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:
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.
Oh, one more thing....
Organizing socket sets is something I have been giving a lot of thought to. You can buy different socket organizer contraptions, but they can be expensive and I don’t like any of them. That said, I have an organizing idea that I’m going to work on very soon. Who knows, it might turn out to be a Whizbang Socket Organizer idea. If so, you can be sure I’ll report on it here.
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