Posted by: trevormeers | March 21, 2011

Son of ‘Sanford & Son’

You don’t need to ask much more about my family once you know this: I almost postponed this weekend’s trip to the junkyard because I know that when my dad visits next week, he’ll probably be upset to find out I went without him.

And that explains why I’ve been trying for two hours to figure out how you’d write out the sound of the song running through my head—the theme from Sanford & Son. I think it would go like, “Whah-whah-WHAH-whah. Whah-whah-WHAH-whah-whah-whah-whah…”

The front porch of one of my favorite weekend hangouts.

Despite being Nebraska guys who have more in common with Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard than Redd Foxx, the men in my family have long nurtured a passionate love affair with junkyards and landfills. One of my best friends in high school literally owned his own junkyard. We filled a lot of Saturdays digging around in the trunks for treasures like slightly warped Credence Clearwater Revival 8-tracks left over by the hippie who had the Vega before him.

As a kid, I looked forward to the day every couple of months when my dad would stretch a ripped tarp over our rusty trailer made from the bed of an old Ford truck, yell at my brother and me to load up in the ’72 Dodge, and drive us to the Lancaster County Landfill for an afternoon of good times. I savored the dump as I imagine dogs savor hanging their heads out car windows. The dump stimulated every sense. Seagulls imported 2,000 miles inland from who knows where wheeled in great circles behind the squeaking bulldozers. Strange pieces of twisted metal crunched under your feet when you got out of the pickup. The hot air smelled like diesel and old paint and rotting hamburgers. It was like a spa for 10-year-old boys.

My dad would back the trailer up to the lip of a canyon of trash, slam the Dodge’s lever up into park and say like he didn’t really condone this, “Alright, go ahead.” That was the signal for my brother and I to scramble into the trailer’s bed and start heaving garbage over the rim. We’d race each other to grab light bulbs and hurl them at any hard object we saw, waiting for the soft pop chased with a tinkling shatter. The real prizes were gallon jugs of old motor oil, which burst with a satisfying black shower of ooze if you could land one directly on the edge of something like a concrete block. (Don’t send me an e-mail on that; they used to think smoking was OK, too.)

These days, I’m making my own journeys to Car Country, a salvage yard just south of Newton, Iowa. Every six months or so, I’ll come up with a good enough collection of rusted-out grills, used-up baby beds and old steamer trunks to justify a run to Car Country on a Saturday morning.

One reason I love the place is that it offers better customer service than most major airlines and retail stores. You drive in via a narrow dirt driveway, twisting your steering wheel to avoid the shelled-out GMC truck on one side and the overhanging bushes on the other. When you arrive between the giant skid loader and tower of tires, a couple of guys rush out to wave you in. They never say much, partly because the skid loader is too loud and partly because they barely speak English. They all wear sweatshirts that have gotten too close to axle grinders a few times, along with glasses from the Joe Paterno school of eyewear, in which you can’t quite tell if they’re designed for safety or simply a lost sense of fashion. I admit that I sometimes swap my own outfit before going to see them, trading a white Nike golf cap for something from my camouflage collection so I’ll fit in a little better.

A kindred soul backs 'er in to drop off the latest load cleaned out of his garage.

Before I even come to a stop, they’re yanking the tailgate open and eagerly sizing up whatever treasure I’ve brought them, like townspeople ready to pull the gold teeth from a losing gunfighter. On one visit, I took them an old garage fridge that smelled of mildew, and as they slid it out I said, “This thing still works, by the way, so…” just as a guy in a filthy stocking cap snipped the power cord off with his pliers and threw it onto a pile of wire.

There’s some psychology at work in my love for these places. It’s nice to visit a place where you can literally show up bearing garbage and be a hero. You’ll have a hard time finding that kind of acceptance in the conference room on Monday. And junkyards and landfills soften my overriding guilt at throwing anything away. If I gave into my darker urges, I’d quickly be that crazy old dude down the road who has barns full of old carpet remnants, bent nails, Weekly World News papers and plastic feet from the swing set that rotted away in 1987. But since I don’t own a pole barn and I’ve chosen to live with a woman, I have to keep regularly divesting myself of junk. And when I take it to Car Country, I know I’m taking it to an appreciative home.

When I was wrapping up last Saturday’s visit, one of the thick-glasses crew mumbled something at me and pointed into the bed of my truck. I figured out that he was gesturing at my 15-year-old insulated coveralls, wadded up in a corner of the bed since the end of deer season. I grinned and said, “Oh, no, I’m hanging onto those.” But on the way home, I got to considering that if he was dreaming of those old Key coveralls that much, I just might be able to work out a trade where he’d yank an 8-track tape player from one of the El Caminos out back and hook it up to my Tundra’s stereo with a little copper from the wire pile.

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Responses

  1. Oh Trevor – this is your best one yet!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, it’s between this one and the one with the countdown of the high school gyms you played in – so THANK YOU! And P.S. I LOVED the dump in Canada on McKenzie Island – our prized possession from there was the window for our tree house, among plenty of other treasures – ah, the memories!!! I can’t wait for Dave to read this post so we can spend some time laughing our heads off at the amazing imagery in this beautifully written piece – you just don’t disappoint, my friend!!! And “hi” to Teri and the girls 🙂

  2. Ah yes, the memories. I’ll never forget our tests of strength in heaving overloaded garbage bags of kitty litter & seeing how far we could chuck them. I think that was my early training for shot put. Not to mention how many times Dad had to fight off the workers from assuming the Dodge was coming to the salvage yard to stay!

  3. Another great story! I remember going to the local “city dump” with my Dad when I was a kid. I guess it was a “girl thing”, but I didn’t enjoy it because of the awful smell!

    Sorry, but I must correct you on some grammar (or is it now the “new English”?). In one paragraph you say “my brother and I” when it should be “my brother and me”. I’ve been hearing this a lot lately, so maybe, as I said, this is “new English grammar”!
    Let me know if I’m wrong.


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