Ryan Davis sees possibilities in every rusted gas pump he encounters along South Carolina's roadways.
For years, the 28-year-old Camden resident had admired the handiwork of a church friend who restored old Esso pumps and John Deere tractors.
Today, a creation of Davis' own is front and center at the South Carolina State Fair. His Gamecock-styled gas pump, which earned first-place honors in the recycled articles competition, is on display in the Moore Building.
"If I'm on a back road, I'm looking," said Davis, whose work in wastewater testing often takes him on rural highways.
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After deciding to restore his first pump a few years ago, Davis kept an eye out for pumps on along roadsides - where they often are discarded - before finally spotting two in a remote Lake City field.
"A guy had two in his field, and I stopped and asked him about them," Davis said.
He paid $100 for both, getting what he called a "heck of a deal." The plan was to use one pump for spare parts and restore the other to its original appearance.
"I decided that I would like to have a Gulf (station pump), because I like the colors of orange and blue," he said.
His second pump featured a Wizard of Oz-style design, which he choose at the urging of a friend who's a big fan of the movie.
During last year's fair, Davis decided to restore two more pumps - one in honor of the USC Gamecocks and the other, the Clemson Tigers. His hope was to enter one or both in the fair this year.
"I'm one of the few people who like both (schools)," he said. "I kind of pull for both."
The USC pump, the winner of this year's competition, took about 70 hours to complete. The Clemson pump, which is identical except for the colors, took an additional 60 hours to finish.
"It was mostly trial and error," said Davis, who credited his friends with providing lots of help and advice.
The gas pump restoration process begins with sandblasting the pump's shell, Davis explained.
"You've got to sandblast everything - see just what is rotted out," he said. "These things were rotted to pieces."
The blasting is followed by welding, bonding, body filling, priming and sanding - all before the addition of a coat of base automotive paint.
"That's what really brings that shine out," he said.
Davis also had to wire the lights and attach a globe made of glass and vinyl to the top of the pump.
He said the pumps cost $2,000 to $2,500 to complete, but he hopes to recover that when he sells them.
"I'm just going to see what kind of offers I get," he said. "They turned out really neat."
But for the craftsman, giving the once useful objects new meaning is more than a money-making venture.
"It's just something different, and I enjoyed working on it."