Welding the Chameleon

One man’s metal creation roars to life

Just about the time that backyard summer barbeques give way to fall festivals and football tailgating, Gary Davis will fire up his new custom barbeque pit. He may joke around when asked where he bought it, but don’t be fooled by his quiet humor. Unlike the mass-produced metal behemoths lined up at local stores, Gary’s pit is the result of his own design and efforts.

As a child, Gary yearned to design and build things. Machines and gadgets fascinated him—often to the consternation of his parents. “My mom and dad used to come home, and I would’ve taken the toaster apart. They would say, ‘Oh, dear, put that back together.’ That was the common phrase in my house. I was always a tinkerer and a builder,” says Gary.

One day, Gary found his medium—metal. His high school’s agriculture department offered a welding class. Mesmerized, he watched from afar as dancing beads of light fused two pieces of metal into one and a pile of scrap metal slowly turned into a finished creation. But Gary wasn’t able to fit welding in among the sports, band, and college prep classes.

In 1987, after earning a degree in electrical engineering, Gary finally had free time to pursue a hobby seriously. He set up shop on the ranch first owned by his grandparents and bought a welder. Like any good engineer, he studied his craft. “I learned to weld by reading the instruction book that came with the welder,” Gary says, “that, and by making a lot of mistakes.”

For nearly three decades, Gary has honed his skills, taking a methodical approach to his work. “The creation process for me is something that extends over a fairly long period of time,” Gary explains. “I don’t wake up one day, decide what I’m going to build, and then go build it the next day. I’m not that kind of guy.”

His latest creation, aptly named “The Chameleon Pit,” is a massive barbeque pit with a set of interchangeable emblems and grills. He used his CNC Plasma Cutter—a computerized tool that cuts precision designs into metal—to fabricate them. From grills displaying the Panther logo of Liberty Hill, where his children attended school, to the Methodist flame, Gary incorporates one-of-a-kind touches to personalize his work and share it with others. “One of my favorite things to do is to find a productive community- or charity-driven outlet for my talents,” Gary says.

Gary started researching and planning the Chameleon last year. His goal: construct a multiuse pit large enough to feed several hundred people at one time. What came out of his shop this past July is a handmade, 3,000-pound barbeque pit with eight 28×21-inch grills mounted to a custom-built trailer. The Chameleon can cook 350 pounds of brisket at once—enough to feed 300 to 400 festival-goers or football fans—or a few hundred of Gary’s closest friends.

Gary’s the first to admit that his projects are more functional than artistic. Whether he’s building a barbeque pit or creating a new corral system for his ranch, Gary’s mission is to channel his hobby towards useful creations that serve the community.

“I have my day job where I use my mind, my college degree, and my experience to earn a living. And when five o’clock comes, I can do a 180-degree shift and go out into the shop,” says Gary. “It really provides a good blend between the two worlds. A desk job and then a hands-on job—I think that part of what really makes life fun is having those two different aspects.”

Brisket from the Chameleon

Come see the Chameleon in action as Gary smokes brisket at Wellspring United Methodist Church’s fall festival, Saturday, October 18. Go to www.wellumc.org for more information on the festival.

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