Faithful sponsor of News from Behind the Wheel, Ken Osborn, is retiring. The following is a lovely article about Ken, from the Kingston Whig-Standard.
As he emptied out his shop and shut down his business, Ken Osborn -- owner and sole employee of Ozzy's Metal Magic on Montreal Street -- reflected on his 13 years of bronzing people's memories.
The bronzing business was originally built on baby shoes, he explained. Getting your child's first shoes bronzed was once the thing to do, but by the end of the 1990s it had pretty well died off.
"When I decided to start my company, I decided to take it away from just the baby shoes and let people's imaginations fly," he said.
"And boy did they ever fly. The stuff that came through my doors was just the weirdest of the weird, and I managed to pull off every single one of my customers' orders," he said.
"Baby shoes are fine. But instead of a baby shoe, how about a bowl of popcorn? Or a Tim Hortons coffee? Or a pack of hotdogs? I have even bronzed a cigarette and left the ash on the cigarette."
He quickly became known as the guy who could bronze just about anything.
Osborn's counterparts in the United States would refer their customers to him when they couldn't figure out how to bronze something.
"It's simple to me, but they said it can't be done."
One particularly memorable request from south of the border was to bronze a pile of excrement.
"They had no idea how to do a pile of s---," he said.
He has done toys, coffeemakers, bones and animal skulls.
"Anything your imagination could think of."
Maple Leaf foods once sent him three packages of hotdogs to bronze. There were peanuts from a guy in South Carolina and a coffee cup and bagel from Tim Hortons.
"Everybody likes a cup of coffee in the morning. I just like mine bronzed," Osborn laughed.
He sent a pair of mud-coated boots out to Calgary to commemorate the flood of 2013.
He said he will miss the challenges that came with his customers bringing their requests through the door.
Before the item goes into the bronzing tank, it has to go through a series of preparation stages.
"If it didn't get through a particular stage, then it didn't go in the tank," Osborn said.
Osborn once tried to bronze a pie. He could do the crust, no problem, but could never figure out how to do the filling.
"There are still some things that I would really love to have been able to try," Osborn said.
Soap posed a big problem. The ingredients neutralize the acid used in the preparation stage.
An ice cream cone is also a no-no.
"I could bronze the cone, but I can't bronze the ice cream."
There has been a big "Thank You" notice on his front door since he decided to shut things down.
"You have to thank your customers because they are the ones who kept you in business," he said.
Osborn had intended to stay in business and retire in Kingston but changed his plans in order to give his wife Dianne a special anniversary present.
"This year is unique," he explained. "This year, my wife and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary."
His wife's mother, now in her 80s, had been living in Kingston and the two were very close, he continued. But her mother moved out to Nanaimo, B.C., to be with a son and her grandchildren.
"So, as a 25th wedding anniversary gift, we will close everything up and move out west where she can spend as much time with her as she can. We are looking at departing shortly to our new home."
Osborn has been in the bronzing business for 25 years and only got into it when he was looking for a safe place to sleep.
"I was a stubborn-headed kid," he recalled.
Osborn had moved away from his family to be more independent, but things didn't go quite as planned.
"I ended up sleeping on the streets of Kingston."
He had plenty of other family members he could move in with, but his stubborn streak won out.
"My brain and my attitude at that time -- my stubbornness -- said if you move away from your family, you don't move back. You screwed up, get yourself out of it."
It was too dangerous to sleep on the streets, so he spent his evenings with a friend who worked in a bronzing company in town.
After going to St. Lawrence College to become an employment counsellor, he got a work placement at the friend's bronzing firm.
"Twelve years later, I left the company."
By then, he had mastered the basic technology of bronzing but kept learning more and more about what could and couldn't be done.
"I was able to tinker around and teach myself new ways," Osborn said.
After a brief stint as a caregiver for an elderly gentleman, Osborn went back to school for an upgrade and eventually started his own bronzing business in 2002.
In recent years, many of his customers found him on the Internet.
He fielded calls from Australia, England and Germany. Someone in China wanted him to bronze a Wii controller.
Even though he works with some pretty harsh chemicals, Osborn has never been concerned about his health.
He said he learned first-hand with his first bronzing job how dangerous things could get.
"When I started this company, I took the Ministry of the Environment guidelines that were written in 2001 and doubled them. If it said to do this once, I did it twice."
That included a doubled ventilation system.
"If I turned both of them on, this shop's air got a full replacement every seven and a half minutes."
A big part of his business has always been the donation of his work to area organizations and charities.
His Bronze Poppy Project has included bronzed wreaths, flags, memorials and other military-related artifacts that show his support for the country's Armed Forces.
Osborn calls them his "tribute art pieces."
"I don't tell these organizations I am even doing them. I just do it because it has to get done."
It is all part of his motto: "Help as many people as we can before we leave."
Osborn turned 50 last year and "I figured I would do something unique."
So he decided to carry out 50 random acts of kindness over two years, using his talents to create mementoes that would show his support for local agencies and charities.
One such act was to frame and donate old aerial photos from the 1960s, showing the Kingston Psychiatric Hospital, to the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation.
He has also donated to the city a 1918 printing press he got from the former owner of Jackson Press. The press was used to print many of the books for Queen's University and the Royal Military College.
His original plan, should he retire in Kingston, was to take it around the schools to show children how printing was done during the early history of the city.
"I refuse to see any history destroyed, so I made arrangements with the city, and thankfully the city has accepted my request to take possession of it."
Osborn believes it will be cleaned up and placed in a museum.
He decided against selling his business to someone else, since the technology is too advanced for someone to quickly take in. He had taken multiple courses to upgrade his bronzing knowledge and figured it would take six months for him to train someone new.
As far as he is concerned, once he moves out west, "bronzing is done."
Osborn plans to concentrate on his charity work to keep himself occupied.
"I am quite happy. I did over 13 years on my own. I started the company from scratch and decided to close it on my own and carry on with my life," Osborn said.
Originally Published by the Whig-Standard: http://www.thewhig.com/2015/07/15/ken-osborn-of-ozzys-metal-magic-shuts-down-business-will-spend-next-stage-of-his-life-in-bc