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Big Ass Steel

October 21, 2010

While there hasn’t been much visual change at BAB lately, there’s lots of behind the scenes action. We were spending our evenings finalizing our HVAC, electrical and plumbing drawings, and those have been sent out to contractors for bidding. (Plus – we were out of town for three days for my niece’s wedding – congrats again Mandy & Brandon!)

Also, I’ve been sending out word to everyone we know that we are looking for a used steel spiral stair, AND some particular steel components that will become the main brackets that support our railing at the edge of the loft. So we’ve had lots of discussions about steel lately. The prerequisite was that we didn’t want NEW steel – salvaged steel was more in the spirit of BAB. I received lots of recommendations – what surprised me was that most of the steel salvage yards don’t sell to the public – they send their hunks-o-metal to recyclers and mills.

Our friend John to the rescue.

He works at a local scrap yard. He said he was pretty sure he could get whatever I needed. So I emailed him some specs of the angle iron I wanted, but then told him that I would need some square or round stock that could be a sleeve for our railing posts, and I’d need to bring a “sample” of the post material. He graciously offered a tour of his place, so we planned a lunch time visit for Monday. I brought my friend Merrilee from work; she knows John too and wanted to see him.

So we show up at the dusty scrapyard, pull up behind John’s truck, and he yanks out from the bed – the EXACT steel angle size and shape that I told him I needed. Awesome!

Then the tour began. We walked past piles of steel. Stacks of steel. Wads of steel. Everywhere we looked, there was STEEL.

Like a pile of spaghetti...

Of course, there was the occasional tin or aluminum. But the most impressive pieces were steel. We could see remnants of giant girders, huge drums, and then enormous strangely curved shapes that sent our imaginations whirling about what they might have been in previous lives. But they were all intended to be recycled into new steel; perhaps for a blender, a boxcar, or a building.

We stop at the place where John told me there would be lots of round stock. I see some potential tubes and stick the small pipe sample I’ve brought inside the tubes. This tube, that tube; some fit, some don’t. After several minutes, I find an acceptable piece.

The tubes at bottom center seemed to work.

So, I grab a short hunk and move on.

Remind anyone of WALL-E???

John is certain we can find some “perfect” pieces in other areas of the scrap yard. In the meantime, both Merrilee and I adore all of the cool machinery that occupies the yard; Merrilee said they look like gigantic robotic alien bugs that are picking through the piles of metal.

Luckily, at a couple of piles over, we find a BETTER-fitting tube! But it’s about 10 feet long, certainly won’t fit in my car, so John carries it over to a welding/cutting station where he can cut it down to size. (I only need three feet.) Alas, there is no striker to ignite the welder. So he says he can take it over to the nipper. (?)

We go around a corner, john throws the pipe on the ground and hops into the cab of this humongous machine.

Big machine about to nip my little pipe.

This “nipper” machine bites. Bites metal to be exact. Bites it in half, thirds, whatever. I think I would pay a hundred dollars to be able to run it and break up stuff for an afternoon.

John lines up the power-jaws over the pipe and yells “Is that where you want it cut?!”

We’re talking “rounding to the nearest foot”, so I think it’s between four and five feet so I yell back “Sure!’

Like breaking a toothpick.

Literally – it was over in half a second. Torch-cutting would have taken three minutes. Hacksaw would be 15 minutes.  I think I’m gonna offer John FIVE hundred dollars to run that beast! What power!

So back to BAB-relevancy: we carry our little pieces of steel out of the yard. (I only say little in a relative sense – while we’re carrying over a hundred pounds of steel, compared to skyscraper cubes of steel in the yard, it’s barely even noticeable.)

So here it is, ready for fabrication at BAB:

Just the right amount of steel we need.

Everything I need to cut and weld together to make all of the brackets for the railing. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense right now; I’ll post more when they start “becoming brackets”.

So I’ve saved the best parts for last:

1) John gave us this steel for FREE! What a great guy!

2) While John may not acknowledge this – he has a spectacular job. All of my white-collar friends (male friends anyways) envy his outdoor workday, running masculine machines, and working around STEEL. Did I mention I would PAY to run his machines?

3) If you’re a fan of Discovery Channel – you may have caught a celebrity sighting – yes, John was hangin’ with Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” – they did a show on this scrapyard because these guys also cut up barges on the Mississippi River. John was on “Dirty Jobs”!

Thanks John!!!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan permalink
    October 21, 2010 9:42 am

    Very cool pictures. Your comments about paying John to operate the equipment at the site fits in with a book I am currently reading titled Drive. Speak about how folks will pay to other people’s jobs (as opposed to being paid to do them) because the work itself is motivating.

    Anywho, I really would love to see your project documented and shown in TV (or the web) so day. I think what they two of you are doing to recycle at so many levels is inspirational.

    • Tom permalink
      October 21, 2010 10:01 am

      Thanks Dan! Who knows where this will go – our local AIA Executive Director wants us to write a book; and we met with a writer for a local magazine last week; they may do an article when we get moved in. (But for right now – we BARELY have time to blog!)


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