ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — About two years ago, Ronald Duis was in his man cave in Canby, Minn., surrounded by Harley-Davidson-themed memorabilia, but he was looking for something a little different to add to the space.
While searching the Internet for ideas, he came across fire extinguishers with cutouts in the front and Jack Daniel’s bottles sitting on the inside.
Duis said that sparked his interest, and he thought of adding decals, fancier cutting and lights “to jazz it up a bit more.”
“I just assumed that if they cut open a fire extinguisher, there must be possibilities,” Duis said.
Since then, Duis' extinguisher art has grown in popularity; at Past & Present Home Gallery in downtown Alexandria, Duis has four customized extinguishers on display with the themes of law enforcement, volunteer firefighters and tractors.
Duis cuts out an area from the metal exterior to reveal an arrangement of figurines situated on the base. After making a cut on the outside, he said he has to clean out the chemical and sand off the remaining residue before painting the walls.
Duis said had extra time on his hands after retiring, so he started making a few similar to the one he saw online. One man requested a fire extinguisher with a trophy in it, so Duis told him he would see what he could come up with.
While Duis was shopping at Past & Present Home Gallery, he noticed some old trophies he could revamp for the project. While purchasing them, the cashier asked him about what he’d be using them for.
“Oh, you’re into trophies?” the cashier asked.
“Well, I just take parts off of them,” Duis said.
“What do you do with them?”
“I put them in fire extinguishers.”
“Do you have a picture of one?”
After seeing them for herself, the cashier said they might be interested in selling some at the store. Past & Present calls itself "The Antique Store with Character," as shoppers will find a mixture of furniture, antiques, handmade products and collectibles. Some items are more than a century old, and others are newer, like the customized fire extinguishers.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind type thing,” Duis said.
Word of mouth around his hometown and the partnership with Past & Present caused a small basement project to grow into something much bigger than Duis originally anticipated.
He now sells to Past & Present in Alexandria as well as two other vendors, one in Minnesota and another in South Dakota. He and his wife make crafts and knick-knacks, so he also started selling them at their booth at the Peddlers Market in Watertown, S.D.
He works with a company to get old fire extinguishers for his projects because schools and hospitals are required to replace their fire extinguishers on a regular basis, whether they’re good or not. Most will recycle the metal anyway, so Duis said it works well to snag the used ones.
“My little hobby turned into pretty much a full-time job,” Duis said. “It all works out, but it takes time.”
As Duis designs more fire extinguishers, people come up with more creative ideas for how to theme them, such as hunting, semi trailers and motorcycles.
“Whatever will fit in it, you can usually make a theme for it,” he said.