Dump Day

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.


Anonymous said...

We've found that people who have recently had land logged have lots of tree tops they need cut up and/or removed.

We heat our home every winter entirely with people's "leftover" wood. We have people come up to us and say they have a tree down and can we come cut it up and haul it off.

It's a blessing for everyone. They get rid of a tree they have no use for, and we get wood to heat our home.

Lynn Bartlett said...

Thanks for the post. The boys and I were just sick when we drove through Fargo, ND on our way to my folks' earlier in the month, as it was the beginning of spring clean up week there. The boulevards were piled high with everyone's junk. I think we could have built a barn with all the scrap wood, etc. that we saw. Too bad we didn't have a trailer with us! Since moving up here the boys have become excellent scroungers of stuff, and at least here we have a place to store it!

Anonymous said...


How could you actually support such a notion? I have seven packrats who would just love something like this. I can see it now. Fuller family arrives with a trailer load of junk. Milkman starts to unload it and puts every third piece back in because it is good junk. I stand and argue that if he hasn't used it in 15 years that it really doesn't need to occupy our yard.
While we bicker, the clan works swiftly and finds every piece of junk imaginable. We have to go home and get a second trailer to haul all the stuff home. We left our homestead with one trailer load of junk to get rid of and then return with two loads back at the farmstead. Ohhh....I just can't read this to my group. They would just love it and begin working as a home school self appointed project to start one in our community. I have to draw the line. I think it would drive me over the edge and only encourage my packrats. I was cleaning out Brian's drawers the other day and the three year olds walk in and start chattering..."Mommy is donating Daddy's stuff. You better go tell him."

All humor set aside, it does sound kinda fun.

Anonymous said...

Where I grew up in western NY they had "spring pick up". Every house in the county had a mountain of stuff out front. They traveled around with big trucks and scooped it up and away. That week was the greatest week of the year!!! We would cruise the roads for hours collecting stuff. There were a lot of wealthy Kodak workers in our area....oh, the stuff they threw away! We would get nice JD riding mowers that just needed a new set of plugs, chainsaws that needed some gas, scrap steel to sell and of all things...old farm equiptment. When my buddy Ethan was 15 he hauled home a disc with a geared down bicycle he rigged up for hauling stuff :) Those were the days.

Anonymous said...

Hi Herrick,

About that telephone wire. Assuming it was copper phone wire, even though the wires were very small the whole thing could be thrown in a bon fire and later pulled out clean and ready to sale for scrap copper. I did this with some phone cable salvaged from a construction project I worked on and made something like $330. It was 400 par I think though -- lots of tiny little wires.

Your post reminds me of a few years ago my father-in-law came home from the town dump with a jalepeno plant full of beautiful jalepenos. I thought they were great until he told me they came from the dump. My pride kept me from enjoying them fully--but I still enjoyed them.

BTW, just this past weekend I put my house on the market to deliver myself from debt and to move back to the farm where I grew up and my parents still live. I would appreciate prayers that the sovereign Lord would orchestrate the details of the sale that we get a good price and the buyer gets a good deal and that I would be content with the Lords timing.

May the Lord bless you,


Leslie said...

What a GREAT idea! I would love it if our town had something like this. I think I will look into it. I don't even know where our nearest dump is (still kind of new to the area).

Emily said...

Hi Herrick! Great post! We're full-fledged trash pickers in this household. With my cousin in cahoots, we have practically furnished and decorated our home with curbside finds along with what we've scrounged at the dump. Our local dump doesn't have dump day, but they do have what they call a swap shop where some folks can drop off their unwanted "trash" and others can picked up "treasure"! We love junk!

Hexdek16 said...


Sounds like you got the best of the bargain (your sons as well) in a disposable society that demands everything new and "not sooo yesterday". It is an invaluable resource to find an open classroom in Thrift 101.

Though I abhor 'junk' & clutter there can be a fine line between it and what I refer to as "wanton waste" or an "excess of exuberance" which is what occurs when people go 'shopping' with no defined purpose or need.

Even if you never use it, give it a way or find it didn't work out as well as you though it might.....you know one thing. You didn't over pay!



Herrick Kimball said...

Whimsy:.... That's a great way to get firewood. We heat our home with a woodstove only (have done so for 20 yrs) and I've scrounged a lot of free firewood. But I don't typically get it all free. Good going!

Lynn:..... I read at your blog about the indian casino on your grandfather's farm. How tragic. That would be the ultimate piece of junk, but you wouldn't want any part of that.

KS:..... The funny thing about Dump Day is that sometimes we bring home stuff we find and then bring it back to Dump Day the next year.

Scott:..... People threw away JD lawn mowers??! Wow, that would be a find. I know a guy who, 20+ years ago, used to go around every spring with his dad looking for snowmobiles that people had put out by the road to toss, or that were junkers sitting in the yard, and they would ask if the people wanted to throw them away. He said they collected hundreds of them and accumulated a snowmobile junk yard. They are still at his dad's place and he said they have a goldmine of vintage used parts that they now sell.

Justin.... Oh, now I feel bad. I should have kept that phone wire! Best wishes with the sale of your house and getting out of debt.

Leslie:.... Yes, you really need to find a dump somewhere to pick. :-)

Emily:.... We have salvaged furniture too. The swap shop is a great idea.

Barbara:.... Yes the sewing machine is all metal. I don't think there is a bit of plastic on it. It's a beauty. Nice of you to stop by.

Scott:.... I guess that the good part of materialism and the disposable society is that it provides lots of opportunities for resourceful scroungers. But I'm sure there is an incredible amout of really good junk that gets by those of us who could put it to good use.

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Herrick Kimball said...