By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Down a quiet country road, brown clouds drift over the corn fields. But whether on the farms of Minnesota or the battle hardened deserts of Iraq, driving tanks or ATVs, dust is a formidable enemy, choking both man and machine.

For a group of recreation minded ATV riders there’s no getting around it; the more the fun, the more the dust.

“The dust would just bother me,” explains Steve Torbenson.

Not until the Burnsville dad had kids did Torbenson think much about what they were breathing in. He loved to take them for trail rides on dirt bikes and ATVs but it got to the point that a weekend of riding was no longer worth the risk. That’s when he decided to do something about it.

“Every time you’d look at them they were so dusty,” said Torbenson. “I thought, boy, we’re having fun but there’s got to be a better way. We gotta be able to protect them.”

He tried paper dust masks and wet bandanas but nothing seemed to do the job. So in his garage, Steve invented what he believes is the finest and least expensive solution. It’s a neoprene and carbon filtered mask that’s lightweight and snug. Most importantly, it filters out 99.9 percent of all particulate.

Torbenson is now marketing what he has named the RZ mask!

“We’ve sold them all over the world — New Zealand, Australia, Russia,” and on and on the list goes, Torbenson explained.

And what began as a mask for ATV and dirt bike riders is blossoming beyond belief. The orders are coming in from the military, firefighters, hunters and even farmers.

More than 10,000 of the RZ masks have already been sold in just the first year. That includes many to families of soldiers stationed overseas.

“They’ll actually order a few of them and send ’em over to husbands and wives over in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they seem to be working well over there too.”

The soldiers seem to prefer RZ’s patriotic pattern, with the face of a soldier and red, white and blue. It’s just one of 16 styles his company markets. He’s even supplied masks to archeologists working dusty sites in Greece and to men and women fighting wildfires in Texas.

“Right now we’re selling tons to ranchers, farmers, we’ve even sold to people who do auto body,” Torbenson said.

From a home office and shipping department located in his garage, he and his workers are preparing to take delivery of another 30,000 masks in the weeks ahead.

And for Torbenson’s son, Jordan, wearing one makes riding the dusty trails, fun again.

Explains Jordan, “The first couple of times I wore it I knew it was there, but after 15 or 20 minutes you just completely forget it’s there. You breathe clean air and it’s good!”

Once a custom-home builder Torbenson’s building his new business, one nose at a time. Tapping the powers of social media, and the thirst for fresh air.

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