Towering over the end of Sunny Drive in East Aldine is a tribute to the old cars that have been transformed into automotive showpieces at Ekstensive Metal Works.

The artful work was done by native son Bill Carlton, the expert welder and star of the popular TV show Texas Metal.

Carlton forged the “Tower of Shame” from rusty old car parts as a mystical reminder of his childhood at 1804 Sunny, where he grew up and learned welding from his father.

The 52-year old entrepreneur’s highly successful business of shaping old vehicles into wildly beautiful moving masterpieces is shaped by hard work, determination and self-taught design skills.

The steel workshop is located on the same land where Carlton’s family had a home and welding workshop. Now, he employs about 15 people who work on his automotive creations and the chart-topping TV show.

Texas Metal, the television series, is just starting its seventh season on the Motor Trend Network. The show has more than 72 million viewers in 183 countries and territories, Carlton said.

“That’s pretty damn good for some guys that build cars (here) on Sunny Drive, it’s unbelievable,” Carlton said.

Ekstensive Metal Works’ reputation is built on a unique design element, Carlton explained.

“What this company is based on, what we’re known for all over the world is installing air suspensions,” he said. “That’s basically taking out springs and putting an airbag in place, so it rides on air. Our business of customizing is a unique style of suspension. The name of the game was just putting the biggest wheels on it, and making it flow.”

Bill Carlton

But the business also calls itself a custom metal fabricator for all kinds of needs.

Carlton said he didn’t enjoy learning welding. But he started customizing cars around East Aldine when he was about 16 years old and just kept at it.

“I’ve just been blessed to get to do what I love and just expand year after year,” Carlton said.

 “I know a lot of people who do what they love, but they don’t have the work ethic. That was something instilled in me by my Dad – “to get up and get to work every day, sick, tired, whatever. You got responsibilities, so get out and get it done,” Carlton said.

Like many East Aldine business owners, Carlton employs people from the neighborhood where he grew up. With piercing blue-green eyes under a ball cap that he refuses to remove, Carlton is proud, but laid-back about his success.

“I love creating and customizing cars is most definitely a form of self-expression and pride in what you’re doing,” Carlton said. “You’re rolling around in artwork, and you’re different from everybody else.”

Tower Of Shame

“That’s what keeps this business going and everybody on their toes. Everybody that works for me loves what they do and has a passion for making cool things. And that makes a pretty good day, to have a team like that.”

Carlton said he doesn’t have a “favorite” automotive project, and he only brags a little about some of his former clients, such as Heisman trophy winner and former Houston Oiler Earl Campbell and rock legend Ted Nugent.

Carlton, who now lives in Spring, says he feels a strong tie to East Aldine.

“People do feel a connection to this community. I grew up here, I walked many, many miles up and down the street to the bus stop,” Carlton said.

Carlton attended MacArthur High School for a year and graduated from Nimitz High School.

“I still have family ties to the neighborhood, and I know everybody around here, for the most part,” he said.

— by Anne Marie Kilday