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Scrap Seekers

December 15, 2011

Scrap metal collection isn’t just the domain of teenagers looking to make an extra buck anymore. In years past, there were always kids asking to haul away your junk for free. It was like the paper route job of rural kids.

But now, as scrap metal prices continue to rise and people are feeling the pinch of a difficult economy, scrap collection is turning into a full-time job. It’s an interesting development in our local economy.

“It’s become quite a little industry for the folks who want to do the work,” said Matt Bowden, of Lordville, NY. “There’s quite a bit of money to be made if you can do it right,” he told me. Bowden has been collecting scrap for several years and has earned the nickname of “Metal Matt.”

To be sure, in the past six months I have been approached by five different people looking for scrap, ready and willing to wrestle our rusty junk from the old “farm dump” onto their trucks, including some twisted pieces of metal that looked like found sculpture. The old fossils of our busted mowing machines and the old disc plow went the way of our neighbor, Mark McGraw, who collects scrap in addition to his regular job. On average, scrap collectors give their customers a 20% cut of their junk’s selling price, McGraw pointed out, which can be a little extra pocket money (or gas money, as the case may be). Plus there is the added bonus of cleaning up the countryside.

Another older gentleman I’d never met before appeared at my front door recently and told me he had lost his job. He said he had kids, then asked for some old metal he had seen in our woods. The poor man looked like a heart attack waiting to happen, and I felt bad turning him away, telling him that whatever scrap there was had already gone or been promised. It felt like a scene from “The Grapes of Wrath.”

I come from a family that talked about having to eat “canned coon” during the Great Depression. (Raccoon meat preserved in jars.) That was the same era when some local people picked ferns for extra money or made crates for the area’s cauliflower crop, earning two cents a box.

Nowadays, most of the scrap being collected around here comes from old cars, said Bowden. However, one of his most interesting finds was an old magazine printing press, he said.

Of course, copper is a valuable metal much in demand. (The average price was at $3.56 a pound on December 2.) Indeed, regulars at a local hunting camp returned this fall to find all their copper fittings and gas piping stolen. Plus, there are reports of copper theft and damage to infrastructure across the country.