ARLINGTON — He’s a muffler man with a menagerie.
Giraffes. Zebras. Pigs. Penguins. Dragonflies.
You name it. Mike Nordine will make it from mufflers and pipes.
“I do exhaust and brakes,” said Nordine, 67, owner of Arlington Muffler &Brake. “And when I’m not busy I do these animals.”
The colorful, whimsical critters stand outside his shop at 101 E. Fourth St. until they find a home. Some cost more than a new muffler.
What’s up with that?
Well, Nordine has always liked to tinker with art stuff.
At first he constructed muffler-head statues like Charlie Blue Eyes, a big, burly dude stuffed in rubber boots and overalls to drum up business when the bay doors were closed.
“I made men to stand out in the cold weather to hold an open sign,” Nordine said.
His youngest daughter, Tara, recognized his talent.
“About 15 years ago when my daughter was very young she wanted me to make her a penguin,” Nordine said. “I told her, ‘Princess, you can’t make a penguin out of a muffler.’ I went to sleep that night and woke up and I made a penguin.”
It was a hit with Tara.
“I thought, ‘Mike, if you start making animals with four legs they’ll stand up by themselves,’ ” he said.
The animal floodgates were open. Out came herds of cows, elephants, deer and reindeer. And gaggles of winged, feathered and scaly critters. Bumblebees, roosters, pheasants, snakes, herons, peacocks, owls and eagles.
Nordine makes about one a week. At $25 to $250, most don’t stick around long. “I put them out by the shop and they sell to people driving by,” he said.
He also donates many to charity auctions and fundraisers.
“This town has been really good to me and you have to give back,” he said.
Nordine was named the Kiwanis 2015 Citizen of the Year. He was recognized as a tireless worker and an integral part of the community.
“I was flabbergasted,” he said.
Nordine joined the Arlington Arts Council about five years ago. “They really helped me,” he said.
His Spider Bike Rack at Arlington Skatepark is among the public artworks in town.
His auto shop makes an ideal arts studio. Tools, paint, nuts, bolts, supplies, rebar and pipes are all at the ready.
“A lot of times I’ll take a piece of pipe that I bend wrong. I’ll throw it in the corner then make a caterpillar out of it,” Nordine said.
“I’ll take a muffler off and look at it and think, ‘I know what that’s going to be.’ Lot of times people come in with these brand new vehicles and want me to take theirs off and put something fancy on.”
For company at the shop, he has Lucy, a real animal unlike all his other creations. She’s a prairie dog with not one but two caged “condos” to play.
Lucy landed a spot on the murals that cover two sides of his building. So, too, did Nordine. He’s the guy in shades depicted in a souped-up Volkswagen.
In his free time, Nordine and his wife, Beth, hike around wildlife sanctuaries for ideas. He looks for driftwood to anchor his rebar-legged big birds.
Chalk it all up to daughter Tara.
“If I didn’t make her a penguin I’d probably never have done this,” he said.