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The Dean of Dumpster Diving tells all
By: Harold Hahn, Club Member
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Some people look at dumpster diving as dirty, something a homeless person would do. I look at it as recycling, a way of making ends meet, a way of getting something for nothing.
As a kid, I got started by going to the local dump with Dad on the weekends. I’d look for things like old bike frames and take them home. When we had enough parts, we would combine everything and build our own bikes. As I grew older, I never outgrew the art of dumpster diving.
Strategy for tight times
When I grew up, things were still pretty tight. Which meant if I saw something along the road, I’d stop and pick it up. If it worked, great; if not, I messed with it until it worked or I decided it was beyond repair. Then I stripped it down for parts for whatever use I could find for them.
In today’s day and age, a person sometimes needs to make-do with whatever means possible. Too many times I have seen well-to-do people put something to the curb just because a screw came loose, and then they go out and buy new.
Dumpster diving helps me save money in acquiring some parts and materials so that I’m able to spend money where I need it most. For example, picking up an old lawn mower and using it means I don’t have to spend that $100 on a new mower. Instead, I can buy the part to repair the furnace or pay a hospital bill or maybe even enjoy a night out that I would not normally be able to afford.
Making “jewels” out of junk
When I find something and make a use for it or alter it to work for another purpose other than for what it was intended, I get a good feeling of accomplishment; I’m putting something to use that normally would be just discarded as useless (photo 1). People often tell me that something is junk and it’s not worth the bother. But I prove them wrong—and I enjoy rubbing it in a little bit.
I never drive by a trash pile on the side of the road; you never know what treasure—maybe something of great value—lies within that pile. That’s why I call my finds “Trash Treasures.”
There’s no shame in dumpster diving. Once again, you save money, you can make money, you can have things you normally couldn’t afford and you’re recycling. It means one less thing going into a landfill. That said, I guess the main reason I do is it lets me live a better life-style.
For those who may be interested in becoming a dumpster diver, here are some tips:
• I usually go into rural neighborhoods to find my treasures, and sometimes I get a chance to check out dumpsters at construction sites for usable wood.
• Let others know you are into dumpster diving. I have people calling me and telling me of stuff they see on the curbs.
• The best times are on trash day early in the morning before the trash truck comes through for collection. Another prime time is right after the Christmas holiday when people get rid of the old to make room for the new.
• Watch for the ending of rummage and garage sales. A lot of times whatever is left over is put to the curb in boxes marked free.
• I always do my diving by myself. I don’t like to share.
• Since my job of driving a delivery truck takes me to many areas, I have learned when trash-collection day is in certain areas and schedule my routes accordingly. I have even gotten into some scrapes with garbage drivers who have claimed that my find was their trash and I couldn’t pick through it. I haven’t lost an argument yet with these guys.
My favorite finds
I’ve had a lot of them, but one of my favorite finds was a washer-and-dryer set that was almost like new. Why was the set thrown out? Because the new homeowners said the set didn’t match their new color scheme.
Another keeper was a two-year-old self-propelled bagging lawnmower. Why was it junked? Because the pull rope broke, and the former owner didn’t know how to fix it.
And then there was an almost-brand new weed whacker only used two or three times. The guy couldn’t get it to start, but the only thing wrong with it was he forgot to add oil to the gas mixture. I cleaned it out, changed the plug and added oil, and it started up with one pull.
I recycled an electric snow shovel because the owner didn’t know what it was and threw it out. I used it for five years before it died.
I can’t leave out the scooter I found when a guy threw it out because his wife lost key and broke charger plug. I learned to hot wire, and I'm ready to go (photo 2).
I actually came across an entire home once where the owner just disappeared and, after a lengthy period, the courts ordered that all the contents could be put out for collection. I was lucky to be the first one to come across it. I made quite a haul with three pickup loads before others found it.
I guess my favorite treasures are the Harley oil fountain I created (photo 3), and the little chair I made for my two-year-old niece from an old pallet and kitchen chair.
To sum it up, my motto is: “Another man's trash just may be my treasure!”
Oh, one more thing: If you are out seeking treasures, don’t bother looking in my trash. When I throw it out, there isn’t any use left in it.
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