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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Scrounging is a compliment

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 28 March 2018

One of my best friends shared with me that his wife cannot understand his need to explore junkyards. His idea of a nice afternoon, and mine too, is having a couple of hours to explore a new junkyard. His own, he calls his “boneyard.”

History is found in these storage areas of all things mechanical waiting for fresh deployments. For us, many new projects include a run through the boneyard to see if anything there will work for the new project. Or alteration. Or repair.

I had an early start at repurposing cast-off machinery. I’m guessing I was between 7 and 8 years old when I got permission to repurpose the wheels and axles of a long-abandoned baby buggy. I only used one axle and its wheels. I attached said axle to a wooden framework, which I nailed to the rear of my Red Ryder wagon “so it will be like the milkman’s truck.” That was the reason I gave when my father asked, incredulously, what I had done that for.

By definition, a “cobbler” is one who makes or repairs shoes. Common usage has it referring to someone who makes things from used or scavenged parts. Hey, if it works, it makes money the same as something made in a factory – and at a fraction of the price.

For example, in my shop I have a retired heavy truck brake drum my son gave me, with a length of 4-inch pipe welded to the flat side, which is topped by a rectangular piece of steel plate, which is drilled and has mounted to it my 6-inch bench grinder. It all came from scrap or surplus, and guess what? It’s just the right height for me to comfortably use without my back complaining that I’m having to work bent over. I remember grinder stands cost north of a hundred dollars when purchased new.

Years back, in a rush for seating for a dinner event we were hosting, I threw together a portable table with folding metal legs. The main part was a piece of three-quarter-inch plywood which I just painted for the event. It ended up being a handier size than the “real” dining room table, so it ended up in daily use for a long time. With a move, it went into exile in the household “boneyard,” and later it was on my list of things to haul off.

My wife objected, and I noticed tears in her eyes. When I asked what was wrong, she replied, “I don’t want you to throw that away. That is my table you made for me.” I had no idea she was attached to it or why.

So I went to town and got some nice hardwood-looking flooring material and re-did the top surface, added molding around the edge, and I’ve eaten with my boots parked under it ever since. Things I make for her or for the house seem to have greater value than things I purchase for her – just one of the things that makes her very special to me.

Except for putting an air-ride seat in the passenger side of the pickup for her. I’m a tinkerer. I’ll fiddle with the air pressure on my seat until it’s just right. She expects her seat in a vehicle to sit still and behave without attention. This is why the current pickup only has an air-ride seat behind the steering wheel.

In 1992, I went to work for an old friend keeping an export hay plant running. When things broke, and I knew how to fix them, I’d just gather what I needed and make the repair. After I’d been on board several weeks, one of his longtime employees said to me, “You’re getting kind of a reputation of being a scrounge around here.”

I asked, “How so?”

“When you look for materials, you go first to the scrap pile.” I thought everybody did.

I mentioned to my friend what his other employee had said. He smiled at me and said that’s why he had hired me. I’d been my own boss for years, and he knew I was used to paying the bills for repairs and would consider the cost when I made repairs for him, too.

Now it takes some time and talent to cobble things together, so they look factory-made and serviceable, but it’s often worth the effort. I take great pleasure in making things.

As the “decrepit” joins the “old” as far as the workings of my body, I alter things to fit. With the tailgate down on my pickup, I can no longer get in the bed. I made a retracting step that cures this. Other than two grade-8 bolts, it all came from pieces I’d scrounged from around my little shop. It took about two hours, but it does the same job as one I could have purchased for $300.

There is a time and place for new things. If I can make something that will do the same job, that’s more fun – especially if I get to use scrounged parts.  end mark

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