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There's Nothing Like Having a Little 'Junk In Your Trunk'... (Whoa!)

When I first got into the plumbing trade back in 1981, I was an apprentice for my father-in-law. Irv did what was called "Jobbing", which was service/repair work. The jobs we did took anywhere's from one hour to one day. We removed a lot of old piping and fittings which Irv took home and stored in his garage. I wondered what we were going to do with all the junk and then one day Irv told me to start cutting and sorting the copper and brass. I was green and I had no clue how to tell copper from brass. Irv said brass was more yellow/gold and copper was more orange. He grabbed a few pieces and showed me the difference.

Brass is yellow/gold in color & copper is more orange in color 

I began by cutting brass valves off copper pipe. We removed a lot of threaded brass water piping in those days because it developed leaks at the threaded connections. Jobs like that paid twice. Once for the installation of the new copper piping and then again at the junkyard when we turned in the heavy threaded brass pipe and fittings.  There were also tankless coils and copper tanks that had some weight and were going to the Scrap Yard. The whole time I was sorting I was wondering how much all the junk was actually worth…

Once I had it everything cut up and sorted into several barrels, we loaded everything into the van. Irv brought his junk to a scrap yard in Brockton. When we arrived we took it out of the van and it was weighed on a platform scale. When Irv cashed out it came to over $1,000, which got my attention. After that, I had a whole new respect for junk. 

Irv always gave me a little extra cash on junk days so I had a horse in the race too. Part of my job included stripping the copper and brass off of old water heaters before I dropped them at the town dump. The guy who ran the dump was usually sitting high up on his bulldozer moving trash around when I got there. He hated me because I never left him any valuable metals, just gutted steel tanks. I heard he was banned from several junkyards after he was caught filling pipes with sand, capping them, and turning them in for cash. 

When I moonlighted I occasionally took home some junk of my own which I left in the trunk of my car. When I had enough I cashed it in and usually got around $100, which was alright by me. I was only making $8.50 an hour, so having 'a little junk in my trunk' allowed me to step up my beer game from Red, White, and Blue ($3.99 a case) to Old Milwaukee, and when I had enough junk, Michelob! 

Sonny Bama brings it… "I've been down, but I came up… from the bottom"

A few years after Irv passed away I opened my own business and officially became a collector of junk. Every July, before we went on family vacations, I'd set up in the backyard and spend 4-5 hours cutting and sorting copper and brass. I was real busy in the late '80s early '90s and I had a lot of junk. I never trusted the guy in Brockton and when he tried to convince me an empty cardboard box weighed 14 pounds I started putting random items on his scale and nothing weighed less than 14 pounds, it was the lowest his scale would go. I immediately loaded my junk back in my van and drove home. I found another junkyard in Middleboro. The next day I brought my oldest son Michael with me to the scrap yard and I weighed him at home before we left. When we got there and the attendant wasn't around, I told him to stand on the platform. The scales were on the money and no one there tried to claim an empty cardboard box weighed 14 pounds…

When I went to the scrap yard I usually cashed out with between $1,200 and $1,800, which in those days was undeclared income. Not bad for a single-man shop. It's all changed now. Everything is documented and although they still payout in cash, it's all recorded so the government has their hand in it. When you cash out they give you an itemized receipt for tax purposes.

Prices for precious metals fluctuate depending on supply and demand. It's a lot like the stock market, you gotta keep your eye on it. At one point in 2004, the prices dropped so low it wasn't worth cashing anything in. Apparently, there was an abundance of scrap copper and brass on soviet ships driving the prices down. Instead of cashing in, I decided to wait it out, until prices came back up again. I kept the junk in barrels at the end of my driveway closest to my house and waited for the prices to reach a certain level. When times were good Number 1 copper (clean, no solder, no paint) was worth close to $4.00 a pound and Number 1 brass was almost $3.00 a pound. But, Number 1 copper had dropped to under $2.00 and brass was under a buck. I was patient and when copper rose to just over $3.00 in 2006, I decided to do some sorting and cash everything in, which included five barrels filled with close to two years worth of junk. 

There was still snow on the ground when I pulled into my driveway early one afternoon, ready to start sorting, but all the barrels had mysteriously disappeared… Someone else was watching the prices and knew what I had in the barrels. I was pissed! I called my homeowners insurance to report the theft, but they said without receipts they couldn't pay me for my loss, which I estimated to be in excess of $1,500. I told them I had receipts from my previous trips to the junkyard and after we haggled a bit they said as a show of good faith they'd give me $500, but that was all they could do without any receipts. I couldn't argue, it was better than nothing…

I knew the thief had to be local and I had my suspicions… When I acted on them I found several Symmons shower spindles that were part of my junk, partially buried in the ground in an area close to the main road where one of my neighbors parked his pickup truck. When I told the local police they were unwilling to question the owner of the truck saying there would likely be an altercation. I reminded them they were the cops, they had guns, billy clubs, and handcuffs, but they said the thief could've been driving by and spilled some junk on the road and some of it might have ended up under my neighbor's pickup truck. Really? That's a stretch… Instead, they wanted me to question the truck's owner myself, and when I said, "Well, then they'll definitely be an altercation and you'll end up being called to the scene and I'm sure you'll have no problem arresting me on their property." They refused to question anyone and I took a big loss. 

Giphy Images.

It's always best to keep the 'junk in your trunk' covered & out of sight, but some people never learn… (Is it just me, or is that an accident ready to happen?)

Shame on me for leaving my precious metals in a vulnerable spot at the end of my driveway, but in my defense, at one point that junk was worth next to nothing. After that incident, I latticed the area under my deck and kept my junk locked in there. I knew who stole my junk and as much as I prefer cold-blooded revenge, I didn't want to end up in jail, so I was content on letting lady karma do her work. She didn't let me down…

"When Lady Karma comes back around and everything comes crumblin' down"  

When I became a plumbing instructor I only worked nights and weekends and didn't accumulate much junk. At my last school, I had a lot of scrap copper in the shop, Number 1 and Number 2. I opened an account with a local scrap yard in the school's name and when I turned in the junk the shop got between $800 and $1,000, which I put right back into the program.

Over the last few years, I accumulated a little junk doing some side work. We're planning my grandson's first birthday party so it was a good time to clean up my yard, clean out my shed, and sort all my junk. I called for prices and for Number 1 copper they were paying $3.14 a pound, Number 2 $2.90, and mixed brass $2.03. Not bad. I had to first remove all my tools and toolboxes from the back of my pickup and then load all the junk into the truck.

This batch of junk wasn't close to what I scrapped in my heyday, but junk money is found money & always good…

I drove 20 miles to the scrap yard and when I got there I put my steel in a rolling plastic bin and my copper and brass on a flat rolling cart. Because of Covid, I wasn't allowed near the scale and when I started taking some pics the attendant was quick to say "No pictures!" Either he knew where the bodies were buried or he viewed me as "Junkyard Paparazzi". (WTF is that?)

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood and a great day to go to a scrap yard!

I was expecting between $200 and $300 and I got $321, which isn't bad. In 1963, Carl Yastrzemski won his first A.L. batting title with a .321 average, so it's a solid number! In the end, I cleaned up my yard, cleaned out my shed, and got paid to do it. I miss the days when I used to sort lots of scrap and when I cashed it in I'd make over $1,200, which helped pay for a week-long family vacation up in New Hampshire or down the Cape. 

I knew when I was driving to the scrap yard this time that it was probably my last. When I got home my wife said the same thing. My reign as a junk collector has sadly come to an end, but I went out on top and on my own terms…

J. Lo has some serious junk in her trunk and A Rod's no longer cashing in on that…