Almost every day, someone driving along Route 1 will pull off onto the Dodge Road in Edgecomb to see what’s going on at Twisted Iron Customs, owner Mike Benner said.
While sometimes passersby stop to admire a recently refurbished hot rod or classic car in the driveway, the ongoing expansion and renovation project has received a great deal of attention.
“People come up all the time just to see what we’re doing,” Benner said. “We have just as many people who come up here for no reason at all as they do for repairs.”
“Growing up in a fishing community and not wanting to fish,” Benner, of Friendship, started working on cars when he was 15 and has stayed on that career path ever since. For more than two decades, he worked for local Ford dealerships, where he quickly rose through the ranks and became a service manager.
While working for Ford, Benner started Twisted Iron Customs on Route 1 in Wiscasset. Originally, Benner started the business as a shop for motorcycles and hot rods, but it has since evolved into much more, he said.
“I used to think of this as my toy box, but it’s grown out of that now,” he said.
In addition to custom build work, Twisted Iron Customs offers a wide variety of services, from brake replacements and paint jobs to stereo installation and fabrication, to meet the needs of its diverse client base. As a result, Benner has worked on some unusual projects, including painting a breadbox.
“We very rarely say no,” Benner said. “I’ve painted just about anything. Airplanes, boats, you name it, we’ve probably done it. We don’t advertise any of it, but if someone comes in and asks for help, we’ll do it.”
Twisted Iron Customs employs 11 people, a mix of full- and part-time workers. With the amount of custom build work the business takes in – he has 17 builds scheduled – Benner said he could probably hire a couple more.
“Everyone’s a team player here. We shun the word ‘I’ in this shop,” Benner said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re sweeping the floor or fabricating, because when the customer comes in, the floor needs to be swept so they can get to the guy who’s fabricating. It’s all a team effort.”
The teamwork is crucial, Benner said, because the work can be all-consuming at times.
“Once we start a job, someone else can’t come in and take it over. You’re completely dedicated to it, and you have to see it through to the end,” Benner said. “You have to do your jobs to the best of your ability and at some point cut yourself off, because you could do this all day long.”
As Twisted Iron Customs grew over the years, Benner soon realized the business would outgrow the location he leased in Wiscasset. He searched for a new location for about two years before he found the property at the intersection of Dodge Road and Route 1, just beyond the Newcastle line.
With 72 acres of land and 1,100 feet of Route 1 frontage, “it was such a good location for us,” Benner said.
The property was formerly home to Partridge Antiques, a fine antique business, Benner said. He estimated the barn was built in the late 1800s, based on items he and his crew discovered while working in the barn as well as comments from community members.
The purchase wouldn’t have happened if not for financial support from First National Bank and Coastal Enterprises Inc., Benner said.
“I cannot say enough good things about them,” Benner said. “They both were just incredible. There aren’t many businesses, especially places that are loaning you money, that will back you like they did.”
Since closing on the property in the spring of 2017 and leaving his job with Ford, Benner has been hard at work trying to renovate the new property while also meeting commitments at the shop.
He credited the work of his employees and his fiancee, Shelby Bertrand, for the support that has kept everything moving forward. “I owe everything to them,” he said.
The back of the barn has been expanded and the height of the barn’s roof raised to allow for larger projects, such as painting a dump truck or tractor trailer, Benner said. An extension on the side of the building will create a dedicated area for painting, while an expansion on the front of the building, facing Route 1, has created a new storefront.
When possible, materials from the barn have been reused elsewhere. Boards from the barn have been repurposed as siding and trim in Benner’s office, which overlooks Route 1. Benner said he plans to use the same wood to build a new sign.
Originally, Benner hoped to have renovations completed by this month, but numerous weather events pushed the completion date off until the end of 2018. The windstorm in October 2017 forced the shutdown of the Wiscasset location, after fallen trees completely blocked the entrance and exit.
“It put a damper on things a little bit, because it forced us to come here way earlier than what we expected,” Benner said. “But we’ve made it work and are still here working.”
With the renovations underway, the decision was made to take a step back from some of Twisted Iron’s other endeavors. Twisted Iron Grille, a barbecue stand Benner’s brother ran on the Wiscasset property the last two years, will not open this year.
“With everything going on, we decided to cut back and focus on getting the shop up and running,” Benner said. “We actually sold the trailer and will be building a bigger place in the future.”
Once the shop work concludes, Benner has plans for some parts of the 72-acre property. He hopes to convert a house on the property into an apartment and a few offices for other businesses. Similar plans exist for other parts of the property.
“We want to do what we can to bring local business here. It’s not just about building Twisted Iron, it’s about building a community,” Benner said. “As I get older, I’m not going to be able to work this hard for the rest of my life, so I’d like to get other local businesses into town.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all about,” Benner said. “We just want to be blue-collar workers who support our families and our local businesses.”