Larry Ruyf has always been a puzzle fan, especially of one he began piecing together in 1989 depicting a Coca-Cola collector’s artfully packed shelves.

After two weeks of carefully sorting the 2,000 pieces by color and matching them by shape, Ruyf realized his toughest and most rewarding puzzle had only just begun.

A Life-Size Puzzle

Not satisfied with merely patching together the pieces in the box, Ruyf set out to recreate the collectors’ scene using the real-life versions of the memorabilia pictured in the puzzle.

He and his wife hunted for the vintage objects as they traveled across their home state of California by motorcycle, traversing back roads in hopes of finding an antique store yet to be combed over by fellow Coca-Cola fans.

“It’s all about the hunt,” says Ruyf.

Ruyf met other Coca-Cola collectors, who were eager to help, along the way. One woman took a photo of the puzzle and sent him small objects from it that he had not yet located. His family did the same, carrying a photo of the puzzle with them on trips and reporting back their Coca-Cola findings. One year, his wife surprised him on his birthday with a rare change tray featured in the puzzle.

“For most every piece I have, there’s a story behind it,” says Ruyf. “There are a lot of great memories with this puzzle because it’s all about my life and my history. It’s all good memories.”

For this reason, Ruyf says he can't declare a single object as his favorite. He has many, he explains, each tied to a unique story and experience.

Putting the Pieces Together

Since he began collecting the pieces to his life-sized puzzle nearly 20 years ago, much has changed for Ruyf. Though no longer with his wife, the puzzle has remained a passion – not to mention spectacular room decor.

The original puzzle hangs on the wall of his San José-area home, matted and framed, while the collection it inspired lives nearby. Using the Coca-Cola ruler in the image for scale, Ruyf built a shelf now filled with the nearly 100 objects collected over the years.

With only five or six pieces needed to finish his collection, Ruyf feels the puzzle’s completion will be a little bittersweet.

Though he knows he will miss the hunt, Ruyf is excited for his friends and family to see his finished work.

“It’s just fun to show it off,” he explains. “It’s fun to see people’s expressions as they say, ‘This brings back all these great memories.’"

He concludes, “It’s a part of our history. It’s a part of our life, and it’s the American way. Now that story is on my wall, and there’s a big story to it.”