Good Memories & Big Money in Scrap Metal

My son Robert has been collecting scrap metal for the last year or so. Some has come from our town’s twice-a-year junk day. When we take a load of junk to the big dumpsters we look for copper wire, copper pipe, and brass that someone has thrown away. When our neighbor moved to Seattle last year he told us we could have anything left in his barn after he was gone. Robert glommed onto some scrap metal there. When the battery in his field car died, he got a few junk battery donations from friends and relatives. Over time, he assembled a nice little pile of scrap.

So last Friday I took the day off from work to get some things done, and first on the list was a trip to the scrap yard. Robert and James and I drove about 45 minutes to a scrap yard where a friend of mine said they were paying good prices. He had taken two trailer loads of scrap steel from around his homestead and made $300 on each load.

We didn’t have a trailer load, or even a truck load. In fact, we didn’t even have a trunk full in our Honda Accord. But I hoped we might have a couple hundred dollars worth in there.

The scrap yard was out in the countryside, but not far from some major roads, and easy to get to. It consisted of a big pole barn with a large fenced-in scrap yard out behind. Next to the barn was a trailer/office with a truck scale beside it.

I was surprised to see how busy the place was on a Friday morning. Pickup trucks full of scrap, or pulling trailers full of scrap were continually driving in and empty trucks and trailers were pulling out. I drove up next to a sort-of official looking man (he had a hard hat on) and told him I had only a small quantity of non-ferrous metal in the trunk. I asked him where I should take the stuff. I was directed to the big door in front of the pole barn. “Grab a cart, fill it up, and get in line.”

As I drove around to the parking lot in front of the pole barn we saw eight pickups in a row backed up at a curb, about 20 feet from the barn door. Other trucks were in the parking lot with men standing by them, waiting to back up to the curb as soon as someone pulled out. We parked in the lot and walked up to the barn to see what was happening.

The place was a beehive of activity. Men were unloading junk from their trucks into wheeled carts and there was a line of guys with their carts waiting to be weighed on the scale just inside the barn. At the scale, several employees from the scrap yard were separating different metals into different bins. A man in a forklift was zipping back and forth.

Every form of non-ferrous scrap metal that you can imagine was being offloaded and turned in for money. Radiators, car batteries, electric motors, aluminum tire rims, and old power tools were some of the things I saw.

And there were all kinds of men there. Old, young, black, white, fat, thin, clean, and filthy dirty. Not a woman was in sight. All the time we were there (over an hour) trucks and trailers of all sorts and sizes were coming in with scrap piled high. We actually saw one of our farming neighbors pull onto the scales with a load of rusty farm machinery.

A stubble-bearded man backed his old pickup truck up next to us and the guy on the forklift brought a wood pallet with a heavy-duty cardboard box on it. The forklift guy appeared to know the stubble-bearded guy. I watched as the stubble-bearded fellow proceeded to dump containers of copper wire, all stripped clean, into the box. Just before it was our turn at the scales, the forklift guy picked up Mr. Stubblebeard’s box of wire and brought it over to get weighed. I watched the red digital readout go over 2,000 pounds!

Our meager offerings were quickly weighed and separated to different bins. A man handed me a yellow slip of paper with these totals:

Yellow Brass---16
#2 Copper---78

We walked out of the barn and over to the trailer office. There was a line of men out the door and down the steps, waiting to collect money for their scrap. Every couple of minutes a man would walk out the door, stuffing a wad of cash in his pocket.

Behind us in the line was a black guy with a red baseball hat that said, “Sanford & Son” on it. No kidding. He was laughing and talking to the guys around him. The man on the forklift yelled something to Sanford and he replied by yelling back that he (Mr. Forklift) better watch hisself or he (Sanford) was going to have to “open a can of whoopass.” He said that with a friendly laugh. All in all, everyone seemed to be in good spirits.

We eventually made our way up to the trailer door which was actually a porch off the trailer. Inside the porch was a window. Inside the trailer there were at least four women. They were keeping track of the truck scales on the other side of the trailer and handing money out the window on our side.

I had to give one of the women my driver’s license. She made a copy of it, added up how much I was due, and handed me a slip of paper to sign. Then she counted out $306.86. Me and Robert and James walked out the door with smiles on our faces, just like the guys before us did.

As we got in the car, I handed the cash over to Robert and gave the 86 cents to James. We had lots to talk about on the way home. We figured the stubblebearded guy was going to walk away with over $6,000 in cash. We wondered how much money those women in the trailer handed out every day. The hundred dollar bills were going out that window like Monopoly money. And we resolved to keep a sharp eye out for more scrap in the days ahead. There is real good money to be made in scrap metal these days!


But that’s not the end of this story. Before we went home, we went to the mall. We were on a mission to spend that money.

Not long ago, Robert told me he figured every man needs four things: guns, carpentry tools, mechanic tools, and fishing equipment. I marveled at this wise observation when I heard it. He doesn’t want a cell phone or an i-pod or some electronic play equipment—my son wants to acquire tools. He is a chip off the proverbial block, that boy is.

I have, on numerous occassions, advised my sons to buy themselves a good set of sockets and ratchets and wrenches when they are young. I told them that if they do this, and they take care of the tools, they will serve them well for their whole life. I still have the Craftsman socket set I bought when I was 20 years old. Such tools are something of an investment. They can make you money and they can save you money (which is kind of like making money).

So it was that Robert decided months ago that he would buy himself a good set of Craftsman sockets and wrenches with the money he got from the scrap metal. And it turns out that you can buy a very good set of sockets for three hundred bucks. Robert traded a relatively small pile of scrap metal (free for the taking) for a 283-piece set of wrenches that should last him his lifetime.

Us guys had a lot of fun that morning. We made a good memory together. Maybe some day Robert will tell his sons this story. And maybe, when I'm dead and gone, and he is still using those wrenches, he will think back and remember the time we had. I like to think so.


Bethany said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing.

mark said...

When I was growing up in the Old West Mining town of Globe, Arizona[Billy the Kid once lived there}, we repaired the termite damaged kitchen floor of a old house my Dad owned. Under the floor, the support post was held up, by 3 old copper ingots, the old miner who had once lived there had put there. They became doorstops for several years, until my brother and I tried to take them to the recycle center. Well, I found out that I was NOT supposed to have such things from the Anaconda mines. It took awhile to get them to believe my story of where the ingots came from. "Ya, sure they came from under a house, buddy" But they were so heavy, we got a pretty penny from them. I wish I had kept one, they were great pieces of history.

Matthew said...

Scrap prices are sky high here in Michigan too. Not too long ago my uncle took some "short" steel in (over 1/4" thick and no longer than 24") and got $270 a ton.

Some other friends are taking their old junk vehicles to the scrap yard for $170 a ton--drive over the scales hand over the title and walk out with $170 a ton! The price of used cars (and farm equipment) is going way up. A lot of that kind of stuff is being cut up for scrap. It's kinda sad in a way, to see all that older equipment just go to be melted down.

"Investing" in tools and such [guns :-)] is something I tend towards too. Makes more sense to me than buying five bucks of pop a day or whatever.

Hmmm, a Whizbang Socket Organizer...I'm sure that it will be convenient, practical, original and something almost everyone (who is handy enough to have enough sockets to need organizing) will be able to make (as soon as you come out with the plan book, of course!)

Here we're waiting on the bearings to come for the Plucker to finish that up, and I just bought the hardware and plywood for the Garden Cart. We're also wondering if you could share any more about the Compost Sifter.

Staying tuned in....


Big Dreams, Little Farm said...

scrap metal prices are so high because China is buying it all. I think it would be a tragedy to sell any scrap metal you could possibly use in the future, especially farm equipment, to China.


Anonymous said...

I live near Youngstown, Ohio. The value of scrap has gotten so good(bad?) that people are breaking into abandoned houses (the area was hit hard by the mortgage crisis) to steal the copper pipes out of the basement and walls!

Anonymous said...

Whenever you see someone else willing to pay more highly for something than you would pay for it then you should think through some basic economics, because it might be very important to your future. Sometimes someone else wants it more than you do because of personal choice, like they enjoy the color red but you don't. I don't think this is the case with the chinese and scrap metal. When it appears to be that they want it more then you due to basic economic forces, you need to consider whether or not they are deceived about its value, or you are. If there are a lot of them thinking it is worth much more than you do, then start examining your own presuppositions, because you may be the one that doesn't understand something.

I wouldn't be selling any 1/4" plate steel for the low prices I saw here in this post right now. That is because stuff like that is getting extremely difficult to buy these days, and when you do find it the price is very high.

I wouldn't be selling any old "junk" farm equipment for the extremely low prices I saw you guys a mention. This is because it is getting extremely expensive to obtain the means of production these days at an affordable price.

A friend of mine just bought more than ten pieces of draft animal powered farm equipment for $4000 or so. To most in our debt based corporate system, the equipment looks like rust covered junk or scrap. Lots of people shake their head at us being interested in such stuff. He bought two riding plows, a 12' dump rake, a Dane hay press, two sorghum presses, a corn grinder, planter, disc, a forecart, and some other items I can't think of right now. All in working condition. He obtained it for a fraction of what we thought it was worth. If we'd had to buy it all "new" it would have cost $40,000. So take a second look at market forces before you sell your "junk."

Many farmers are beginning to see the wave of the future and are switching over to draft animals to get the work done. Here's one reason why, from a recent Associate Press article:

High gas prices drive farmer to switch to mules

May 21 02:53 PM US/Eastern

MCMINNVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - High gas prices have driven a Warren County farmer and his sons to hitch a tractor rake to a pair of mules to gather hay from their fields. T.R. Raymond bought Dolly and Molly at the Dixon mule sale last year. Son Danny Raymond trained them and also modified the tractor rake so the mules could pull it.
T.R. Raymond says the mules are slower than a petroleum-powered tractor, but there are benefits.

"This fuel's so high, you can't afford it," he said. "We can feed these mules cheaper than we can buy fuel. That's the truth."

And Danny Raymond says he just likes using the mules around the farm.

"We've been using them quite a bit," he said.

Brother Robert Raymond added, "It's the way of the future."

[end of AP article]

So when somebody thinks something is worth a whole lot more than you'd ever pay for it, think again. Maybe they see something about where we're headed that you don't! I like to eat, don't you?

Jeffrey Alan Klute

dukygurl said...

I think your blog is very interesting and I am enjoying learning about NY and the things around by reading some of it. I just moved here and I am more and more surprized at the weather! Friends in MO are already swimming and planting! Wow it is cold here!


She dragon said...

A great read.
We once took some lead in that had blown off the roof of our old house and that of our neighbours in a storm . We got about £30 per house (6 houses,20 years ago now).
We have home schooled our kids too in the UK .

Clint said...

You said "There is real good money to be made in scrap metal these days!" But the truth is that there may be lots of money to be made in scrp metal, but not good money.

In fact, that is the reason there's lots of it: because it ain't no good!

Herrick Kimball said...

Hey Mark-
That's a great story. #2 copper is now $3.08 a pound.

The scrap yard we went to is paying $225 a ton for cars with or without the motor. Short steel is $350 a ton.

As for the compost sifter, I have been using it lately to sift soil in beds around a back door patio. It works good but I really need to simplify the design before I can call it a "Whizbang" and publish plans. That probably will not happen any time soon. The good news is that if I come up with a "Whizbang " socket organizer, I'll just tell the world how to make one on this blog. No planbook.

Yes, Chinese demand is insatiable. I will read the article you posted the link to. I have read elsewhere that the demand is not supposed to subside for the next couple of years. That may translate to even higher scrap prices.

Metal theft is happening here too. I've heard that manhole covers in the streets are being stolen.

I agree. Horse power makes sense to me, and it is a cryin' shame to scrap things that have the potential to be used for productive purposes.

Welcome to New York state. It has been unseasonably cold here. But it'll warm up for a couple months, and I think you'll like it just fine.

she dragon-
They are paying 22 cents a pound for lead. I've never seen a lead roof! I applaud you for home schooling in the UK.

Well, now you're getting technical on me. :-) But I hear you. You're correct. American fiat money is not far from Monopoly money. It is becoming more and more worth-less. But it was worth enough to buy some nice tools. So maybe I should have written: "There's a lot of good tools to be made in scrap metal these days!"

Thanks everyone for your comments....