By Sadie Hunter
Rick Heflin loves downtown.
Born in raised in Noblesville, he graduated from Noblesville High School in 1972 before emerging as one of the city’s best-known residents, distinguished by his art, community involvement, dogs and beard.
But now, Heflin will be known for something else—making the large train locomotive centerpiece for the city’s first pocket park, Riverwalk Depot, immediately west of the Nickel Plate Railroad and Bolden’s Dry Cleaners, north of Eighth Street.
“I was talking with Alaina Shonkwiler (Noblesville Economic Development Specialist) one day. She was telling me about this idea of this little pocket park,” Heflin said. “She was saying that they wanted to have a bike station and a bike rack and everything. So we started talking and realized that this really is the trailhead for the whole downtown trail system. So we thought, ‘You know, we need to do something a little more spectacular, something a little more than just a bike rack,’ … So I made up a small model of a train.”
“The City of Noblesville is really trying to activate unique and underutilized features of our city,” Shonkwiler said. “It’s important to take these irregular pieces of land and/or areas of our community and re-energize them.”
The 0.15-acre Riverwalk Depot was previously used as a truck turnaround lot for Duke Energy trucks visiting the facility just south of the pocket park.
“That’s all it was. It was just gravel, just ugly gravel,” Heflin said. “I didn’t see all this. I knew it (the pocket park) was going to be cool, but I didn’t really know it would be this cool.”
“There was no denying this small, gravel parcel was an eyesore and had been an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue. In looking at the unique shape, and the challenging features like the three power poles, four guy wires and the proximity to the railroad tracks, the city knew we had to overcome these challenges and that the parcel had potential for beautification,” Shonkwiler said. Not much else could have been done with this parcel, and it’s tucked away so only those who truly use the trails through downtown really ever saw it. It’s a gateway into our downtown, unique as it is truly a gateway in regards to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.”
Four years ago Heflin, 61, and his wife Carol sold their four-bedroom, three-bathroom home to move into a small apartment behind what is now the 1 of One Gallery at 942 Maple Ave. downtown, where he sells his metal art. His shop, RC Metalworks, sits next door at 936 Maple Ave.
“It was just Carol and I and our dogs, and we only used three rooms,” he said. “So now we’ve moved into the apartment that’s three rooms. It’s great. We love the downtown and all of the events.”
While it’s his largest piece, the train isn’t Heflin’s first foray into public art. Just recently, he built indoor railing for the new South of Chicago Pizza downtown, and before, his work has been displayed at White River Christian Church.
Metalworking has been Heflin’s day job, building automation machinery, for more than 40 years, something he says makes him money but also serves as his artistic release.
“(Building the train) was a long process. From start to finish it was a year and a half,” he said. “The design was dictated by stuff I found. I would say 90 percent of it is recycled metal.”
However, the piece was complete nearly one year ago and sat in Heflin’s shop until it was ready to be moved.
“When I built it, I built it as a bike rack, but I tend to think it will be more of a photo op than a bike rack. I’ve already heard of senior pictures being taken on it. The most thrilling thing I get from it is the fact that people want to be seen with it or have their pictures with it. We really want people to come year after year and do growth (photos). It’s going to be here for quite a while, ” Heflin said.
With the train, his legacy in town, to his family and to others who know him, has been solidified.
“I’m sure as the grandkids get older, they will come by here on the trail and (say), ‘Hey, my grandpa built that,’ so that’s kind of a cool thing,” he said. “But it was more of a desire to pay back the city a little bit, because they’ve been good to us. We’ve been blessed since we moved into town,” he said. “It’ll bring me work no matter what.”
1 OF ONE REOPENING
On Oct. 24, the 1 of One Gallery will reopen at 942 Maple Ave.
“We’re going to have more of a masculine-type gallery,” Heflin said. Retail sales from The Rugged Company will complement art from RC Metalworks. The gallery will also feature other local artists and will have a specific wall highlighting the work of high school artists.
“Noblesville right now, I think, is just on the cusp of hitting the arts scene. I think in the next few years, we’re going to see a lot more public art.