I was changing a burned out light bub in my dining room breakfront last week when my eyes became fixated on an ashtray that brought back fond memories from my childhood. This ashtray brought to mind a trip in which I accompanied my father to our neighborhood junkyard, something that many children did in the past in order for families to generate a few additional dollars. This ashtray gave birth to today’s column and memories of trips to junkyards, back in the day.
So what is the relationship between this ashtray and junkyards? It was approximately seventy years ago when I accompanied my father to this junkyard, and my father started to remove items from the trunk of his automobile. As he placed items on a table, the junkyard proprietor quickly reached down and picked up this ashtray barely before it left my father’s hand. Being a witty person, my father, observing the behavior of the junkyard’s proprietor, took hold of the ashtray and told the proprietor that this was not a part of the items being discarded. So, this was my first lesson in recognizing the old saying, one man’s trash is another man’s gold. I do not know if this ashtray has any value but it has meaning in my life. After all, it represents an important lesson with my father during my teen years; a lesson learned that has not been forgotten. I suspect that many of you also had experiences with junkyards back in the day.
My father maintained an area in our basement where he stored items to take to the junkyard. Going to the junkyard was a regular part of my father’s monthly routine. Some of you may not have used a basement to store your junk but rather the shed kitchen or an outdoor storage area. One of my colleagues told me that his junk went to the junkyard as soon as it was acquired. As a teen, he survived better than many of his teen friends by way of junking. He spoke fondly of how he used his Radio Flyer Wagon, to transport items to a junkyard not far from his home; items that neighbors saved specifically for him. Some of you will remember the Radio Flyer Wagon with its red side rails that enabled items to be secure when being piled on top of one another. Newspapers that were tied together in bundles were money making items for him. The newspapers generally provided seventy-five cents per visit. Rags were another dependable money making item. While seventy-five cents may not appear to be a great deal of money, it covered the cost of a Saturday Matinee Movie and popcorn. The return of soda bottles to the supermarket or corner store also provided extra monies. Maybe you are old enough to remember returning soda bottles and receiving two cents for twelve ounce bottles and five cents for twenty-four ounce bottles. While this was not going to a junkyard, this was a hustle employed by many boys and girls for monies, back in the day.
Some of you were a bit more enterprising junkers than my Radio Flyer Wagon colleague. On trash day, you got up early, dragged your wagon out of the basement or in later years, drove your automobile or father’s automobile from neighborhood to neighborhood and searched for goodies. If you engaged in such junk hunting, you kept a separate area on your wagon or in the automobile for items that you picked up that were so desirable that you kept them for yourself. With access to an automobile, you were able to become more industrious. These people mapped out trash days in more affluent neighborhoods to search for junk. Quite often, what was located was a far cry from what we know as trash. I know of several people that found fur coats in their quest for junk. Given the emergence of “gently used” clothing stores, I doubt if you will have this experience today; locating such valuables has been left, back in the day.
Junkyards are not something new! Those that went to junkyards, climbed upon mounds of junk, and attempted to find specific items or items of value realize this. An article posted on the internet dated Oct. 2, 2017 by Roadrunner Recycling, A History of Junkyards, indicates that junkyards go back to 1760 when businesses realized that they could save on building new machines by recycling parts from older equipment. But today’s junk or salvage experiences are a far cry from this era. By the 50s automobile parts became big items for people to locate. For some people, locating automobile parts inexpensively remains a “big thing” today. Whether you are searching for automobile parts or other bargains, salvage yards or recycling centers, there is no substitute for a good old junkyard. But in spite of the bargains that could be found, some youngsters avoided junkyards. I was told by a good friend that he avoided junkyards because his mother told him that monsters were prevalent at junkyards and were particularly interested in bad boys. Obviously, my friend did not realize that he was telling on himself as he had to have been regarded as a bad boy to embrace this belief.
If you have nothing to do on a particular day in the next several weeks, you may want to locate a junkyard and make a visit to search for something in particular or items that may just strike your fancy. Climb up on a mound of junk or hunt through items in boxes or trays. Such a trip will take you to a place and reward you with an experience that you may not have had since, back in the day.