By Brandei Clifton
January 4, 2024
Kelly Tiede gets a peaceful feeling as he shuffles through his shop at Silver Dollar City. He can only explain it as the presence of master blacksmiths before him — looking down, checking his work.
“Shad Heller’s still here,” Kelly smiles at the mention of The City’s late, legendary blacksmith. “I can feel him all the time. I even think I can hear him sometimes. We all strive to make sure we’re creating work – and memories – that meet his standards.”
You can see those high expectations in each intricate detail of Kelly’s metal masterpieces, including the trademark leaves that wind their way around his work. That artful attention to perfection has been part of his personality since he was a little plow boy hauling hay in the summers. As Kelly pokes the fire, his mind goes back to farm life as a kid in Kansas. There wasn’t much to do in the rural area outside Great Bend where he grew up, just a train track to walk and his Daddy’s shop filled with “tinker toys.”
“He was always working on something,” Kelly laughs. “He’d tell us he lost a bolt and we’d spend three hours hunting for it. Thing probably only cost 8 cents but he wanted us to learn work ethic and the importance of making, not buying.”
Kelly nurtured his mechanical mind out in that shop. It’s where he learned to work with his hands and keep his head down until that work was done.
“When the farm truck broke, we were the ones to fix it,” he recalls with a chuckle. “Dad forged the metal gates that held the hay in. There wasn’t a day that went by when we didn’t create something useful to save money.”
That love of “tinkering” took Kelly well into his adult years where he worked for a company repairing big machinery like bulldozers. He was always surrounded by tools but when life threw him a wrench, he found himself as a single father.
“I taught them that same work ethic my Daddy taught me,” he smiles. “From an early age, they were working on cars, motorcycles and guns. Life is about learning to have helpful hands.”
Kelly worked so hard in his professional and personal life to make sure he was passing down useful lessons and setting a good example for his children. In 2000, he tried something brand new — he took a weekend off.
“I walked in and told my boss I’d see him on Monday,” Kelly laughs. “I didn’t realize that a last-minute trip to Branson to visit a buddy would be the start of this wonderful chapter I’m living in right now.”
Kelly fell in love with Branson during that visit and decided to move his family here. He attended at Job Fair at Reeds Spring Schools and was connected to Silver Dollar City. He was hired to work the foundry at the blacksmith shop, working with molten aluminum.
“I fell in love with working as I laughed and joked with the guests,” he smiles. “That part was new to me since I was used to working alone and staying focused on what I was doing. I realized right away, though, how combining the people part of the job with the work part was really rewarding.”
Kelly later left The City for a family issue in Colorado but the love and culture he felt at the park kept calling him back. In 2016, he returned to the blacksmith shop. This time, he was here to stay. He’s perfected his trademark pieces and finds peace in where life’s roads have taken him. All those twists and turns he’s traveled have led the way to the place he says he was meant to be: Silver Dollar City.
Just this past fall, he had the chance to return to his farmer roots for a bit when he became The City’s accidental pumpkin farmer. After wildlife nibbled on pumpkins from the fall festival the previous year, the seeds spawned a pumpkin patch right there in front of the blacksmith stand.
“That brought us so many laughs,” he remembers. “People say it’s tricky to grow pumpkins. Apparently not because I had 8 full-size pumpkins right there on the vine. Every day is an adventure here and that memory is one I’ll always hold onto.”
Now 66 years old, Kelly has more memories to make in this place with his passion and his people.
“You never get tired of doing what you love, even when the arthritis sets in. You just find a way to keep going,” he says. “Craftsmen give a little piece of themselves in every piece they make. Eventually, you don’t have anything left to give. I’m not there yet. There’s still a big spark in me.”