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Fireworks to Locksmithing? Meet #Lockboss Ken Nixon

Hi everyone! We have an exciting guest. This person has been a part of the community for a long time, contributes a lot in the comments, and does a pretty good job of making fun of me. And that person is none other than Mr. Ken Nixon, so I'm excited to dive into his story, how he got into locksmithing, and I'm sure we'll have a laugh and learn.

Ken: Hey, hi there!

PJ: Mr. Ken, thank you for being out for a bit. It's fantastic to meet you screen to screen here.

Ken: Well, thanks for having me. I was enjoying all your stuff there and learning a lot.


PJ: Yeah, thank you. So, Ken, you've been a part of the lock boss community for quite a while, and I want to thank you for that for all your contributions. And you and we were talking on the phone a few days ago, and you started telling me a little bit about your story, and I became highly interested in some of your background and how you ventured into locksmithing. So if you wouldn't mind, could you tell us what you were doing before locksmithing?

Ken: When I was a child, I always had a passion for locks, so I always had a little padlock or some kind in my pocket and stuff. That was one of my passions, and so were fireworks. And I grew up in Nebraska and moved to California in my teenage years, and then in this state of California, fireworks are in like a drought. You can't have any good fireworks stuff, so I was always collecting locks here and there, mind little locks, and went to college. I got a mechanical engineering degree and worked in the industry for a while, but then I drifted back to the fireworks and stuff. We got involved with some professional manufacturers and display companies in California and trying to figure out how we can shoot fireworks time to music because it's tough to light it with a flare and even get it to end at the same time as the finale. So with my brother, we started the digital pyro company, where we invented and made computerized firing systems. That was my business, and for many, many years marketed that and sold all that equipment worldwide. There's a bunch of it installed in like Disney, and it went out on tour with Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, you name it, are all over the place. I have a competitor too. After so many years, eventually, I sold that business to my long-time friends and customers in Germany. So I retired, so now, back then, it was about 2015, I started picking up locks again, it was my other childhood passion, and I'm amazed how much at my age how much I can learn, so I just kept learning and digging and collecting more.




PJ: Ken, I want to stop you there for a second if I can and rewind a little bit. So when it came to the fireworks and the stuff you were doing, could you help me understand? When I think of fireworks, I think of putting it down a pipe, lighting it on a line, letting it go off, or something you said on the ground, right? And like the fuse, that sounds like the type of fireworks you were doing. Are we not like that?

Ken: Well, there are commercial shells; I was in the aerial market. And so it's the same kind of thing, a shell in the tube only they're much more extensive, and they can go up. The biggest who usually shot commercially were 12 inches in diameter and the size of a basketball, and they're fired out of a mortar, so how do you like that? Well, there's an electric match that looks like a match, but it's got a couple of wires sticking out of it, and it will light the black powder, and the shell will go up in the air. So giant shell is going to take more time to get up into the sky, so if you want to sync it with music, you have to shoot it in advance and when you want it to appear, so that was the crux of the whole system and to fire it in time with music and then it became starting adding water screens and lasers and all these things that customers did and pioneered and developed that whole system. It was received well throughout the world. There was an install that just came out of Epcot down in Florida Disney. It was there for like 20 years, fired every nightly show without a hitch.

PJ: Wow.

Ken: I mean, that was my passion, fireworks. I did a lot of displays. I shot Lake Tahoe, displayed the largest west of the Mississippi for like 30 years, and learned a lot about design, the choreography of the fireworks to music, so it wasn't always fire. Fun, it was a lot of fireworks too.

PJ: Okay, that's a good one. That's a good one. So, when you get into a trade like locksmithing, you can never look at locks the same as before you knew stuff. And so when it comes to watching firework displays, can you sit there and enjoy them, or are you like, how are these things going around in your head?

Ken: Yeah, I'm afraid I'm a little tired. My international suppose when fireworks in Japan when I see some of the most delicate shells made that are not for export, they're only in Japan, by artists to see those kinds of shells and then see a generic commercial show. However, I still enjoy fireworks. There's a consumer in, like, your backyard fireworks. It is a lot of fun, too, so that's more fire fun. With all the big shows, it's a lot of work because you have to have a type mortar for every show, and it's a lot of physical labor just set up an aerial display.

PJ: Absolutely. And I guess it's probably reasonably high pressure for the event or whatever they're doing like you can't like hey, sorry, you know what? It's going to take us a day to get this fixed.

Ken: Well, that's right, when you turn it on, and it starts shooting, it was working a lot of pressure on that end, but it never bothered me. I had a lot of confidence that showed through everything I did and gave me the ability to market that system worldwide, and customers took it and showed it around the world. I had one customer that brought it on tour with all the rock groups and all that and then exposed that all over the world, which was great for business. It was a passion.

PJ: Very cool.

Ken: I had to retire. I mean, it's a lot of work, so I started looking at my other passion, which was locking such locksmithing, so I just kind of studied everything. I'm a big collector of all types of locks, and I got piles of them on my desk here. Here's a bank vault time lock. I put three different types of timers in their electronic mechanical, and I don't know, safe locks sitting on my desk here. This is an X09 DOD secure lock, about an M3 or an M4 Medico all-weather padlock, and even a little Abus cutaway, so I love locks. That's where I'm coming from, so I have a passion for locks.

PJ: Very cool. So while you're doing the fireworks stuff, you still dabble with locks, or?

Ken: Click them occasionally, but never really serious into it. I had some best type locks when I was a kid, and I never understood them. When Stanley bought Best, and then it became open more to the public and Locksmiths, then I dove into small format interchangeable cores. I learned so much about it that it was fascinating.


PJ: Very cool. And so you started going down the road? What made you want to become a locksmith and do some locksmithing work for others?

Ken: Well, that's as friends and friends of friends, and I don't have to do it for a living, so I'm not going to open the trunk car at three in the morning. I don't need to do that automotive stuff. Automotive doesn't interest me as much. It's more high-security stuff, so I'm, working on some friends, gun safes and do things like that, or rekey them, vets clinics doors. I don't have to work at it to make a lot of money because I've already retired and have a successful business, fortunately, so I can enjoy it. As you know, I'm a member of ALOA and SAFETECH, the SafeInvolved Technicians Association. I appreciate that stuff without the pressure of doing it daily, so I'm fortunate in that respect.


PJ: Absolutely. It's very cool that you had this entire career. You ended up selling the business, and you went after one of your childhood passions which are locks and keys and that sort of thing, but you didn't stop there; you created a locksmithing business which is Pyrolock, which after hearing your story, the name makes perfect sense.

Ken: Right, let me show you this was the company, Pyro digital consultants, one of my T-shirts, that was Pyrodigital so Pyrolocks to follow that and Pyrodigital still exists, you can Google it, and the Germans that own it, call it, the equipment they improved upon it and then carried the legacy forward, so that's nice to have stuff still out there.

PJ: Very cool. And so now you get to enjoy when you want to enjoy doing block work, and it also seems that your passion for locks and keys is more vital than ever as you've dug deeper.

Ken: Yep, for sure. I love to take them apart and look inside. Some of the real high-security stuff gets pretty complicated inside, and I'm a mediocre picker, and I follow those guys and watch them take apart locks so I can see what's inside. That's what fascinates me: I'll feel little mechanisms and pins and everything in there.


PJ: Sure. Well, that's very cool. Now, you have a YouTube channel where you post some stuff.

Ken: Yeah, occasionally. Yeah, some silly stuff on there. It's more kind of education. I don't pick things. I take them apart and show you what's inside, new and unusual stuff you probably have not seen before.

PJ: Yes, and I did watch that video. Was it a gas lock?

Ken: It was the old tear gas lock.

PJ: Tear gas, that. I mean, I think it is freaky.

Ken: It was something they built in the 20s, and that's something you could do today, but it could go off on you accidentally, you know?

PJ: Yeah, I mean, yeah. I don't know how comfortable I will be servicing that lock.

Ken: I don't know. Well, some of the safe guys run into that old safes to put a tear gas thing in there, so you have to be aware of it. And you know, if it's made, if you beat on the safe and everything, it'll go off, but if you open it directly without damaging it, you can remove that thing.

PJ: Absolutely.

Ken: Don't want it to go off.

PJ: Yeah, you don't want that to go off. I have been in a situation with a safe that had one of those go off.

Ken: That's funny, actually but not funny at the time.

PJ: Yeah, it was interesting. It was exciting, but once you get that, it's been great hanging out with you and talking to you. Such a fascinating story, from fireworks to then following your passion with locksmithing, and probably the thing I find most fascinating is that as you took that passion that you had for locks and keys, and even after a long, successful career, you decided to start another one, essentially, but this time more on your terms, but you're still doing it.

Ken: Well, yeah, I'm just amazed at how much I've learned in years. I mean, to be successful, you got to follow your passion. That's what you're doing, PJ, you have a passion for that very much, and it shows in everything you do. That's the key to success. If you don't like what you're doing, why are you doing it?

PJ: That's a good point. Well, yeah, thank you. I appreciate you saying that.

Ken: And, you know, sometimes you'll have the lows. You got to have the lows to have the highs, so not everybody's not going to have a great day, and I'm glad I'm doing this all the time, sometimes.

PJ: Sure.

Ken: That's life, you know.

PJ: That is life. Yep. Absolutely. Okay. And that has been fun. Thank you for all the comments and interactions in the lock boss community. We'll have to have you on live soon and let the community ask you some questions.

Ken: Yeah, thanks. Thanks, PJ. Keep up the excellent work!

PJ: Yes, thank you very much. Well, I tell you what, that was a fun, great conversation with Ken, and I enjoyed meeting him, and I'm sure you enjoyed his story as well. But in the comments below, I would love to hear your thoughts about Ken, and it was nice for him to come on and hang out with us for a little bit. Thank you, and we'll see you next time!

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