Chris Modisette knows how to build.
At 28, he started a welding company specializing in custom oilfield equipment with two welding bays and his own skills. Today, Modisette Welding & Supply Corp. in Kilgore employs 30 people and has a large lot on River Road with multiple bays for building, welding, painting and finishing custom equipment.
“If you turn on River Road, all those welding shops are my company,” Modisette said. “I bought property across the street four or five years ago to build my office across from the shops.”
Modisette cleared the land by himself and designed his own office, including his desk and the large fish tank just inside the entrance.
He also designed and built the most recognizable feature on the property: the large, eye-catching animal sculptures around the building on FM 1252, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.
“I took my grandkids over to Tyler at the Oil Palace. They had a big dinosaur display over there. I never knew so many people were amused by dinosaurs. I came home and thought 'Maybe I'll build a dinosaur,'” Modisette said.
Seeing a new challenge in the project, Modisette searched for some plans online he could use for the design.
“I can download and buy these files for six, seven, eight bucks but I have to scale them up. That takes about eight or 10 hours of drafting work. Then once I get the drafting done, we can cut it,” he said.
For the T-Rex, he slotted the half-inch metal plates together to complete the sculpture, which weighs about 2000 pounds.
He continued adding new metallic creatures to his office property, including an elephant, a lizard, a pterodactyl and a giraffe. For the newer sculptures, he added paint to the finished designs.
He never expected his sculptures to begin attracting attention from curious passersby, some of whom stop to take photos of the colorful creations.
“When I built the dinosaur, I never knew that dinosaur would intrigue so many people. I decided to bring the dinosaur to my new office but I never knew it would draw so much attention. After that, I decided I wanted to build an elephant, a bird. It finally all came together,” he said.
The sculptures have been something of a mystery for folks who pass by Modisette's office on FM 1252. Part of this is due to the lack of signage on the property, a fact which Modisette says is a necessity.
“I can't put a welding sign over there,” he said. “My specialty is oilfield welding. I don't do a whole lot of public welding. If I put a welding sign up, every farmer, everybody needing a barbecue grill, would be asking me for services. That occupies so much of my administrative staff's time that I can't put a sign up.”
The mystery has led to some amusing results, Modisette said.
“Some people thought it was a dentist's office,” he said, laughing.
The animal sculptures were not the first time Modisette has gotten creative with welding and building.
“I actually started years ago,” he said. “I've always been kind of artsy with my stuff but I don't have much time to get real crafty. One of the first builds I did was a swamp buggy four or five years ago.”
The swamp buggy, at over seven feet tall, currently sits on Modisette's property next to a paddle barge he built in two weeks for a “Mardi Gras on the Lake” event.
He has plans to build more vehicles in the future, such as a scaled-down swamp buggy, and continue to upgrade the paddle barge.
Both vehicles, he said, have been field-tested and work exceptionally well. The paddle barge can cruise at a steady 10 miles per hour on a lake.
Modisette, who says he is always on the hunt for a new project and doesn't like to do the same thing over and over, has crafted other handmade metal designs to decorate his office. Just this week, he hung a huge circular tree design on the wall of his office after cutting it out and applying bluing to it. The finished design is nearly 10 feet long and weighs about 250 pounds.
Modisette, who said his business hits a slowdown in the fall, noting this year has been especially slow, plans to continue building more sculptures when he has the time. He plans to add a baby T-Rex and baby elephant to the sculptures outside his office.