Dateline: 23 May 2006
Twice a year, spring and fall, always on a Saturday, from 10:00 to 3:00, my town has a “dump day.” Town residents can bring their non-household refuse to the town barn and toss it into one of the many enormous dumpsters that are there for the occasion. Folks can get rid of their junk at no cost. Non-household refuse is stuff like old lawnmowers, appliances, televisions, vacuum cleaners, exercise equipment, plastic toys, furniture, and so forth.
Dump day is an event that my boys and I always go to. We do this for several reasons. One reason is that I’m an elected member of my town board and I feel like I have a responsibility to make a show. A few years ago, when we first initiated dump day (as a service to town residents, and an attempt to help clean the town up a bit) we board members would take turns working the five hours, directing folks where to dump their stuff and helping them with the task. Now that dump day has grown in popularity, we pay the three town employees overtime to be there for the whole time. Even still, I feel I should show up and help a little. But that’s not the only reason we go to dump day.
We also go to dump our own junk. I’ll store unburnable items (made of plastic and metal) out of sight behind my shop and haul them out for dump day. But that’s not the main reason why we go to dump day.
The main reason—the biggest reason— we go to dump day, the reason my boys await the day with great anticipation, is that we get to pick over what everyone else throws out. And sometimes we find good stuff!
For example, a couple years ago, one of my neighbors pulled in with a pickup full of scrap and I instantly noticed a long length of thick copper cable. I told him the copper was worth money but he said he just wanted to get rid of it. So I told my son, Robert, that he could have it and to haul it over to our trailer. Later, I showed him how to slice the insulation off with a utility knife. Then we made a trip to the scrap yard and sold it for $89. That was a nice chunk of change for a 13-year-old boy, and it was a real learning experience.
Copper prices have more than doubled since then and Robert has accumulated a copper stash out behind my shop. He has learned that scrap copper is out there and it’s worth money and if you keep an eye out for it, you’ll find it. And a little bit at a time, here and there, adds up to a lot after awhile. It’s like a savings account.
My boys have salvaged old bikes and snow sleds and so much other stuff I can’t remember it all. I’ve made some good finds too. One of my best was an expensive waterproof canvass truck tarp—the kind used to cover a load of hay on a flatbed tractor trailer. Mice had eaten some small holes in one section but the rest of the cover was like new. I brought it home and cut it into manageable sections of useful tarp. I’ve used it to cover firewood and chicken tractors and I think those tarps will last forever—unlike those cheap woven plastic ones I used to buy.
Last Saturday was dump day and, as usual, we were there lookin’ for great finds. Robert got himself a Poulan chainsaw that works. When we got home he wanted to cut a tree down. I pointed out a 6” diameter maple that we could do without. He cut it down, trimmed the branches off and cut it into firewood lengths. James split the chunks in half with his axe. Then they piled the branches on our burn pile and stacked the wood on our woodpile.
Now Robert and James want to go into the firewood business. Robert asked me if I would pay him $30 a cord for the firewood. I told him we don’t have the trees to spare (it’s times like this I wish I had that wooded land I dream of owning one day). But when we buy the old Moravia Grange Hall, there are some trees in the small bit of woodland there that can be cut for firewood. So I told him he will have plenty of opportunity to put his “new” chainsaw to use.
James figured he hit the “mother lode” when he hauled out a big coil of wire with black insulation on it. I thought he did too. But, upon closer inspection, we discovered it was underground phone wire and the wires were very small. So we left it there. But I wish we hadn’t done that because I’ve bought underground phone wire and it is expensive stuff. It was a perfectly fine big roll and I probably could have sold it to someone.
Then James found an electric sewing machine and asked me if he could bring it home. It happened to be in the original carrying case with the instruction manual and looked to be in perfect condition. It was an old Kenmore and surprisingly heavy. We brought it home.
Sunday afternoon, James and me spent some time figuring out how to make it sew. Sewing machines are amazing mechanical devices. The instruction manual came in real handy. After awhile that machine was sewing as well as a brand new model. Fact is, it sews better than Marlene’s old sewing machine.
I don’t think we’ve ever gone to dump day and come away empty handed!
Our family has found this unique little community event (we are not the only pickers there) to be educational, exciting, inspiring, and profitable. I heartily recommend dump picking to you as a wonderful family activity.