Bozeman craftsmen Whit Magro, 32, and Pat Wolfe, 30, have a three-part business.
Through their company, Stronghold, they do metal fabrication and fine ornamental
blacksmithing, and also build climbing boulders with steel and concrete. The pair met
in 1997 through rock and ice climbing, and the close partnership they built on some of
the world’s huge mountains serves them well in the shop. “Stronghold is the only piece
of land that hasn’t been strip-malled in the North 19th area,” says Magro, explaining
their business’ clever name.
Whit: I’ve been doing metalwork
since I was a kid. My family’s business
in Cincinnati, Ohio was making
Pat: I started by shaping horseshoes,
working with my dad, when I was
about 10. I like forge work because
you get to heat the steel and then
shape it, bend it, and forge it down.
You can do pretty much anything
Whit: I like designing something,
building it, and creating a finished
product—like doing the climbing
boulders from start to finish,
or coming up with a patent
design for knee braces.
Custom is the most
engaging. It’s fresh, like
[climbing] a new route.
Pat: We built
part of a residential shed roof
remodel this winter. The wood was
reclaimed from railroads, and we
used recycled steel. It was a grate, so it
allows light to come in over a window.
Whit: Steel is really strong. It compliments
wood. You can cut it, weld it,
but you don’t have to be down to
the 32nd. It’s fun to work with.
Around here, a lot of the buildings
have steel exposed in the
architecture. It grows the
ideas when you see a lot
Pat: Working with steel
can be lots of things.
Fixing trailers is just
cutting and welding –
it’s pretty simple.
Whit: We have
a fetish for plow
discs. We’ve gotten
them at scrap yards and
old farms, but it’s hard to find
the right size for our fire pits, so
we just buy them now. We also
use them as
bases for stools and coat trees.
Pat: I don’t know if I’d consider
what we do necessarily art. It’s
more like functional…
Whit: …functional design.
Pat: Or artistic design. Like a
table or a stool that serves a purpose,
but is esthetic, too. Most of the stuff
we do isn’t just simply there to look at,
like a piece of art. It serves a purpose in
your life, but is also is appealing.
Whit: Our biggest adventure together
was our trip to Patagonia. We
climbed the North Pillar of Fitzroy,
which is a giant rock tower on the
southern tip of South America. 5000
feet of elevation gain, straight vertical
the whole way. It’s big. We spent 48
hours on it. It was Pat and I and Nate
Pat: Going through experiences like
that, you understand each other.
Whit: Just after
we opened, Conrad
Anker asked if we
wanted to weld up the
frame for an artificial
climbing boulder that
would be covered
with concrete. The
bowed out, so we took
that on. It was trial
and error. We did a
lot of really intricate
Pat: We made a lot of the features
with the steel, so we had to think
ahead, imagining on the frame where
everything was going to be and how
it was going to climb. We learned
a ton. We’ve done two more with
different techniques and different
Pat: We’ve had a lot of good feedback
about those. They give kids who
might not have an opportunity to try
climbing a chance to have access to it.