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Randy Hoppe and Ryan Petroski both have a superpower. They love to bond steel with fire.

“We’ve always had a passion for welding,” said Hoppe.

The two men forged a friendship earlier this year at Loenbro Technical Institute, a welding trade school in Rapid City, then built a business relationship based on that friendship and passion.

Hoppe, 53, moved to the Black Hills in 2011, and took welding classes at Loenbro last year.

He was a volunteer helper at the school when Petroski, 28, a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, enrolled in the welding program last March.

One day, Hoppe showed Petroski a backyard patio firepit designed to replicate the appearance of pine tree logs, branches and pine cones, but artistically fabricated entirely of steel.

“Ryan said we should do something with this,” Hoppe said of the firepit.

And their enterprise, Freedom Arc Welding & Fabrication, was born.

Working out of Hoppe’s spacious garage located in a rural housing development northwest of Rapid City, Hoppe and Petroski specialize in more than their signature firepits, offering other home décor, including wine racks, signage and industrial-rustic furniture.

The two certified welders are available for almost any type of custom welding and repair, both in-house and mobile.

“Pretty much anything,” Petroski said. “Except auto exhaust.”

That assessment came after a customer brought them an exhaust pipe replacement job.

“We made it work, but it wasn’t fun,” Petroski said. “We’re not really set up for that.”

Hoppe, originally from Worland, Wyo., put aside initial plans to attend a welding school in Casper for a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was a mechanic on an FA-18 Hornet fighter-attack aircraft. He later went to work for Northwest Airlines as a mechanic.

A 2001 motorcycle accident in Minnesota left him with a broken back and in a wheelchair.

He didn’t let the wheelchair slow down his passion for welding, enrolling in the Loenbro program.

“It was now or never,” he said. “You keep putting it off, not procrastinating, but there's always other things and other things, and if you don’t commit to it, you’ll never do it.”

Hoppe’s pride and joy is a 1965 Lincoln Welding arc welder, boasting a massive electrical generator powered by a four-cylinder engine. Hoppe restored the machine over the winter in his shop and it welds as well today just as it did 53 years ago, he said.

Petroski, originally from Florida, came to Ellsworth in late 2016 after 6-1/2 years stationed in Minot, N.D.

He also works with aircraft as a hydraulic system technician on B1-B Lancer bombers, and enrolled in the Loenbro program to add to his welding skills.

“We just clicked with each other,” Hoppe said.

Check out Freedom Arc Welding & Fabrication on Facebook, or log on to Their address is 13545 Frontier Loop in Piedmont. Call 651-338-6079 or 701-818-9854 or email for more information.

New Historic Freight Depot owners looking for tenants

Readers have inquired about what’s going on at the former Historic Freight House Grill and Taproom at 306 Seventh St.

The restaurant, formerly known as Sanford’s Grub & Pub, closed last year, and was originally set to sell at auction this spring.

But an investment group made up of Brad Estes, Brad Kurtz, Ka Alberts and Sam Benne recently completed a deal to buy the historic Milwaukee Road railroad freight depot, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

County records list the sale price as $875,000.

“We just all found the building to be interesting and wanted to be involved in its redevelopment,” said Estes, managing partner of the group.

The construction activity involves gutting recent interior additions made for the depot’s iterations as a restaurant, to allow the building to be a clean slate for a new tenant.

“We’re just trying to clear it out and get a feel for how it looks without partitions and we’re advertising for a potential tenant,” he said.

Preliminary interest includes potential use as an executive office, retail space and as a restaurant, he said.

So far, he said, the building, built in 1923, is still solid structurally.

“It’s in excellent shape. It’s got good bones. It’s really neat,” he said.

Estes said he blames his upbringing for his interest in old railroad properties.

“My mom was raised in the old train depot in Quinn,” he said.

Fresh Start to become Yesway

Yesway, a Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience store chain, announced the acquisition of 26 of 29 Fresh Start convenience stores in South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Included are 22 South Dakota-based Fresh Start stores with multiple locations in Edgemont, Martin, Pierre, Rapid City, Spearfish, and Sturgis, and single-store locations in Belle Fourche, Box Elder, Custer, Fort Pierre, Hot Springs, and Kadoka.

Also in the deal are stores in Lusk, Newcastle, and Sundance, Wyo., and in Alliance, Neb.

Not included in the Yesway deal, however, is the Fresh Start Neighborhood Market at 747 Timmons Blvd., off Elk Vale Road in Rapid Valley.

Two other locations, one at 520 Birch Ave. in Rapid City (across from the South Dakota School of Mines campus) and another in Custer, were sold to other buyers, according to a Fresh Start spokesman.

According to a Yesway release, the acquisition of the Spearfish-based Fresh Start chain puts Yesway above the 150-store milestone en route to a stated company goal of 500 locations in the next few years.

Earlier this year, Yesway acquired 11 Pick-A-Dilly convenience stores in Missouri, and 13 Chisum Travel Center and Fast Stop stores in Texas.

The Fresh Start acquisition gives Yesway a presence in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska.

The company indicated plans to eventually rebrand all stores under the Yesway name.

“We are extremely pleased to have achieved this milestone and to be bringing the Yesway brand to three new states,” said Thomas W. Brown, Yesway’s director of acquisitions, in a release.

“I am very proud of our acquisitions, due diligence, and on-boarding teams. Their collective hard work and dedication have been critical to our being able to grow the portfolio so quickly,” he said.

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