The Wizard of Odds and Ends: 'Gotta look for the rusty gold'

NAMPA, Idaho (KBOI) -- At "Rusty Retro Antiques," you can go blind just walking in the door. There's so much stuff here, piled high to the ceiling, it's hard to know where to look.

In a glass case by the door, a shrunken head. In an alcove downstairs, a vintage TV from the 1950's. And looming over that, a life-size mask of the spitting dinosaur from the movie "Jurassic Park."

It's wildly eclectic and just the way owner Dave Britton wants it.

"Yeah," he says, "a lot of rusty pieces and parts, old farm equipment, traps, all types of stuff."

And then you notice something oddly familiar near the ceiling.

"Is that a beehive?" you ask.


"Why a beehive?"

Says Dave, "You never know."

But apart from the celebrated oddities and the flotsam of decades gone by, like old trains and typewriters, maybe the coolest items on display are the sculptures Dave makes by hand.

To any science fiction fan, they are heart-stoppingly beautiful--elaborate timepieces and ray-guns that would look right at home in the hands of 30's movie action hero Buck Rogers.

Pick up one and you're immediately impressed by the handiwork, if not the heft.

"They're solid metal," says Britton, beaming.

And they're not toys, except perhaps for adults. Price tags running into the hundreds of dollars see to that.

His pieces are scattered all over the shop, like hidden gems.

Britton picks up an elaborate construction that combines brassy clockworks and breathing tubes, something Jules Verne's Captain Nemo might recognize.

"So this is an actual backpack you can wear," he explains. "Breathing apparatus. Gears from an old clock. It actually winds up and rotates."

He turns a key and the gears come to life, spinning and glinting in the sunshine pouring through an overhead window. If you could apply a label to what he does, the one that comes closest is "Steampunk."

Dave's niece, Kristen Randall, runs the shop with Dave and offers a Steampunk primer to any and all who ask.

"Steampunk is Victorian-based," she offers. "Trains and steam-powered engines. And goggles, top hats. Big, full dresses; but it's got a futuristic vibe.

If you've seen the movie "The Prestige," you already know the Steampunk culture. A tale of dueling magicians, it is a celebration of the power of magic at the dawn of the Age of Electricity.

Britton says he was floored when he discovered his creations are the very essence of Steampunk.

"I've been collecting old things for 20 years," Britton says matter-of-factly. "The guns have a Jules Verne feel, but I didn't know there's an actual name for it."

While the pieces are for sale in Nampa, Britton works out of a workshop in his garage nestled in the rolling hills of Ontario, Oregon.

He works on instinct, not from blueprints. And always using found materials, like vintage vacuum tubes. That's why his garage is overflowing with bins of castoffs.

Fanciful rifles cover a few tables. It looks to a visitor like the prop room of a movie in production. But that's not a stretch, since Britton worked for decades in Hollywood as a special effects master.

"Yeah, I got bigger pieces that I am in the process of working on," he says.

Then, picking up a piece that looks like a cross between a musket and gold jewelry, he says with characteristic pride, "This is gonna be more of a rifle-type piece."

The craftsmanship suggests he spent quite a while making it. But that's not true at all. When inspired, and with the right components laid out, he can create one of his masterpieces in an afternoon. He admits, though, some of his guns can take weeks while he scours flea markets or estate sales for just the right finishing touch.

And he doesn't do any welding.

"I solder some of the pieces to make the lights work," his brow furrowing. "But they're all pretty much glued, screwed and bolted together."

Upstairs, it's another story.

Creature masks peek out from the walls like a taxidermy exhibit from a demented circus. Clearly they're not like anything that ever lived on earth. But that's the point. They spring fully-formed from Britton's imagination, one he honed over decades working in the movie business.

He points to a small project on a work table.

"This is pieces of a horseshoe crab that I incorporated to look like an organic robot guy."

No doubt Dave Britton sees the world differently from the rest of us.

He's very much a magician that way, not revealing the process and thus giving greater weight to the prestige of the presentation.

The effect is electric, and almost mystical. So you have no trouble believing Dave Britton is a wizard--of odds and ends.

"You gotta relate to everyone," he says, "so you gotta keep your eye out for the rusty gold that's out there. Not think about what it is, but what it can be."