Valley Fabrication at work in Olive Hill
Drivers pulling off Interstate 64 to refuel or recharge at Clark’s Pump-N-Shop at exit 161 in Olive Hill do not realize that just on the other side of the fence, sparks are flying in the buildings that house Valley Fabrication. Carl Prater’s small business not only sells steel to the public but transforms raw metal into multiple uses for farms, industry, government and schools.
“In this area, you have to be diverse,” Prater explains. “Because if you’re not, you’re not going to make it. You’ve got to source capital from everywhere you can.”
Valley Fabrication’s work is as complex as rebuilding a water plant filter and as simple as repairing a bush hog rotary mower.
Prater is humble about his operation, but his story is characteristic of the strong will, creativity and struggles of his eastern Kentucky hometown. Like many Appalachian communities, Olive Hill has lost population and businesses in recent decades coinciding with the decline in the coal mining industry.
While working for Arch Coal and later on his own, Prater took note of the community’s need for a reliable steel supplier and fabrication shop.
“Everything I went to go do, there was no place here to buy steel, there was no place to get anything,” Prater recalls. “So, you would spend three to four hours a day just trying to round up things you needed. That’s one of the main reasons I put this place in, is just to fill a void.”
Crafting raw steel
When Prater bought the property in 2015, the former rock-crushing site, scrapyard and roofing supplier was abandoned and overgrown. Now, with two employees, Valley Fabrication uses high-tech tools to craft raw steel, including a Computer Numerical Control system that cuts a precise path through metal with a 40,000-degree plasma jet.
With the exception of welding gases, Prater relies on electricity from Grayson Rural Electric Cooperative. “They are extremely reliable. I can think of only two times we were out of power, and it was at maximum just a few hours,” Prater says. “Grayson RECC has been great. Within 30 minutes, they have someone down here working on it to get (us) back online.”
Grayson RECC Interim President and CEO Bradley Cherry says, “Our six-county service area benefits from Valley Fabrication’s craftsmanship, from stenciled metal signs to roof access units at local businesses. We are proud to provide the power behind these tremendous products.”
For Prater, it’s about understanding what his customers need rather than simply following a blueprint.
“That’s what you have to always keep in mind,” he says. “When the customer gets (the product), it has to work the way they intended for it to work.”