News

Living on Scrap

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By Zan Jarvis
TFW Contributing Writer
As the economy gets trickier, people start looking for new ways to earn a buck or two. The folks at Vaughn Metal Recycling on South School know that better than anyone. A few years before the current crisis, the recycling business grew so big it had to move out of Vaughn Battery at Sixth and School streets to the current location on School, just north of 15th Street.

Manager David Byrd says the business has been busy all year.

“There are definitely people who do scrapping regularly to make a buck,” he says. “They come every day. Some are homeless. They’ll bring in cans from the streets or from Dumpsters — whatever they can find.”
Byrd says he sets his prices based on the London Metal Exchange and the metal futures on commodity markets. He says the people who buy from him are looking at those same benchmarks.

Copper is $4.50 a pound these days, but Byrd says he thinks it will go higher. High prices for copper, aluminum and brass can spawn thievery so it’s the law that anyone selling any of these metals must present a picture ID.

Byrd says he works closely with police to catch criminals. Recently Fayetteville Motors found some of its products missing. Byrd said it was easy to spot the motors when they came to the center because they had been painted with fluorescent paint.

“I called Fayetteville Motors and they called the police,” he says. “The guy was in a long line. It takes awhile to process a truckload of metal. They were right here waiting when the cops came.”

In another incident, thieves were stealing backflow valves from sprinkler systems. When police informed Byrd of the thefts, he knew exactly who had been taking them because the thief had sold them to the recycling center.
Byrd says sometimes identifying stolen copper can be tricky.

“It’s hard to say, ‘This foot of wire is mine,’ when it all looks the same. Most of the recycled copper we get, though, comes directly from contractors.”

He says copper will likely stay the big payer in the market because it’s already so much more valuable than other metals. Only silver and gold are worth more, and Vaughn’s doesn’t deal with those.

The day The Free Weekly visited, the place was hopping inside and out with sellers. Michael Green of Springdale says he supplements his disability pay by selling metal.

“Today I got some banding strips like they used to put lumber together with in the ’50s,” he said. “I’ll walk down the creek and find sewer pipe — all kind of things. Today I got $22. Usually it’s around $40. It’s good work for me because I can take a break when I need to.”

Alvin Martin of Houston, Texas, drove a flatbed in with huge boxes full of scrap. He had just bought it all at the auction of the old Hannah’s factory in the Industrial Park. He says he has been selling scrap metal for a living since the economic downturn. What’s in the box?

“Let’s see — a big brass filter from a cooling unit, radiator coils, bumpers, a cooling compressor, guttering, wire, pipe — about 300,000 pounds of metal.”

He says he collects small machines — electric saws, drills, presses and the like — drives them down to Belize and auctions them off there. He says he’s careful where he drives through Mexico and he’s never had any trouble from gunmen. And the market in Central America is strong for small hand tools.

Not everything sold to Vaughn’s gets melted down. Inside the recycling business, usable items are for sale at low prices. Among them were a brass bed frame, aluminum truck wheels, TV cables, metal decorations, musical instruments, a wheelchair, and even a small safe.

Byrd says he thinks the bad economy is helping to clean up the countryside. One hillbilly from the hills around West Fork (who asked to remain nameless) confirmed that supposition. He had wanted to clean up his 20-acres for years, but he’s disabled and couldn’t pick up the scrap himself. In the past six months several of his young friends have found it well worth their while to carry it all away for the price Vaughn gave them.

“Altogether I think they took about $700 worth of stuff away to recycle,” he says. “That’s about 10 years of my junk.” He and the helpers were all happy.

Some days there are metal-laden trucks waiting in a long line at Vaughn’s as early as 8 a.m. Byrd says he expects his booming business to continue.

“As long as metal prices stay up, they’ll be here,” he says.

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