A Shop Tour of Blue Torch Fab
and Interview with Dan DuBose
Story and photos by Nolen "Rock Midget" Grogan
September 11, 2008
I decided it was time to pay a visit to the new Blue Torch Fab location in Birmingham Alabama today. Having one of the premier fabrication shops just a little over 3 hours away is just too much of a draw for a crawler nut. I set up a meeting with owner Dan Dubose and took off.
Just east of downtown Birmingham and in the shadow of the world's largest cast iron statue depicting Vulcan at his forge, Blue Torch Fab's new 33,000 square foot facility is impressive to say the least. Known as the "Pittsburg of the South," Birmingham's major industries are centered around steel and iron production. Where better to set up one of the premier off-road steel fabrication shops than where the tube is actually made, right?
Arriving just a little before 9:00AM in his tricked out black Hummer SUT with 22" wheels and 37's, Dan stepped out looking every bit the part of the image he and Blue Torch Fab have built since 2001. Decked out in Blue Torch Fab black T-shirt, jeans and a flat bill, I had to check myself to realize I was in Alabama and not Southern California. I had not seen Dan since he was showing off "The Evil Bastard" back in 2005 in Dallas at the 4 Wheel Parts show. A whole lot has changed in Dan's life since then and I was interested in what was going on with Blue Torch. As he showed me around, I grilled him for all that he was worth.
Midget: Damn this place is huge!
Dan: Yeah, it is 33,000 square feet, (Laughs) we got a hell of a deal on it. The building was a pile of shit and had been abandoned for years. As you noticed, it is not exactly the best neighborhood in Birmingham.
Midget: Looks perfect for your needs
Dan: You are not kidding; I can literally walk to the laser cutter and the tube suppliers over there.
Midget: Do you have a golf cart we can ride in? I am not sure I am up for this so early.
Dan: Stop being a puss. Let's go.
The first thing you see when you walk into the employee entrance at Blue Torch is the printing room. Dan runs a full service print and wrap shop for the 4x4 community. His print shop looks like a Kinko's on steroids with monster printers and cutters.
Midget: Wow. You know how to use all this stuff?
Dan: Yeah, if I had time I could make a living on this stuff alone. We have a 64 inch Mutouh Toucan LT large format printer here in house. We also have a 64 inch laminator if you prefer to have your decals laminated. My big printer has been down about 2 weeks and I have 3 solid days of work backed up. I got tired of waiting for the repairman so I ordered the parts myself. I will see if I can get it running this weekend.
Through the back of the print shop is the fab shop. I follow Dan around as he turns on all of the lights and fans and rolls up the doors on each end. Buggies, chassis, parts, lifts, plasma tables all have their place in the cavernous space.
Midget: Looks crowded (laughing)
Dan: Yeah, it is huge. We had about 1/3 of this space in Dothan and twice the employees. We can really breathe in here. We have big plans for all of the space so I am not worried at all.
Midget: What the hell is that? An ice rink machine?
Dan: No, that is a floor sweeper. When you have 33,000 ft of floor space pushing a broom sucks.
Midget: I can imagine.
Dan walks me around and shows me everything in the shop. From the floor sweeper (you have got to be kidding me), we walk over to where his welder works all day punching out custom bracketry. There are neat piles of brackets in bins and rollers all around the table. A quick inspection proved Dan's welder knows his business. Next to this is the Torchmate Plasma table. It is quite big and looks like it has been used a ton.
Midget: Wow, Torchmate huh? I see them all over Pirate, I did not know you had one of these.
Dan: Yeah, I use it a lot for one-off and small production stuff. My tab and bracket business is so big I have to outsource that stuff just to keep up.
Midget: Show me the inventory.
Dan leads me over and shows me neat piles of customs brackets, tabs, differential covers, hoops, full size kits, and the list goes on and on. Funny thing, I can look at crap like this all day. It is all old news to Dan, but I take time to walk the isles and check out the loot.
Dan: I have caught a bunch of crap on the boards (read Pirate) over the last few months for being behind on inventory. With the move from Dothan to Birmingham we had to work down the inventory and rebuild it when we finished the building. I did not want to haul it up and I could not have it all in here while we redid the building. As you can see, we are on it now.
Midget: I cannot believe all of this stuff. This is hillbilly heaven.
Dan: (laughing) We are pretty set up.
From there my eye draws me to the other end of the shop. There, lines up along the wall are the current projects that BTF has going. In one bay is a full-up custom TJ project that is BTF all the way down to the custom frame. The build thread is here:
Next to it, a TJ is on the lift getting a custom BTF 4 link, coilovers and cage. Dan says the owner is a tomato broker. I did not know there was such a thing as a tomato broker.
A Fusion chassis sits next to the TJ. I ask Dan whose it is.
Dan: We were sitting in the shop in Dothan and this dude gets out of an airport van with 2 bags of clothes and a man-purse over his shoulder. He comes in and starts in on me in Italian. Well, I don't speak Italian very well, so we end up using a translation program on the computer to converse with the guy. He ends up telling us we need to find an interpreter. Well, no shit I think. Finally it dawn on me that the pizza guy is Italian. I get him on the phone and he translates to me that this guy wants me to build him a buggy.
Midget: So he shows up unannounced from Italy and orders a Fusion Chassis? That's kinda odd, huh?
Dan: You think? Well, the pizza guy gets me an interpreter and we start negotiating a deal. I am paying rapt attention to this guy because one of my best customers is from the Canary Islands. Well, long story short, I am putting together a container full of stuff to send along with this chassis.
Midget: So the Canary Island guy, is that the one that made the Mad Max looking buggies?
Dan: Yeah, he has his own private army armed with Airsoft rifles. When he calls, I answer the phone (laughing).
Midget: That chassis looks different, what is that?
Dan: That is our new "Low-Life" 4-seat chassis. As you can see, we made quite a few changes with this chassis compared to the Fusion Chassis. We raised the bars all around for more tire clearance, we left off the firewall tubing which will allow for installation of a big block and we removed the front fenders to name a few changes. This chassis is full size like the Fusion, but we have a 48" model in the works.
Midget: Is it like the one you made for Louis (under_psi) ?
Dan: Yes, very similar but it will be all round tube. The one we made that Louis has was made with a rectangular chassis and it took a ton of fab work. The round tube is easier and will be less expensive to produce for the customer.
The chassis is cool. I liked it for sure, here is the thread on it:
Having taken the entire dime tour of the outside shop, we made our way into the office portion of Blue Torch Fab. The office is damn nice. Exactly what I was expecting in a first-class operation like Blue Torch to have, right down to the hottie manning the phone. Dan drags me past said hottie into the show room he is developing. What used to be a plumbing supply warehouse now boasts 10 gallons of black paint, a cool stained concrete floor and walls adorned with past articles of Blue Torch Fab's media exposure.
Dan: Pretty cool huh?
Midget: You have got to be kidding me, this is bad ass. I love it. Are you expecting a lot of walk-in traffic?
Dan: What we are shooting for here is a eastern version of West-Coast Choppers. I want this place to be a destination location for people in this sport. We are going to put a deck up over the conference room and make it where customers and fab freaks can come and sit and watch us work on projects. They will be up and out of the way and can come and go without getting into an unsafe situation. It should be pretty bitchin'.
Midget: Wow, you really are thinking outside of the box on this one.
Dan: We want folks to drop by, check out what is going on, buy some Tshirts and stickers and possibly get some fab stuff. Most of the people in this area like to build their own stuff and with all of the tabs and brackets that we make we should be their first stop. Wait, did I show you the bathrooms?
Midget: Uh, no.
Dan: (Laughing) Remember that this was a plumbing supply? Well, they had some pimp bathrooms put in to showcase their stuff. Check it out.
Midget: That is damn sure the nicest shitter I have ever seen in a fab shop.
Dan: That's right.
From there Dan took me back past the hottie. (I snapped a few more pictures for my "article") and he took me to introduce me to his business partner Jason Carner. Jason was pretty busy so we slipped down the hall into the conference room.
Midget: Awesome, that bike is pimp.
Dan: Take it for a spin, it fits you well
Ignoring the short joke, I loaded up and took a spin on the Schwinn.
Finally I decided I had taken up enough of Dan's time.
Midget: OK, enough. Thanks for taking time out of your day to show me around. Didn't you say something about a stripper pole?
Dan: Wait, I have to show you that before you leave.
We trudge out past the hottie to the other end of the building. This section has not gotten much love yet and is still in pretty much the same condition as when they moved in.
Dan: We are going to add showers into this bathroom and in this room we are going to have a big screen TV with couches to sleep on for when we are working on a deadline. That pole there is going to get sanded smooth and painted. It holds up the roof but will be a great stripper pole, don't you think?
Midget: Well, I will be the judge of that when the time comes to test it out.
Dan: Thanks for coming out. We have a million things planned for this place. I can't wait to see where it takes us.
Reluctantly I loaded up and headed back to Mississippi via Tuscaloosa and a phat lunch at Chipotle. Dan and company really have a sweet setup over at his shop. Look him up at www.bluetorchfab.com or drop in and pick up a pile of tabs for your next project when you are in the area. You won't be disappointed.