Custom-built fire pits are hot sellers at Stock Show

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- Ronnie Landes isn't sure which he enjoys more -- helping his friends by working at the Custom Built Fire Pits sales booth at the Stock Show or taking part in the conversations that come with the job.

"I volunteered to do this at first, just because I enjoy the atmosphere," Landes said.

For the last few years, Joe and Justin Jones, the father-and-son owners of Circle J Fabrication, have been making the fire pits that Landes is helping sell in the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall.

From 24 to 72 inches wide, the pits feature cast-metal wheels and variable-height grills that swing out so cooks can place, turn and remove foods without hovering over the heat. They're equipped with swiveling secondary grill/work tables and pot hooks and come with fire pokers.

An array of accessories is available, from tortilla pans to bean pots to cooking utensils.

Also in the Circle J bag of tricks is the Chuck Wagon Box, a Dutch-oven chef's dream with collapsible sides, an adjustable grill and a pot-hanging rail.

Working only half a day, Landes will typically sell up to five fire pits before either Joe (the dad) or Justin Jones shows up for the late shift. Both are Fort Worth firefighters -- at different stations -- and share the load of a growing business.

"We used to have a machine shop," Joe Jones said. "But about five years ago, we got into the tank head business."

Tank heads are caps that are welded onto steel cylinders to create tanks for such products as propane gas, Joe Jones said.

His father-in-law, Quinton Gilliland, retired from the tank head business in 2001 and, because of a no-compete clause in a sale, had to stay out for a while.

But five years ago, he taught his son-in-law and grandson everything he knew. They are not the first welders to turn tank heads into fire pits, but they pushed a simple concept to higher purposes, Joe Jones said.

"People have been building these things for years from old propane tanks," Joe Jones said. "But we took it a step further with wheels, the adjustable top for grilling, a footrest for sitting around the fire, and the revolving pot holder."

Prices range from $299 to $1,549.

The Joneses sell the pits not only from their factory showroom but also through about 45 distributors in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and California. They also sell kits for do-it-yourselfers.

"Ag teachers were asking where they could buy the tank heads so their students could make fire pits," Justin Jones said. "I looked at what we were doing and thought, 'If we can build these things, so can anyone else.'"

More than 80 schools' agriculture departments have bought kits to assemble as projects and used them as fundraisers, Justin Jones said.

"It's an excellent way to give students a project that can fund itself," Justin Jones said.

Another sales outlet is circlejfab.com, said Landes, himself a retired firefighter.

"We sold a couple of 6-footers to a guy who has a restaurant in Albuquerque, or maybe it was Santa Fe," he said. "He doesn't cook on them. He just uses them to create atmosphere for his customers."

That's what Landes likes about the pits, too. They give him a reason to come back to a place he fell in love with as a kid.

"I was an usher out here when I was 15, seating people at the rodeo," he said. "This was a good way to get back into that."

Up to 300 people will do more than pause at the booth for brief looks. They strike up conversations inspired by imagining how they'd use the pits, Landes said.

"We talk about hunting, fishing, the weather," he said. "Being an ex-fireman, I always find plenty to talk about."

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

Twitter: @fwstevans

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