MONTMARTRE, Sask. — This welding shop once had more women than men at work.
“Farmers would come to pick something up and they’d be so surprised. They’d say, ‘you got girls working here?’ ” said Kelly Romanow, owner of Romanow Industries.
In the early days of this rural business, the entire Romanow family pitched in to churn out steel products serving the farm sector.
Kelly, a certified welder, was happy to have his wife alongside, as well as his two young daughters, who took on tasks like sanding and buffing steel.
The business was launched in 1994 when Kelly decided to take on farm-related welding projects on his days off as a professional welder in Regina. Weekends turned into family time in the shop as the Romanows made custom parts like hitches and headers, and also created some of their own farm equipment from scratch like flax-straw bunchers and land rollers.
As the two Romanow girls got older, Morgan, now 21, and Kara, 20, continued to work alongside their parents in the shop, graduating to welding themselves and operating the CNC plasma table, which automatically cuts steel.
Their mom, Stacey Romanow, grew up on a farm, but didn’t have a great deal of welding experience when Romanow Industries was launched. The company’s purchase of its first plasma table kit in 1999, which Kelly built himself, forced the mother of two into the role of head computer programmer.
“You have to remember that this was still the era of Commodore 64s and flip phones, so it was a huge stretch to try to program a welding table to be able to cut out specific parts and patterns,” said Stacey.
She recalls creating designs on her computer in the house when the kids were toddlers and sending the disk to the shop with her husband. She’d watch the shop door to see if her first forays into programming were a success.
“I’d see Kelly walk toward the house and fling the disk into the bush,” said Stacey with a laugh, explaining that was the couple’s long-distance signal for a failed attempt.
“There was a lot of trial and error in the early years and the scrap pile was pretty big.”
Kelly said it wasn’t always happy family times in the shop as the growing demand sometimes required long work hours.
“I remember one time when the girls and I made four flax-straw bunchers in one week and they phoned grandma bawling that I was too hard on them,” Kelly fondly recalled.
“Grandma sent over buns and baking and that made everything all right.”
In 2019, Romanow Industries purchased a larger and more advanced plasma cutting table, which improved the quality and complexity of the steel projects coming out of the shop.
Today, Romanow Industries has grown more creative, donating personalized grad signs for the Montmartre class of 2020 and constructing intricate tribute items like a Remembrance Day scene for an area Legion.
The product mix is about 50-50 between farm-related projects and more creative items. Kelly also has a mobile welder, and finds himself on the go during seeding and harvest when farmers break down in the field.
“This year alone I had a header transported to Alberta and a coat rack go to Gimli,” said Kelly, explaining that the diversity of projects keeps him interested and motivated.
Stacey now thrives on the programming end, adding that the scrap pile is far smaller after 21 years of practice.
“When I program something and it works the first time, you’re like ‘woo-hoo,’” said Stacey, who also works part-time as a teacher assistant.
The Romanows plan to transform their part-time business into a full-time endeavor in the near future as Kelly eyes retirement from his full-time pipe-mill welding job.
“We’d like to see it grow so that it could become a five-day-a-week business and I could retire and have weekends off,” said Kelly.
As for the Romanow girls, they still enjoy getting their hands dirty when they come home on weekends, but life has taken them to Regina, where Morgan is studying engineering and Kara is a continuing care aid who plans to further her studies in the medical field.
“I think being in the shop taught them a really good work ethic, and we all still like to get together in here to work on projects as a family,” said Stacey.