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“Hi. My name is John, and I am a recovering trash-aholic.”

My parents were both born, and raised through their teen years, in the Great Depression. Their families were both of modest means, and they grew up with the phrases, “Buy it new. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” and “It’ll work/look/burn/taste better, once we knock the dirt off.” My uncles used to take gunny sacks with them to school, so that they could pick up coal along the railroad tracks, that had fallen off coal cars (outside bends are the best places to look, BTW.) One of my prized possessions is a quilt, sewn together from 3″x4″ rectangles of different types of wool cloth, which were fabric samples that a men’s clothing store had thrown out.

My father is (as am I) an inveterate trash-picker. We can’t stand to throw out anything useful, or allow others to do either. Once, my father noticed a number of the same model of Black & Decker electric lawn-edger appearing on curbs on trash day. Curious, he picked one up, took it home, and examined it. A flaw in the design allowed a piece to work loose, and jam the shaft on which the blade turned. He figured out how to fix the flaw using a very thin washer (which was likely salvaged, too) as a shim. We ended up with three or four of these almost-new edgers, which Dad repaired. One day a neighbor came by to borrow an edger, and Dad just told him to keep it. He even repaired a couple, and then RETURNED THEM to the houses that had thrown them out with notes of explanation.

The dehumidifier that ran constantly for years in the basement of my old house, was picked off the curb in new, unused condition. I quickly discovered the problem was that the plastic fan blade inside, had slipped off the motor shaft. 30 minutes labor, saved me about $200 for a dehumidifier.

I have salvaged a number of Coleman liquid fuel lanterns that I seen out for the trash. In each case, long-time storage with old fuel had gummed-up the “generator”. The generator is a brass tube between the mantles, which contains a coiled wire, and pre-heats the fuel before it mixes with the air and passes through the mantles. Removing the generator, soaking it in denatured alcohol, then reassembling, and firing it up with fresh fuel has done the trick every time.

At the end of a big winter storm, I scan the garbage cans for discarded snow shovels. They are mostly made of crappy plastic, but the grip-handle on the end of the shaft is actually pretty sturdy. They are usually attached with a single sheet-metal screw. I also scan for broken fiber-glass shafted tools, like shovels, hay-forks, potato-diggers, etc. What happens a lot of times, is that people accidentally run over their tool with a vehicle. The fiberglass handle shatters at the point of pressure, but sometimes a short, but usable portion of handle remains. Trim the handle, attach a salvaged grip handle, and you have a nice sturdy “trunk shovel”.

Thrown-out mops and brooms provide hardwood dowels, fiberglass, or metal tubing.

I used to have a pistol-style hair-dryer I picked off the curb. It blew air, but no heat. I used it to fire up lump charcoal in my grill, without the need for liquid fuel. Careful though, my buddy used the same idea in a cheap portable grill, and actually burned a hole through the sheet-metal. FUEL+HEAT+OXYGEN (turbo-charged)=OH YEAH!

Bamboo is a scourge to some homeowners, and I often see piles of it on the curb in the Spring. I’ve made tent poles, walking sticks, improvised sail-mast for a canoe, pole for a jon-boat, a frog gig, and a flag pole for a Scouting event.

I try to take only what I can use, and leave the rest. This often requires tools to perform quick curb-side “surgery” on trash finds.

Trash-Picker’s Basic Tool Kit:

-Work gloves
-Six-way screwdriver ($5 at Home Depot or Lowes) has Lg and Sm Straight & Phillips, plus 1/4″ Hex and 5/16″ Hex
-Hacksaw (Battery-powered Sawz-All is even better) ;-)
-Diagonal cutters or Linesman Pliers (Kleins)
-Straight-Jawed Vise Grips and/or Pump Pliers (Channel-Locks)
-Utility knife or pocket knife
-Small 12″-14″ wrecking bar (Stanley, Wunderbar, etc.)

Other tools, nice, but not necessary

-Tubing cutter for copper pipe and EMT (electrical conduit)
-10″ or 12″ Adjustable Wrench (Crescent Wrench)
-Bow saw for wood
-Battery-Powered Drill/Driver with nut-drivers
-Pocket Flashlight
-Socket wrench (3/8″ or 1/2″ drive) and Metric & Inch Sockets