Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Metal Men

The local iron and metal scrap yard is like something out of Mad Max: on a typical day, a long line of flat-bed 18-wheelers and old pickup trucks wait patiently in line to be weighed before and after dumping a load of twisted metal, chatarra in Spanish. Beyond the scales and office, spindly cranes literally fling huge pieces of metal across the junk pile. Amazing!

Some of the steel becomes raw material for a steel mill about 45 miles away. It is melted down in a powerful electric arc. A student in my program, a metallurgist for that plant, said each "heat" uses more electricity than the entire one-day consumption of the city of College Station, population about 76,000.

Metal salvage is an entire underground economy of which I was ignorant.

On a smaller scale, men in beat-up pickup trucks troll through the neighborhoods in my community looking for scrap metal. A few months ago, I gave a lawnmower, old grill, and other scrap metal I'd been saving to a grandfather with his two grandsons. He said the local metal scrapyard paid $10/100 pounds. Two grandsons helped out as apprentices. I remember thinking this hard-working man was spending time with his grandsons, the most valuable commodity one can give a child, and teaching the value of a good worth ethic.

A few weekends ago, some nonworking rice cookers, box fans, and some other metal that I set out at the curb were picked up in less than one hour.

On a dog walk recently, I found a broken pantograph-style car jack and some other metal, which I carried home and set out behind a bush until I could accumulate enough to make it "worthwile" to pick up. A man on a bicycle spotted the metal, then knocked on the door to ask if he could take it. Of course! Now I actively look for metal to set out for the metal men to recycle and to help them make a few bucks. This scrapper said that since the economy tanked, a lot more people are turning to scrapping, which decreased the value of his daily collections by almost half.

The cleaner the purer the metal, the higher the price the salvers will pay, with bright copper fetching the highest price.

When recycling some aluminum cans, I saw the metal man there, disassembling what appears to be old electronic equipment. I returned with a tub of mixed metal for him. He carefully separated the pieces, including some brass hose bibbs.

It's a hard way to eke out a living: he works sun up to sundown. Sometimes he finds a job tearing apart an old mobile home: he is paid for his labor, then he can recycle the metal from the mobile home.

I respected this man for finding a way to make a living, difficult as it was.

1 comment:

Chile said...

There are a lot of metal salvage people in this area, too. One aspect I wonder about, though, is just how much the guys in pick-up trucks actually net considering the gas they burn to drive all over the very spread-out Tucson area & Pima County. My guess is that it is not much and that most are not actually factoring in that cost.

Out in our rural area, very few trucks cruise for metal salvage, but numerous people have craigslist ads offering to come pick up salvage. We rarely have anything big so I just take our scrap to the local Transfer Station since I haul my own recycling (weekly) and garbage (monthly). They have a big roll-off container for metal scrap.