I Am Iron Man
Photography: Timothy Thimmes
Iron’s extensive mythological history has long equated metal with a life force. The Greek historian Plutarch took this idea one step further. He wrote that iron symbolically formed the foundation, the “bone” — even the “core” of the gods. If you believe in this iron lore, you’ll believe that Park City Iron Man assembles metal with might and soul.
Park City Iron Man is a two-person company run by Mike Bronn and Tierney Vaughan, a couple who proves that living and working together is possible. Tierney oversees the business aspects of the company, while Mike is all brawn. He epitomizes a man of steel, competing in Ironman Triathlons, the Park City Mid-Mountain Marathon and the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase. But his true love is pounding metal. “You can wrap anything in metal. I love to step back and see what I’ve made from raw material,” says Mike.
In 2001, Mike broke his ankle while playing hockey and was dependent upon crutches for several months while the bone and pins fused into place. Bored, he spent hours hanging around a friend’s welding workshop near Boulder, Colorado. What started as a hobby continued for the next year and a half, even after Mike was back on his feet. He moved to Park City and started his own company, working from his garage on Woodside Avenue in Old Town. As neighbors strolled by, they stopped to admire his metal work, often leading to more jobs. Now he and Tierney operate a full-service shop in Peoa, having long outgrown the Park City location.
Park City Iron Man is not simply a structural metal company; instead it brings design to life. Sometimes the metal pieces are actually a framework, but they always appear more like works of art. One of Mike and Tierney’s most challenging projects to date was constructing a metal stringer for a stairway, which they replicated from the background image of a Natuzzi couch advertisement. The stairs are suspended in mid-air, with the metal stringers acting as each step’s platform. The appearance is like a floating mountain, an expressway to the second floor. A landing, weighing close to 1,000 pounds, holds the entire stairwell together. Another memorable Park City Iron Man project was a perimeter fence along the back patio of an Old Town home, ornamented with metal butterflies taking flight and tree branches and leaves extending toward the sun. Mike’s breadth of work includes everything from metal railings, which are the most popular request, to fireplace screens, wall units, trim on doorways and baseboards, furniture, and even the occasional “fossil” stand (fashioned from metal to showcase ancient fossils).
Mike’s business aspirations did not always include welding, but “my college degree has not put a dollar on my plate.” He supported himself through college working at Red Robin Restaurant as a cook, waiter and bartender. After seven long years, he graduated with a degree in kinesiology and opted to open a gourmet sandwich shop in Boulder, Colorado. To save money, he built the interior of the restaurant himself with a group of friends. He discovered that not only was he handy, but he also had a creative flair for design. That is the quality that distinguishes him most from other welders. “Some people struggle with it. A welder might be able to duplicate something in front of him, but the art is in creating a design of my own or bringing a designer’s concept to life,” says Mike.
Typically, Park City Iron Man receives a design concept from an architect or designer, and Mike’s job is to figure out how to convert the sketch into the intended metal composition. It is what he loves most about his job. “Stepping back and thinking ‘holy cow,’ I did it. There is some relief in pounding on metal and turning it into something beautiful,” he says, but clarifies that he is not in the business of making mass-produced products. “I like to keep it fresh. Even though I could make more money reproducing one type of bar stool over and over, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable for me.” But he does make house calls. Mike has been known to fix a trampoline for a friend’s child when the metal starts to rust, or create a bracket to affix a chairlift swing in front of someone’s house.
Park City Iron Man produces everything to order, and no piece is ever the same. Mike and Tierney spend hours on the details, perfecting them to their clients’ tastes. “We’ll work 24 hours a day to get something done.”
Whether you believe in the mythology of iron or not, it is easy to see that metal can become a design element that brings a new sense of life to your home. Park City Iron Man strives to create something that suits the owner, and something that they can be proud of, because ultimately, they are part of the process. “We want people to love what we create for them as if it’s artwork. What we do is art. It represents who our clients are and complements them and their homes,” Tierney says with a smile.
PARK CITY IRON MAN Mike Bronn: 435.659.9815, Tierney Vaughan: 917.841.6666, parkcityironman.com
Paula Altschuler is a graduate student in creative writing and a freelance writer. She lives in Park City with her husband, Ben and their dog, Frank Zappa.