Heavy Metal

From HGTV to Waco, Jimmy Don Holmes is putting personalized positivity into the world—one sign at a time.

Written by Constance Dunn

A positive or poignant message—delivered at the right time, or perhaps often enough—has the power to lift the spirit of the day, or even an entire life. It’s something lifelong metal worker and artist Jimmy Don Holmes, proprietor of JDH Iron Designs, understands completely. “What’s really important to me about this metal work,” says the native Texan, “is that a metal sign is going to be there forever. It might last a thousand years.” Cast in a permanent, near-indestructible material, metal has the effect of amplifying a message, or creating a declaration for all to see.

Not long ago he received a letter in the mail from a cancer patient who, after struggling to rise each day, would trace her hand across one of Holmes’ metal signs hanging in her home, reading: “It’s a Good Day to Have a Good Day.” The effect on her day, each day, was transformative. “It’s like a song,” Holmes says of his signs. “You see it every day—that scripture or inspirational message or that John Wayne quote—and it sticks with you.”

“You see it every day—that scripture or inspirational message or that John Wayne quote—and it sticks with you.”

— Jimmy Don Holmes

Holmes has come a long way since he and his father were working on farm fences in the late-1980s. Eventually, the two were asked to add some text to a fence, so they got their first CNC machine, enabling them to cut metal. Over time, Holmes went solo and continued to build up his business. In 2013, via a client, Holmes was introduced to fellow Waco resident Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” fame. She was looking for a go-to metal sign maker, and Holmes, with his expertise and affable on-camera presence, was the perfect guy.

Awareness of JDH Iron Designs spread across the nation, and beyond. That one CNC machine turned into seven CNC plasma cutting tables, more than anyone else in the nation. This year, the addition of a fiber-optic laser means his Valley Mills shop, located about 22 miles west of his native Waco, can cleanly fashion the smallest of details onto signs, ornaments and other objects. Holmes’ shop, run by son Jake and Jake’s father-in-law, has grown from about two employees to nearly 25. In addition to a brisk online business, plus sales at their Valley Mills showroom, JDH Iron Designs churns out about 60 to 80 custom signs a week.

This spring their gleaming 36-foot trailer—opened across the street from Gaines’ popular Magnolia Market last year—will be a full-fledged second store. JDH Iron Designs being a family business, Jimmy Don’s wife Shelley is the yin to his yang. “She keeps me in line,” Holmes says with a laugh, praising her sharp memory (“She’s like a walking tape recorder”) and ability to keep constant focus on the big and small details of the business.

For this fan of John Wayne, Holmes’ collaboration with John Wayne Enterprises has been a game-changing turn of events. “My head nearly popped off,” he exclaims after hearing back from Ethan Wayne, indicating interest in a line of John Wayne signs. For Holmes, a core of business for many years has included thousands of custom works for the U.S. Secret Service, along with all branches and levels of military and law enforcement. Included among them are the crosses placed at the graves of the Texas Rangers. “My Dad made the first 32 of them,” notes Holmes, “and I’ve made the rest of them.” They now number well in the hundreds.

For this die-hard Texan, the Rangers, the oldest law enforcement group in the country, mean something, and even figure into one of Holmes’ favorite John Wayne films. Released the year he was born, “Big Jake” (1971) even inspired Holmes to name his son after Wayne’s character, Jacob “Big Jake” McCandles. “McLintock!” (1963) is another beloved Duke film. However, like all good things, it can be hard to choose. “Asking what your favorite John Wayne move is,” quips Holmes, “is like asking what your favorite Elvis song is.”

See more of JDH Iron Designs on John Wayne Stock & Supply here!

Shelley and Jimmy Don Holmes

Photographs courtesy of JDH Iron Designs