KAMLOOPS – A brief stroll past the pavement and the dusty metal gates of the Kamloops Scrap Iron yard reveals stories, treasures and odd metal knick-knacks across an expansive lot all roasting in 35-degree temperatures under the sun.
“It’s a hot one,” one friendly worker says.
A line of people wait to speak with Gordon Nelson at the front reception. He measures the scrap metal, values it and hands out the cash. He inspects driver’s licenses from every new visitor before he weighs their vehicle that enters and carefully notes any questionable scrap or scrapper. This junk metal has increased in value since the stock market crash and recession in 2008 and the prices attract thieves who will steal it wherever they can find it. The Habitat for Humanity Re-Store metal dumpster was targeted 11 times in May, likely by metal thieves.
But they are not welcome here. Nelson documents each piece he buys and emails his reports to the RCMP each day in case there’s an open case for metal theft.
He has his regulars, like Josh Friesen, a local electrician. Friesen heads off to two separate dumping sites in his truck. First, the non-magnetic section where he dumps off a collection of cords he gathered at his latest work-site. The small haul yields him $69; he'd have got more if he stripped the cables, Nelson says.
Then Friesen dumps magnetic pieces at the back of the warehouse. Before he leaves, Friesen drops off the courtesy hard hat and reflector vest in the basket next to Nelson’s desk before his truck is weighed again and he collects his cash.
Rick Coombs manages the yard, bringing some kind of order to the piles of junk. He’s been a connoisseur since the 1970s. As a teen, he gathered scrap for cash, sharpening his eyes and instincts. Where most people see garbage, he sees cash. The whole world went bust in 2008, but that's when his boom time began.
Around the warehouse, he stores treasures that mean nothing to the uninitiated. He describes a box of shredded metal as “pretty” and “beautiful;" calls the expensive metals "the good stuff."
He says someone can “absolutely” make a living buying and selling scrap metal. A handful of people in Kamloops do it full-time; others do “scrap on the side.” It’s obvious he misses being a scrapper, but can’t keep at it given his current position.
“In Vancouver there’s thousands (of scrappers),” he says. A lot of employees at scrap yards will try to gather metal after work.
“If you can get a car to bring in tomorrow morning, there’s 200 bucks before you start your day,” he says with a laugh.
It all winds up here: Hubcaps, rusted pipes, lengths of wire, metal sheets, equipment and those old dead cars—all piled a storey high by a giant magnet. A cut up bus is the peak on the mountain of metal.
“You’ll find any and everything,” says Coombs.
Each piece has its own hidden story: The accident that put the Honda Civic on the pile; the someone who drank these pounds of cider cans; however this antique solid steel water wheel got here.
"I'd love to see it mounted on the front gates," Coombs says pondering its cost when new.
For staff, each pound of scrap brought in is another chance at real treasure. Office manager Tracey Gardipee has everyone on lookout for her brass figurine collection. Her office is covered with brass mice, horses, watering cans, pots, dishes, kittens and frogs. She’s particularly proud of her tiny brass mousetrap. Larger finds include an early century sewing machine and a working desk fan from the 1940s.
Not all the weird stuff is kept as treasure. Once they found a car trunk full of sex toys; another time, a human finger in a wrecked car.
What doesn't come in with a story finds its way into the messy piles, before leaving again as a tidy, crushed cube or a barrel of powdery metal shavings bound for a smelter and a new life as something else.
The crew at Kamloops Scrap Iron yard, one of three yards in the city, are philosophical about this business in a consumer culture. They complete the cycle.
“We are consumers. We like to purchase,” Coombs says. “If I don’t take it, you’re gonna keep piling it up in your backyard.”
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