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CHEYENNE — A large, black-and-white fire hydrant painted to look like Snoopy and surrounded by tall, purple irises is the first thing to greet visitors at Bob King's house at 2857 Olive Drive.

"A lot of little kids have had their picture taken next to Snoopy," King said proudly.

King has a collection of 84 fire hydrants.

"You have to understand me," King said. "I'm cheap, I like to be different and I like big things. How many people do you know that collect fire hydrants?"

Most people in Cheyenne who have fire hydrants once worked with Cheyenne Fire and Rescue; King is a retired college math professor, with no connection to firefighting.

He doesn't even own a dog, although he always gets asked.

Fire hydrants of all ages, shapes, sizes and colors — including fire hydrant red and patriotic-striped red, white and blue — are alongside King's driveway, by the side of his home and in his back yard.

A black hydrant King built from a hand-held model of a canon is in his basement.

His collection is OK with his wife, Heidi — as long as it stays outside.

"As you noticed, there's nothing in the living room," he said.

King began collecting fire hydrants in 1987 when he lived in LeMars, Iowa.

The water department there allowed King to take the hydrant near his home.

"I got to know those guys, and they gave me fire hydrants when they were old," King said.

An ad in the LeMars newspaper asked for summer help at the town's water department, and King got the job, making it easier for him to acquire hydrants.

The hydrants have histories that King researched, while some just have wild stories attached to them involving bull snakes, football players and a college student with a lost transmission.

Most of the hydrants are from his home state of Iowa, but he has several from Wyoming and elsewhere.

A hydrant from Tunkhannock, Pa., looks like the dome on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Another small, skinny hydrant from Ruthven, Iowa, isn't dated, but King estimates it's from the early 1900s.

King is so interested in the history of the hydrants, he has written some of the companies, talked to the presidents on the phone and received miniatures of fire hydrants for his display.

While living in LeMars, the King family made annual Thanksgiving road trips to visit family in Cheyenne, stopping to notice the fire hydrants. He would write letters to the water departments in each town asking them for used hydrants.

Collecting hydrants isn't easy. King often gets hydrants for free or buys them for around $10, but it sometimes takes years after he acquires the hydrant for him to get it into his yard.

King acquires hydrants and sometimes waits until a friend is heading in the same direction to retrieve it.

"I just have no way of getting them," he said. "I have a fire hydrant in Newport, Rhode Island. It's in storage there."

A fire hydrant's weight adds an extra challenge to his collecting.

"You don't put stamps on it and mail it," he said.

Water departments use fork lifts to get the hydrants into his truck. That's not a problem — but getting the hydrant out sometimes is.

In LeMars, King selected three football players in his math class to move a 300-pound hydrant from his truck to the backyard.

When King moved from LeMars to Cheyenne in 2001, an old U-Haul trailer and his Ford Ranger pickup were filled with fire hydrants that combined weighed more than a ton.

The Snoopy hydrant got its inspiration in LeMars. Heidi King said it's her favorite hydrant story.

King got permission from the LeMars Water Department to get creative with one of the hydrants, and it wound up looking like Snoopy.

The couple said the fire chief worried everyone would start painting hydrants, but it didn't happen.

"So they wanted to paint it over. It ended up staying because people liked it," Heidi King said. "That's why we have a Snoopy."

King's neighbors have caught on to the trend of collecting hydrants. He said some of his neighbors have them as decorations in their yard.

Lt. Mike Christmann, who works in fire prevention for Cheyenne Fire and Rescue, said people can buy fire hydrants from the Cheyenne Water Department only when the hydrants are decommissioned.

Hydrants are put out of order when there's a change in the water department lines.

The city's fire department office in the city building has fire hydrants displayed.

"I have a couple of hydrants myself, and most firefighters have hydrants," Christmann said.

He said it's just part of their job. "We have a retired firefighter who has his own ladder truck and hydrants," Christmann said.

Copyright © 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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