D-K Metal is a family business. It’s been family owned and operated since day one. The name itself stands for Don, Dora Donnie and Keith (Lisa wasn’t born yet). Thus the D-K Metal Form Company was born. It all began in 1972 at the same location on which it stands today. Before that the building had been a mechanic shop and a car dealership.
The building was built by Mr. Simmons (Bill and June Simmons). Later Hubert Welch bought it and turned it into a mechanic shop. One of the mechanics who worked there was Don Watkins.
Don Watkins and his business partner, owner of Wichita Metal Products of Wichita Falls, had the original idea for the business. Don had been a salesman for a steel supplier known as AMSCO. One of his customer’s was Wichita Metal Products. The owner needed a better supplier. Together they came up the idea of starting their own metal shop. Fifty years later they are still supplying Wichita Metal Products with supplies.
Originally, the Watkins family had to lease the property in order to begin. When they first took over the property they spent a month remodeling the facility in order to convert it for the purpose it fulfills today. Larger doors had to be installed, new wiring had to be run and the huge brake presses and sheers had to be put in place. Once the building was ready, it took about a week for the first load of steel to arrive.
Donnie Watkins remembers being 13 years old when the remodeling process began. At the age of 14 he would ride his motorcycle to work.
Keith Watkins began working in the family business when he was 12, sweeping the floors. Later he was promoted to stacking (and sweeping the floors).
Donnie and Keith have been partners since their father, Don, passed away in 1990 (Their mother Dora passed in 2021). At that time, Keith dropped out of college and came back to help operate the family business. Some have commented, “I don’t see how brothers can work together.” What they don’t realize is that not only are they brothers, they are also best friends.
Donnie is married to the County Assessor, Sandra (daughter of Fred and Betty Richardson former co-owners of Gerken-Richardson Auto in Waurika. Gary and Becky Gerken were the other owners. Becky is Sandra’s sister). Keith is married to Patricia (Martin), she and her father were the previous owners of the bent can store that was located in downtown Waurika.
The Watkins are descendants of Merle and Jewel Watkins and Lester and Thelma Neal. Merle worked for the WPA, was a farmer and worked for the state. The Neals moved here from Sulphur. Lester had worked for a ranch there that moved their operations here and settled near Claypool.
Over the years they have built parts for new military bases and new towns in Saudi Arabia. They built parts used in facilities constructed for the Summer Olympics of 1996 held in Atlanta Georgia. At one time they even built front bumpers for pickup trucks. They also supplied parts for up to 17 manufactured home companies.
They also supplied specialty parts for the Denver Airport. This was a huge job that literally took a toll on Donnie’s health. He has now been retired for four years. However, he still comes by the shop everyday at noon. If he didn’t he says he would go crazy.
Over the years they have been loyal to their customers and their customers have been loyal to them.
At the height of their productivity, D-K would run two shifts per day. Donnie remembers those days because when he would arrive at work he would have to stack the scrap metal left over from the night crew before tackling his duties for the day crew. During that time they employed around 17 people at one time. One of those working at that time was Terry Pilgreen.
D-K Metal is a parts builder says Keith. He and Donnie said they take flat metal and shape it and mold it into whatever the customer needs.
Their days are long hot and exhausting. It can also be tedious. Some days a worker will stand in the same position for several hours in repetitive motion contraction the same part over and over again.
It takes a steady hand and complete concentration, especially when you are constructing 10,000 identical pieces.
Things have certainly changed over the years. Donnie says he can remember when metal was only 13 cents per pound. It’s over $1 per pound now. They’ve experienced lean times and prosperous times. Things got really tough after 2008. There were times when they only fired up the machines two times per month. Things were tough during the COVID crises as well.
The Watkins brothers are proud to say their employees have always been like a family. Many of their employees stayed with them over 20 years. Some worked for the Watkins more than 30 years. Donnie says he misses those employees who were his lifelong friends. “If you work with someone for 30 years, 8 and 9 hours per day, you are going to know everything about their kids and things going on in their life. You spend more time with them than you do with your own family,” they said. Just to mention a few, the Gozales brothers, Joe Fannon and Robert Gutierrez, Sr.
Along with employees and former employees, the Watkins have developed close ties with the community. Johnson, Auto and Tractor Supply along with Darrell and Carolyn Beaver and Beaver Lumber Company. Gratefulness is the word that best describes their feelings. The feelings the Watkins feel for their fellow business owners and the feelings the fellow business owners have for them. Johnson Auto extends their congratulations for 50 years of business and have expressed that appreciation with an Ad in this week’s paper. Darrell and Carolyn Beaver as well as their ex employees of Beaver Lumber Company wishes to express their congratulations as well. Darrell said there were times when they would exchange fork lifts or help each other in various ways.
“All in all it’s been good,” the Watkins say. The business has been their life. However, they wouldn’t trade their lives and experiences for the world. “Maybe for a little extra money,” they joke. But not for the world.