My RE Store Memories: Chapter 7

Photograph of Bruce Odom in our truck named 'Goldie'.

My RE Store Memories: Chapter 7  (1995-1997)

By: David Spangler

In those early years working at the RE Store, the few of us on staff had many roles (see My RE Store Memories, Chapter Six), including frequent opportunities to do pick-ups and salvaging out in the field. Even RE Store Manager Bruce Odom, stepped away from his managerial duties to fill in the gaps on many jobs. Here are three more small, quirky tales of working “out in the field” in those early years.

Chelan High School, Chelan, WA

In the early summer of 1996, we branched out of our immediate area to salvage Chelan High School in Chelan, WA (see cover photo above of RE Store Manager Bruce Odom hamming it up with sunglasses in our truck Goldie). This operation might have been our farthest long-distance, overnight salvage—an exciting experiment for the store. 

   Since the RE Store could only spare two of us, the spartan crew on this endeavor amounted to just Dave Bennink and me. We headed out that morning for a beautiful summer drive over the Cascades via Stevens Pass. When we arrived that late afternoon at a cute cottage at a well-shaded old motel on one of Chelan’s quiet main drags, we settled in watching bad television while eating an obscene stack of cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches for our inexpensive dinner. I ate so many of those cursed sandwiches I could not stomach eating another cheese sandwich for the next three years. Initially, I blamed Dave for that, but in the end, I knew it was my own damn fault. 

   The following day, we met with the lead contractor in their job trailer on site and started salvaging as soon as we could. Bruce drove our RE-Store truck Goldie with our new open-bed trailer a day or two later to save on lodging costs. By then we had a good stack of material to be proud of. After we loaded the truck and trailer, I believe Bruce returned to Bellingham with a full load that same day. I have no recollection of whether or not we also filled up a short semi-truck trailer on this job.

  I learned a hard lesson on that job regarding removing enormous, institutional dry-erase boards alone without something supportive underneath. As I removed the first hanger screw of a particular 10-foot-long dry-erase board, one end dropped on the top of my thigh like a sledgehammer. The impact was so overwhelming the pain forced me to sit down and visit the outer rim of our galaxy for a moment. I was shocked my femur was not cracked or broken. Still, Dave and I had a job to do, and after about fifteen minutes of my visit to the la-la land of pain, I was back salvaging again, albeit humbled with a weakened thigh and a painful limp. Regardless of moving about on 1 ½ legs, the rest of the day, incredibly, was still productive—sometimes, its good to keep moving. If I had stopped, my leg may have stiffened into uselessness, especially since we hadn’t any ice packs or anti-inflamatory drugs in our first aid kits. That would have helped me greatly. 

   Over the weeks, the area of impact mostly recovered. However, some twenty-five years after that injury, my children still accidentally find that tender area whenever they put all their weight on my thigh. It’s not funny when they do, and I launch my child off of me in an unconscious, protective reflex that is strong enough to send them flying into furniture nearby. Otherwise, I can walk, run, or stand without issues or pain—such an odd injury. I suppose I got lucky that time.  

Photo of Bob Penny and the author David in front of a heater
Not all salvage jobs were glorious affairs. Many involved unmemorable structures where we extracted whatever few uninspiring materials there were to remove. But there was camaraderie among us, and we saved whatever we could. Here I am with Field Supervisor, Bob Penny (left), in the process of removing a crappy vertical gas heater. Considering the low-value item of our focus, just what the occasion was for taking this photo is beyond me. Photo from RE Store archives.

Sick at Sandy Point Cabin Salvage 

   I wasn’t going to include this story, but then I thought, “Why not?” If I can laugh at myself, so can you

    In the late spring of 1995, Dave, Lowell, and I headed out to salvage a 1960s beach cabin at Sandy Point. I don’t remember what we were there to take, but while we worked, I began to feel pale and queasy and mentioned this to Dave. When my throat began to promise a rising tide of more than just words, I headed to the portable toilet to relieve my stomach of its roiling contents. Yes, that is what I said—I threw up in a portable toilet, and I can now check that off of my life’s bucket list. I tried to get back to work, but, still feeling quite green in the face, I thought better of it. I left to lie down in the truck’s cab. I could tell Dave was not impressed with me that morning. After all, we had a job to do, and he relied on me, a relatively new person, to help them finish it on time. When he came to check on me I told him I might have poisoned myself with a pot of oatmeal that morning with spoiled milk poured into it. He was not impressed. Hoping to lighten the mood, I said with a nervous chuckle that it was the fourth time that spring I had poisoned myself with spoiled food, then retreated to the portable toilet for another round of vomiting. I am pretty sure this additional context of poor food habits further eroded his confidence in me. I wish I had kept my mouth shut. I returned to the truck cab, useless and wretched—not the impression I wanted to make in my new job. But, from then on, I threw out all questionable foods in my refrigerator, stopped making myself sick, and kept my job.

Photo of the crew on a farm salvage in the winter with the truck 'Goldie' in frame.
On what is likely the first morning on a farm salvage, our truck Goldie has just purged its cozy, warm cab of its RE Store crew and the ladders have been staged. The targeted material was probably the valuable metal roofing on this old shed. During some seasons in the Pacific Northwest, our outdoor salvage operations were pleasant. But, as in this image, many jobs occurred in more wintery circumstances replete with rain, chilly temperatures, wind, occasionally snow, and ample volumes of mud. Still, crews removed the material, loaded up tools and materials, and were back at the store by the end of the day. Photo from RE Store archives.

Philosophy and Flying Aluminum

    On a very chilly morning in February of 1995, during a frosty gale, Dave Bennink and I went out on a salvage job, that, even under such ridiculous circumstances, there was still the guarantee of great dividends. 

   Dave drove, and as the early morning scenery passed by my window, I listened intently as he passionately expressed his developing philosophy of diverting solid waste from landfills. He asked me what I thought about structural demolitions. I said I found demolitions utterly fascinating to watch and went out of my way to watch them whenever I could. There was a lengthy, uncomfortable three-second pause.

   Dave corrected me that demolition destroys usable materials and we were trying to reduce solid waste as much as possible. I quickly added that I sincerely agreed with him—and I did—that demolitions were often needlessly wasteful and that our cause of reducing the waste was important. With this, we were back on track. But I kept quiet with him about my guilty pleasure regarding my witnessing building demolitions from then on. All my life I have enjoyed wrestling with the impermanence of what seems so permanent and reconciling the dichotomy of destroying what required so much skill and time to create in the first place. As this has always been a moral tug-of-war within me, I have always felt a bit like an odd duck in the world of saving materials. And I haven’t changed a bit. 

   The house we were to salvage was out in the county, near Everson, WA, and had nothing to offer except aluminum and one lowly breaker box. The little house was doomed since the adjacent gravel pit wanted the gravel beneath the house. When Dave and I drove out that sunny morning, an uncomfortable gale was screaming down from the Frazer Valley with a biting sub-zero windchill coming straight off of Canadian glaciers. The water and power had long ago been shut off, and with the windows and doors all missing, the sting of icy wind comically roared through the house as invisible tornados swept the floor, animating every loose piece of plaster and old wallpaper. It was strange to imagine that at one time, the place was once someone’s comfortable, cozy home.

  With fingers already painfully chilled, I was “all thumbs” as I fumbled to remove a low-value breaker box and threw it in the truck. Next, I went outside to view a well-built, old backyard tree fort Dave had discovered in a Douglas fir tree, long forgotten by the children of yesteryear who once climbed up its ladder. As the pain in my fingers grew worse, I zoomed back to the present as we set to work extracting the gold nuggets of that job—the light-blue aluminum siding.  Aluminum earned an impressively high scrap value in the 1990s. Not so much now, two decades later. As soon as we loosened half of each strip, the wild, sustained gale sent the siding bending over on itself, flailing hilariously in the winds and wrapping itself around our bodies. Dave had a sense of humor to match mine, and we laughed our way through this, dragging each of the uncooperative strips to the truck. Even on the truck, the winds wanted to send them flying again. When we finished, we tied down the load and marveled at the ridiculously tall, springy load of scrap before diving back into the warmth of Goldie’s cab. We drove straight to the scrap yard, and the money we earned for the store that day put a smile on Bruce’s face. With the current low scrap aluminum prices, such a job would be a severe waste of time.

    Over the twenty years since that job, the house is gone, the front yard is now a fifteen-foot tall berm of soil, and the house’s old footprint is probably airspace at the edge of a gravel cliff. Interestingly, at least one of the old heavy-equipment tires used as flower beds is still there today, demarcating the entrance to the driveway we parked in that no longer exists. Every time I drive passed that spot on the road I am reminded of that wild day. I wonder if that tree fort is still there. If the tree is still standing, I’ll bet it is!

Stay tuned for My RE Store Memories: Chapter 8!