Larry Larson’s business card isn’t printed on paper. In fact, it looks more like a paperweight.
Larson hands out 1-pound widgets, old gears or other industrial parts onto which he’s engraved his name, his business’name, P2 Industries, and his phone number. In the process, he has created a business card that no one will tuck into their wallet and forget.
Then again, Larson’s marketing materials are perfect for his profession. He is an architectural/industrial artisan who can fabricate nearly anything from metal, concrete, glass or wood. But he also can bring new life and function to antique machinery, old wooden beams or any other well-used relic that others might banish to a landfill.
Larson and his two employees, Chris Lill and Larry Wallander, work their magic out of a West Fargo shop affectionately known by several nicknames, including “The Toy Factory,” “The Metal Lab,” and “the Palace of Rust.” Larson grins with enthusiasm as he points out the various projects that fill the “palace.” Over there is the concrete rebar that will be repurposed into a bar foot rail. By the door is the old safe that spent decades in a country basement and which will eventually decorate a corner of the Loretta Building. And that pile of rusty iron over there? It’s actually a rare, decorative bank gate, which Larson plans to repurpose as a garden gate.
Larson says he earned his appreciation for well-worn objects from his stepdad Wallander. “His motto was, if you can build it, don’t buy it,” Larson says. “He’s taught me a ton.”
Larson’s ability to revive the old and invent the new has made him a valuable resource for Kilbourne Group. He designed and fabricated several striking components of our 300 Broadway showplace, the SkyBarn, including the raw steel-and-barbless-fence-wire stair rails. More recently, he refurbished a very old, very dilapidated fire door, which originated in the old Pierce Printing plant in downtown Fargo, to become a historic architectural feature in the new 300 Broadway condos.
Once installed, the door adds instant warmth and character to Unit 205, which also has been outfitted with historic Douglas fir beams and posts by Chris Borgmann of Tomlinson & Sons.
The door’s original army-green hue had been covered in several coats of highly durable clear coat, which gives the surface a rich, satiny color while preserving its authentically worn, industrial appeal. (A second fire door, also from Pierce Printing, awaits renovation for a new condo on the third floor.)
Yet it took hours of elbow grease to turn this steel war horse into a show pony. The door was originally manufactured by Stremel Manufacturing, a Minneapolis business that produced different types of fire doors.
The door slides like a barn door, but was originally weighted so it would roll down a bar mounted at an angle. It was held in place by a fusible metal link with a very low melting point. If a fire broke out, the link would melt and the weighted door would slide downhill and slam shut, confining the flames long enough for inhabitants to evacuate.
The door’s restoration was like an archaeological dig, its strata of paint and grime hinting at its past. Formerly a boiler-room door, it was covered with residue from oil-burning and coal-burning furnaces of the past. It took 12 hours and plenty of industrial paint stripper to remove its “layers and layers and layers and layers,”of paint. Hardware was removed, stripped and,when all else failed, sanded smooth with an electric grinder.
The piece was then scrubbed clean and completely shrouded in several coats of a clear coat, specially formulated for use on raw steel.
One thing Larson doesn’t want to do on restoration projects is lacquer and polish an old piece to look brand-new. Instead, he leaves just enough of the character and patina behind to remind admirers that this object has been around for years, and rightfully earned its dents and rust spots.
As Larson and his team worked, they marveled at the solid craftsmanship of the door. Although some of the first fire doors were filled with asbestos, this one, fortunately, was wood with a steel shell. It weighed around 200 pounds and took two people to lift and install.
“We like overbuilt things,” says Larson, whose work has given him a new appreciation for artisans of the past like blacksmiths. “When you look at the architecture, the time spent, the attention to detail, that’s kind of been lost today. We live in a McDonald’s world, where we want the quality of yesterday for the value meal price.”
But that’s not the case at P2 Industries, where Larson unearths the gems underneath the dirt and rust. “God gave me these hands to create and for people to enjoy what I make,” he says.