The Story (and the Artist) Behind the Swamp Rabbit Trail Benches

by Melinda Long


 

Blogger’s Note:  Once again, I find myself in the strange position of interviewing someone that I’ve known for many years.  (Don’t tell anybody, but I used to babysit Danny Kyzer.  I lived across the street and have been friends with his grandparents, parents, and many of his extended family since we moved there when I was ten years old.)  He is truly creative and I found a great deal of joy in writing this piece about his ongoing passion.

 

All Photos by Jane Howard Photography

 

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Walking or riding along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, you find the need to sit for a while.  Calling your name is bench made of steel. You sink in to relax for a bit and enjoy the view.  It’s lovely out here; most anybody who frequents the trail will tell you that.  After you have a moment to catch your breath you notice that this is no regular bench.  There are trees and cows artfully welded into the bench.

 

 

This is no ordinary bench.  It was created by TR’s own Danny Kyzer. This particular bench was created for Claudia Beckwith and her family to honor her father, whose roots go back to farming in Eastern North Carolina.  It sits behind the Café at William’s Hardware.

 

 

There are others along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, also created by Danny.  One boasts flowers and children and was commissioned by Linda Satterfield and her family to honor her mother who was a school teacher.  The ends of the bench are made from an old school desk.

Keep looking, you’ll find lots more.

 

 

Danny is now pursuing his dream as a welder and an artist.  “My love of welding and fabricating made itself apparent in the maintenance shop of a local golf course where I worked as a mechanic,” says Kyzer.  “I took two welding courses at Greenville Tech, but it was on the job where I found my love and learned how to figure things out. My supervisors there also fostered an environment where I could grow both as a welder/problem solver and a person. I owe much to these individuals for my success with metal art. Even though my welding was of a repair nature, these were the seeds.”

The benches are made from salvaged steel.  Some of the originals contained wood but the wood was eventually replaced by Greenville County Rec with a more durable plastic lumber.

 

 

But what is the inspiration for each bench?  “The bench form evolves as the sponsor and I meet to get to know the purpose of the sponsorship. Most of the benches honor a family member, but the Keen/Mast General Store bench is about businesses with an impact in our community,” Danny tells me.  “We usually have a phone consultation and a follow up meeting to brainstorm ideas. Then it simply stews in my brain. This is the long, difficult part of the journey, but I have seen wonderful things happen from a list of thoughts, to a rough drawing, to a refined drawing, to the shop. Even in the shop, changes for the better happen, but I always keep communication with the sponsor open.”

 

 

Danny has always had a desire to create. “My Grandaddy Kyzer was a metal-working genius who could draw or build anything he wanted. He is always on my mind when I create, kind of the voltage behind me, if that makes sense.”

The connection with our beloved trail came from a childhood growing up at the foot of Paris Mountain. He remembers the train and loved it.  “Upon learning of the plans to pull the rails and make the RR a trail, I longed to be a part somehow. I attended a public meeting years ago where the future of the Swamp Rabbit Trail was being discussed. Only a handful of people attended. They discussed plans for an hour, then someone turned to me and asked why I was there. I had a portfolio with drawings of signposts and mile markers, and they passed it around. That was about it. It was months later, maybe a year later, that Greenville County Rec contacted me about building benches for the trail.”

The benches have taken anywhere from three to fifteen months from concept to delivery.  It all depends on the sponsor, who they want to honor, and how they wish to convey that honor.

 

 

Danny is the divorced father of four kids, all teen-aged and older.  He credits much of his ability to build and fix things to his grandfather Dave Park.  “He and I would crawl under houses and in attics to make repairs because he was always helping people. He could build anything as well. Of course, all my family has been a positive influence and have encouraged me in many ways.”

Danny says he enjoys “hiking, kayaking, getting coffee, my motorcycle, drawing silly pictures for my Instagram account @worldofmoats.”

 

 

Danny’s father often told Danny and his siblings stories about Marvin Moats and his family. “Moats are cotton mill waste which dad would get to put on his garden. Piles of moats were in abundance at one time in Greenville … dad went to one near Furman behind the Walmart Market near Duncan Chapel. We would go with him and help shovel the now rich, black cotton waste into a trailer. Every now and then we’d find a bobbin or other random mill piece. His mother worked all her life in a mill in West Columbia, so he knew a lot about all that.”

 

 

That, in turn, lead to another of Danny’s creative ventures.

“My kids and I drew together all the time, and Harry Moats was born out of those drawing sessions. I owe so much to my children for ideas and thoughts that we laughed over and enjoyed. I wanted to create a children’s book, so I did. Createspace and desktop publishers make that easy. The marketing of books? That is a whole ‘nother proposition entire!” His books are currently available locally at The Café at William’s Hardware.

Danny presently focuses his creativity on welding beautiful benches.  If you’d like to sponsor a bench, contact Ty Houck at Greenville County Rec (THouck@greenvillecounty.org).  The $2,200 cost goes partly to the Swamp Rabbit Trail for maintenance and future projects.  You can be as creative as you like and use your bench to memorialize a person or an event or a business.

 

 

You can also follow Danny’s welding art in progress on his Instagram account.

 

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