“Sometimes I see stuff and I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I get it anyway. Other times, I know exactly what I’m going to do with it,” he said.
Consider the Greyhound bus luggage cart that he converted to a one-of-a-kind bench seat, or an enormous truck jack he converted into a glass-topped coffee table.
Mabry said he has always “been into art” and comes by that passion honestly. His grandmother was an artist, his father a photographer and his brother a musician. Mabry’s outlet has a more industrial flair.
Perhaps his affinity for All Things Metallic was forged in his years as a mechanic for Steakley Chevrolet. But because he didn’t like working on cars much, he went back to school and took art classes at Southern Methodist University.
A friend had a welding torch that Mabry borrowed when he was in his 20s. After tinkering with it a little, he bought a shop full of machinery.
“Course, I had no idea what to do with it. I didn’t even know how to plug stuff in,” he shrugged.
But that’s the kind of guy Mabry is. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he just plows ahead until he does.
That’s how his business, The Rusty Buffalo Company, came into being.
Buffaloes were a theme in his family, so when his mom saw an iron sculpture of one she liked, he thought he’d get it for her birthday.
Then he saw the $40,000 price tag on it.
“I figured I could make one myself, so I did. I was driving it over to her in the back of my truck when this guy pulled up and asked where I got it. Told him I made it. He liked it and asked for my company’s name. I glanced back in the truck and told him, ‘uh… Rusty Buffalo. Yeah, that’s it,” Mabry explained.
His earlier pieces were “very folk arty. For the first 20 years it looked like Helen Keller did it. I couldn’t believe people wanted to buy that stuff,” he said.
Nevertheless, they ended up buying it, and eventually Mabry was supplying metal work for well-known design stores.
Remember Anteks on Lovers Lane? He did all the iron pieces they sold. Ditto for The Arrangement.
But it was on his industrial build for LFT, the designer clothing boutique in Vickery Park that has since gone out of business, where he met Ryan Chaney.
Chaney also welds and already had his own shop, 44 Build, but he leaned more toward using wood in his iron creations.
They teamed up under the 44 Build banner, but Mabry still operates The Rusty Buffalo Company.
What does he love about what he does?
“Everything. We don’t go to work. We create stuff,” Mabry, the self-avowed “curmudgeon,” said.
“Every day we go out and find things… Man-tiquing, we call it,” the younger, “salty” Chaney, added.
They troll their favorite haunts in Canton, South Dallas, Weatherford… even Craig’s List. They never know what they may discover.
Projects have ranged from custom home furniture to entire restaurants.
Bed for baseball legend Nolan Ryan? Check.
Furnishings for Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Garrett and Darryl Johnston? Check.
Anyone who has been to local beer and burger garden, Goodfriend, has sat at the bar or on the chairs made by 44 Build. The same applies to Goodfriend’s neighbor, Good2Go Tacos.
“Here you have liquor, food, beer… and Ryan. They are all on the same level of importance,” co-owner Matt Tobin, said.
“His vision and imagination are what made this place come to life. We didn’t know what we wanted until he showed us.”
Their most recent large project has been the entire 8,500-square-foot interiors for the new restaurant at I-35 and Northwest Highway, Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill.
It was a natural fit. Gas Monkey Garage is ground zero for the Discovery Channel cool car reality show “Fast N’ Loud.” They take automotive junk and fix it up into something… well… fast n’ loud. 44 Build takes industrial junk and turns it into something cool to use and/or look at.
The tattooed, sarcasm-slinging duo agrees they’ve got a good thing going.
“I’ve always been motivated to work for myself, but I can barely check my own email. Ryan is pushing this thing - doing all the social media and such,” Mabry said.
“Yeah, us combined is what makes this. That, and we definitely couldn’t do it without our crew,” Smith added.
With eight craftsmen on the team (and a waiting list of folks wanting to join), the shop off of Plano Road in Garland keeps sparks flying. Their one nod to estrogen, Brianna Larson, keeps the phones answered and the bills paid.
Having lived in all areas of East Dallas and currently living in Lake Highlands, Mabry complains that the commute is “terrible.”
The shop makes donations to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and hires people who might not find a job elsewhere. They are even re-designing a part of the shop for a wheelchair-bound craftsman so he can move around easily because “he’s perfect for what goes on here.”
When they take their Gas Monkey-built truck to Keller’s hamburgers for a bite, Mabry said car enthusiasts swarm to the truck “like ants to a picnic.”
Other exciting developments are coming down the pike for 44 Build, but that’s all that Chaney would cryptically say right now.
In the meantime, both are riding a wave of success as hot as the heat from their torches.