Turning back the clock
Laura Ross transforms antique pocket watches into works of art
The contents found at the bottom of a bargain box sparked a new passion and ultimately a new business for Laura Ross, of Moorland.
The box was purchased a few years ago at Sparky’s Auction Services in Fort Dodge.
“I think we paid two dollars for it,” Ross recalled.
Inside was a school safety patrol badge and some broken pocket watch parts, she said.
“It was one of those boxes no one wanted,” Ross’s husband, Terry Ross said. “She made a couple pieces out of the surprises in the box.”
The pieces she creates are made from antique pocket watches. The watches date from the 1860s to the 1930s.
In the beginning, Laura Ross used charms bought from stores to add to the watches, Terry Ross said. But then she actively began buying pocket watches.
Terry Ross said they buy about 300 vintage pocket watches a year.
“I loved learning abut the history of the watches,” Laura Ross said. “American watches have a serial number and I can look up and find out how old they are, how many were made. I love sharing that with people. Even if they don’t buy anything, I love showing them the craftsmanship America had.”
She started transforming the old pocket watches into jewelry in April of 2016.
Then in October of that year, Terry Ross had an idea.
“Eventually, Terry said you should start selling these,” Laura Ross said.
That’s when her business, Barnyard Steamworks, began.
Terry Ross and Laura Ross packed up their jewelry in the back of their Jeep Grand Cherokee and hit the road.
The two began setting up booths at art shows throughout the region, including events like Junquefest in Webster City, Art in the Park in various communities, and Juried Art shows.
“We love doing shows,” Terry Ross said. “We always have a great time.”
He said they do shows in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
“We do about 40 shows a year,” Terry Ross said. “As much as we can on the weekends.”
The theme of the jewelry and their booth is steampunk, which is a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery.
“It’s 1860s Victorian with a little science fiction and crater zone influence,” Terry Ross said. “It was first coined in 1987. Steampunks has been around longer than that, they just didn’t know what it was. There was a TV show called “Wild Wild West” in the 70s and there was these steam trains. Well, that was steampunk.”
Terry Ross makes steampunk hats, which look like top hats with goggles.
“She makes the jewelry,” Terry Ross said. “I make the hats.”
He added, “It’s mostly jewelry, but little by little I am working to offer men some man cave items — furniture, steampunk wall decor.”
In terms of how he makes the hats, Terry Ross said, “It’s a yoga mat cut up with foam over the top and certain traits that we just can’t divulge.”
Terry Ross and Laura Ross will be married 23 years on June 22.
“She was a pool player,” Terry Ross said. “And I was a dart player. We make a pretty good team.”
Terry Ross is employed by NEW Cooperative. Laura Ross works with her mother at Karen’s Spirits and Wine.
“I am thankful they work with me to let me help her and go to these shows on weekends,” Terry Ross said.
Terry Ross said steampunk jewelry can appeal to any age, but that the majority of their customers are aged 50 and older.
“It’s amazing how many ladies in their 60s say I love steampunk,” he said.
In a society that has been inundated with screens, Terry Ross said people find enjoyment in mechanisms.
“People like to see the gears and the reminder of what things used to be,” he said. “To own a pocket watch was a really big deal and it’s an honor to pay homage to that craftsmanship. She’s honoring them by repurposing it into a modern piece of jewelry.”
Laura Ross said one of her favorite pocket watches was made in 1861.
“When you look at it it looks like it could have been made yesterday,” she said. “Those cases just protected the movements.”
Barnyard Steamworks sell most of their items at shows, but have started completing orders online.
Laura Ross said they plan to have a website up and running in the near future.
She also does custom orders through her Facebook page called Barnyard Steamworks.
“She takes parts from maybe five or six necklaces to tell the story,” Terry Ross said. “It might be a piece you wear or maybe one that you just display.”
Although creating and selling the pieces are fun, Laura Ross enjoys the traveling aspect.
Her next goal?
“I want to get an RV and go out further,” she said.