the Stocks--a route back to a simpler life they both desire.
"I hope we'll see an upturn in the economy so that my wholesale accounts improve--and some new upscale, price-is-no-object markets in North Carolina open up--and I can sell this thing." Paul nods toward the shop area.
"My dad always said he'd rather make a hundred things by hand than a hundred thousand by machine, and I feel the same way. So I'm doing this for now so I can get back to doing what I want to do."
But now he turns from me and goes back to scooping finished pewter pins out of a polishing machine to count and ship.
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