Scrap You Later

Scrap Talk With Tom & His Dad

September 03, 2021 iScrap App Episode 69
Scrap You Later
Scrap Talk With Tom & His Dad
Show Notes Transcript

Patrons saw it first! We can't think of a better way to start off Scrap You Later's interview series. Joined by his dad, Tom Buechel Snr, both Toms sit down for a friendly scrap metal talk, reminiscing on the old days of Rockaway Recycling, how they each got started in the industry, and how times have changed.

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Tom Buechel:

Hey scrappers, it's Tom from the iScrap App. In today's episode of Scrap You Later, we are going to do an interview with my dad who brought me into the industry. And I figured who else better to start with doing an interview with for our scrappy later podcast, and the person that is responsible for me even being in the scrap industry. So my dad's name is Tom and he's been retired since 2007. He worked in the scrap industry for over 30 years full time. And now he lives with his wife and Annet down in Florida and they're retired with lots of grandchildren all over the country, but we just want to talk about where he started scrapping how he started scrapping what his first impressions were scrapping, you know, who could have brought him into the scrap industry and and without giving you know, too many things away. We're just going to go right into it, Dad, nice to see you and and welcome to scrap you later.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

Hey, son, I'm really happy to be here with you. Let me tell you a little bit out I started with scrap. It was when I was in my teenage years working at a gas station, collected wire and would burn it periodically. And we would take the scrap copper down and sell it and get a few bucks. And that was how we I was first introduced to scrap later on my brother Albin introduced me to scrap I had gotten an accounting degree from Rutgers University. My brother Albin showed me a different way of making money. And I decided to try that I would go from gas station to gas station in a large truck that I purchased and I would buy batteries. In addition to batteries, I would be getting alternators, I'd be getting starters, I found places to sell those all So,

Tom Buechel:

So so so... When you started scrapping when you were in, you got your accounting degree, I remember that you were working for a big gas company was one of the things on top of your brother's bringing you in just going to all these different gas stations doing auditing, and you started to see metal accumulating as kind of a habit, every place that you went, you saw either rotors or batteries, you kind of saw it and asked questions of your brother in the different, you know, auto places or how did that kind of work?

Tom Buechel Sr.:

I'd like to say that was true, but I worked for Hess oil and Hess didn't do repairs, but I scrap in other places. And I started to notice it, because I knew my brother was buying batteries and selling batteries. I started doing the same. And quite actually the first day that I was in business. I went out and I stopped at a welding shop. And I spoke to the man there and he said we have some old welders. And he showed me these gigantic, old portable welders. And I had no idea what to do. I said Well, what do you want? And he said $50 and $50 represented 20% of all the money that I had. Wow. But I bought them. Okay. The next day I sold them at a scrapyard that I happen to know my son still still deals with and I got almost $250 bucks.

Tom Buechel:

Wow, what a score. How much how much were people making back in the '70s a day on average.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

My friend, David was making about $80 bucks a day. And I used to figure my own work at I tried to make a day's pay by nine o'clock in the morning. I tried to make a second day's pay by 12pm. And I tried to make a third day's pay by two o'clock. And I'd work till six o'clock and make that fourth day's day. So I'd be trying to make $300 every day.

Tom Buechel:

So interesting. It's so interesting that you say that because when we when we look at all of our different social channels, whether it's Facebook or Instagram or YouTube, and we're talking a scrapper, so right, you know, you know that we own Rockaway Recycling, and we have the iScrap App. And it's really interesting because we get to have this unique perspective between scrap yard and scrapper. And it's so crazy because so many scrappers that are going to listen or watch this podcast or video. There. They were there in the shoes that you were in back in the '70s and a lot of them always talk about hustling non stop and we've said it for years. Don't stop, keep going keep hustling. So for those of you scrappers that are out there, just know that you know you never know what things lead to where you know, my dad was out here, just trying to make a day's pay by nine o'clock in the morning a second base pay by 12 o'clock. So I think it kind of relates because a lot of these guys are out there and some days you probably completely strike out and some days you hit home runs but But, you know, it's one of those grinds that doesn't stop, you know, because you're almost working on your own commission, right?

Tom Buechel Sr.:

I had repeat customers. That's where I succeeded. And I also developed chains where I would go for the Goodyear chain, I would take all their batteries, all the wheel weights, and the rebuildable car parts. They gave me about 20 of their operations to work and I worked in a chain. As I did that I developed other outlets, and I eventually hired some people start doing pickups for me.

Tom Buechel:

So when you were out there doing a lot of these mobile pickups on your own, like a lot of these scrappers do nowadays, at what point in your tenure from like, day one was at your three or your five, where you started to have a couple of trucks on the road? And a couple of guys that are working for you, we're kind of looking out for youlike, how long did that take you to do?

Tom Buechel Sr.:

By the second year of doing scrap, I had an idea of how to make money.

Tom Buechel:

Do you think a lot of that was from being grinding every day, do you think a lot of your college education had to do with it because we know that a lot of people kind of they poopoo the idea of a secondary degree. And I know a lot of scrappers that make more money than you know, some of my friends that went to college for eight years? What did you find when you kind of crossed over from like that, that college background from that white collar lead into like the blue collar lead. The white collar lead that I had, I was down in the trenches pretty much in this oil company doing auditing work in their gas stations. So I wasn't fully into the office set per se, where I etc. I knew after a while though, that I did not want to work in an office that I wanted to work with my hands. And then I could make money by finding things that were valuable that other people felt were not valuable. Do you do in the beginning when you were learning a bunch of those things, I know that we've talked about advertising and different things. And of course, here we are, you know, you're, you know, 1500 miles away from me and I can see clear as day with all the technology nowadays. Tell me kind of, you know, some of the changes that you've seen technology wise to the industry were how you initially were advertising then how you kind of saw things over a 10 to 15 year period change from those mid '80s into those those late 90s period technology shift. My brother Eric bought a fax machine. And he showed me how it worked. And I had known about teletype machine, but a fax machine was completely different. And suddenly, it was like one of those epiphany. I went out I got an 800 number which I happen to know that you're still using. We are.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

Then I got another 800 number for the fax machine. And I started to put small ads in trade journals. And suddenly, I started to get faxes from across the country. No one knew that I was a small yard in Rockaway, New Jersey, no one knew that I was a single truck operation. They sent me there on my 800 fax number. And suddenly I was able to start to get some juicy jobs. And all of a sudden, you get smarter quickly when you start to make money. And you find different ways of making money and different avenues. And suddenly I had a large flow of electronics coming to me. I'll let you pay my forte. Suddenly I was getting a dishwasher size hard drives. This was at the very beginning of the technological switchover to the miniaturization. I was getting the maximum things the refrigerator sized computers.

Tom Buechel:

I remember a lot of those you had them in the back of the yard when we came here as a kid you had piles of this stuff and now I always remember you showed me some of those gold boards having the pins on them and we would take a knife out we would scratch some of the connector plates and and you would take that little layer of green off the top and you just see these green connectors all over board and and joking around like you'd almost wear this as a necklace. There were so much gold on it back in the early days of electronics where nowadays you know, when we talk about electronics for scrap, you know scrappers look at us and they're like, you know, there are gold components, but I tried to tell my the people that work for me at Rockaway Recycling. The old circuit boards were so different than things that we see nowadays. So it must have been super interesting to see some of those electronics coming out of these big places. When I got my first large computer job, it was down in Hackensack, New Jersey, big IBM unit was put onto my truck, they put all this stuff on, it took up, I'm going to say almost two thirds of the truck. I know how to really secure things at that time. When I went around my first turn, it almost took the truck over. Wow.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

I quickly learned after that, I had all kinds of bars securing straps, I never let that happen to me again. But when I got that first unit home to Rockaway, and I got on the ground, and I opened up the doors, all you could see was the sheen of gold.

Tom Buechel:

Wow.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

Oh, it was everywhere. It was pinboards. And I quite actually had that entire unit sold before I hit the ground.

Tom Buechel:

And it's really interesting because a lot of people asked where they can find things, right, like, Where can I find copper wire? Or where can I find Platinum when we talk about catalytic converters. And you know, one of the things that people always look for a gold because it's always been, you know, the gold standard. And then, you know, we just had as one of the biggest economic drivers for so many years, the US would always talk about how much gold they have in reserves. And I think that one of the things that gets has really gotten lost since I've took over back in 2007 is what a incredible conductor that gold was in the early days for the electronics. And that was one of the primary reasons that the early computers were so expensive, because there was so much gold in them. And nowadays, they can do things with plastic fiber optics and aluminum connector. So back then you must have seen some really crazy things. So I like to point out that back in the '60s and '70s, when a lot of these machines were made, gold was significantly less in value than it currently is, you know, and find a plated it very heavily. They had military specs, and then they had industrial specs, they were all a little different. So that if we were going after a lot of the military stuff, I go to all the auctions and try to get that because at a high gold recovery rate, but most of the gold, the great high grade boards came out of the Hewlett Packard machines, the NCR machines, those were the machines that had the plated gold paths. So when you saw scrap, because you really saw it in the 1970s and 1980s, the 1990s. And in that that early 2000s period. So we're talking about a four decade switchover and change from decade to decade. What were some of the biggest changes you saw in the industry over that time. Was it big price shifts? Was it different environmental issues, what were some of the biggest things that you saw change over the 30-35 years that you were in business. Miniaturization, were the bad thing computers went from being the size of refrigerators, that tiny little units that you put on the desk. I mean, it was unbelievable, we'd go in and we'd pull out 60 hard drives, and they'd all be the size of washing machines, little washing machines, and they had valuable rare earth metals in them like alnico magnets, they had tremendous amounts of gold at the time. In addition, they had large aluminum castings. But everything that was reduced in size is in my opinion, things that I've seen because they went from using tremendous amounts of material to tiny little things. But those changes in size they have to have also been changes in sizes of equipment. I mean, I know that you didn't really run shears or things like that. But when you went to drop things off at larger yards like we work with Pascap company in the Bronx, you had to have seen a shift in their equipment over the years from the size of their forklifts or the type of their trucks. It must have been really interesting seeing how that technology drive that you're talking about a big washing machine size hard drive. You do probably compare that to some of the equipment that you saw at some of the larger processors in the tri state area that you worked with. Some of the larger processors I saw used to smelt aluminum, they would just throw it right into the big open pits and they melt it right down into a big brick. And of course nobody does that. Now. They used to throw the transmissions in and the transmission fluid would go crazy and they burst into flames. And I used to watch it all dripping out and then they take out the grate that had the steel on it. So the steel would go on to their steel pile. Meanwhile, they're making big aluminum pigs while nobody's sad anymore because no EPA would stop them in a second with that black smoke coming up. Were you around when a lot of that big superfund push was going on where a lot of people were doing a lot of those environmental cleanups, I know that we never did piles of steel and smelting operations at our yard here in New Jersey. But were you around and suddenly you're, you know, your friendly competitors. I know everyone's competitors, but you still work with each other, where you around and you don't have to name names, but just kind of witnessing some of the things that were happening with that big environmental push. Quite Personally, I was involved with that. Oh, interested. I was providing insight on a Mercury contamination. I used to buy mercury flasks. A flask is usually I think, a 76 pound jar of mercury. And I used to get them from different manufacturers, different operations, and I would sell them to an operation out on I think it was Long Island. And this guy polluted. Well, suddenly, I was involved because I had supplied some of the material and it was on and it was Bill Clinton's administration that said any one small scrap yard, like myself, who had in good faith recycled material that was hazardous. They did their job and they were not to be included on the Superfund. So thankfully, I got added this they were initially looking for about 60 grand from the at the time well, but I got out of it and I was happy about that. I really never got involved with too many toxic things. I did batteries, which some people consider toxic. I did a few other things, but I never really got involved with any wet things I never did iron and steel which brings in a lot of liquids and fluids. You kind of kept you kept your nose out of that I remember the yard as a kid you know, while there was a couple of things outside almost all the operations were either in some of the buildings in the back or the inside warehouse I always remember when it was pouring rain thinking Oh, thank goodness I don't work outside because I learned to get soaking wet and and nowadays you know my yard Rockaway Recycling, we have outdoor awnings, rain jackets and safety protocols. And and that must be one of the biggest shifts that you've seen over the years. No, just watching, you know, Virginia and I growing Rockaway Recycling and some of the things that I've talked about some from my other friends across the country where they have wire chopping systems in processing and these auto shredders and mega shredders, the technology shift from you know, a now retired scrappers perspective has to be one of the craziest things that you've seen, especially as I started the iScrap App 10 years ago already. And it has to be crazy seeing the technology swing over that period of time not to mention some of the prices. So I remember back in the those mid 2000s, when the prices started to change. How did that affect you? What What did you see in the industry? And you know, as technology really drove, and cell phones and computers and laptops and tablets became smaller, and were created? How did you see some of those price swings happening in those early 2000s periods compared to what you were used to for 20 years? You're saying in 2000. Prior to that we'd seen peaks in ebbs and flows in the prices, I'd seen him go up to $1 a pound. But then I saw a number one down to 45 cents a pound for strip number one red Wow, that's crazy.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

Unbelievable. And we were still receiving material. But when copper jumped, I would try to get right out front with the prices and get right out there so people could see what was going on and bring as much as as they could. I tried to be upfront with people and I tried to make it so they could see the scales.

Tom Buechel:

And I remember that when I when I would take over during the summers and be buying material and and just kind of learn the industry because while we worked together for many years, I know that when I came out of high school or college, those summer breaks I had I would run the yard. And I always remember you saying listen, there's a couple things you always need to keep in mind. The customer is always going to be leery because of other bad transactions, other places. So you need to make sure that you have your prices posted. And you make sure that you have your scales visible because they want to see what things weigh and they want to see what things cost this way. You don't never have confrontations. And I remember that was one of the most important things that you told me when I started working. You know, why did you do that? I actually tried to encourage people to weigh themselves because this way they would be verifying that the scales were reasonably close above. My competitors didn't do it. My competitors were in the Stone Age, and they were really very brutal men. I know we've talked about some of the guys around here and some of the yards still exists and they flipped over same name new owner. So a lot of things have changed, especially as you know, I remember the old Mettler Toledo scales. And I remember you telling me about, you had some of the scales from like shop rights, where they would be weighing things coming in and out. And I remember when digital scales came on board, it was like what a revolution This is, and that really goes to your technology shift. You know, when you had those old Mettler Toledo, and I remember taking those heavy counterweights on a Saturday morning with the scale in the middle of the door and a line of customers out there, and we'd be switching the weights on to weigh things and all of a sudden, we have this little box up to a wire, there's like protect that wire, so that doesn't get broken does all sudden we're going to be back to it again.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

They love seeing that number, the number would jump up. And to this day, of course, I know you use digital skills everywhere in your facility, because want to see the number.

Tom Buechel:

It really is. I mean, the one thing that I've learned over the years is is really opening up and being a little more transparent. So I remember in 2006, I told you that I was going to start posting prices online, and you had such a push back to me, like how can you play posted prices online, you know, I don't care that like cuz my customers see the prices when they come into our yard. But now you're gonna let my competitors see what I'm paying, and they're gonna pay a penny or two more. And it was that that little bit of paranoia from, you know, being her in the in the past. And I said, you know, by creating a transparent industry for transparent and educated customers, you create smart customers that can do the work for you. And it was one of those shifts where you and I kind of were two ships passing the night, we're both buying and selling scrap. But when that 2007 switchover kind of happened, it must have been really interesting for you to to see from an, you know, an inside out position where you know, scrap, and now you're watching me run the business, how the markets and the industries were changing as to go to your point, the technology shift. Now things were moving towards the Internet has to be really crazy to see that that change happened. You know, Tom, I was just trying to hang on. So you got on board and took over this wall that I was hanging on to the past because that was what I was familiar with. But I always knew that you would take it to the next level. And when Virginia joined your team, I can't tell you how happy I was that that everybody was there working together for a common goal. And I knew that you technology is you have beyond beyond my understanding. Well, it's and we appreciate that. I mean, without you starting everything, we wouldn't be sitting here today. But but over all those years that you were in business, tell me one of your best memories in your early years of working or best memories throughout all of your years of working, whether it was something cool you scrapped or a cool job that you worked on, what's one of the first things that pops to your mind? I had a job when a large electronics company was leaving Rockaway. And these, this was probably near the beginning of what I started to take in electronics. And they brought me barrels and barrels full of chips. And I dumped them into a big aluminum fan housing. And then somebody came and bought the whole thing for like 10 grand. And I couldn't believe it. I bet

Unknown:

Another guy came, and he left a giant box of bearings as garbage. And I sold that for 10 grand. And right then I got so smart, because I realized there were so many different ways to make money, other than putting aluminum into a square and putting it on a pallet.

Tom Buechel:

And I remember one of those stories, I remember the bearing story. I didn't know the chip story. So here I am. 36 years with you. Not knowing every scrap story would have what I but one of the coolest things that you just talked about was learning things. And when we talk to our, our different users, right, the people that are going to listen to this, they're going to be like, well, how can I find those bearings? or How can I find those chips and I'll tell them to put the story out of your mind to put the put the concept in. And we always tell people our job here is to help scrappers make more money with their scrap and by using technology to go to your point that I didn't even tell you to talk about but using technology to connect with people and learn about resale markets, learning about parts markets, you talked about rebuilding different things. You know the different auto parts back then, you know Learning about how to make money in different ways and always be willing to get your hands dirty. It's just so interesting because you see the same concept happening nowadays. And when you, you know, talk to your customers, and you told them, hey, what else are you working on? Or what other things are you buying? What's some of the best advice that you gave to your customers over the years, that could kind of translate into today's world that you could give to the people that are listening to this podcast.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

I would say to make it always worthwhile to whoever you got the scrap from, so that they want you back. You always want that second, third, fourth job, one job hit, you don't want, you want repeat job all the time. That's how to make money.

Tom Buechel:

And you know what I think that goes to a lot of the things that we say by being transparent by teaching people instead of, you know, putting the cover over people's eyes, that you can take that piece of information, if you're gonna take anything out of listening to us for 25-30 minutes, whatever the sense of being take away that repeat because I say the same thing nowadays. If I make money on a customer today, that's okay, as long as they call me tomorrow. And I know that a lot of the customers that are a lot of the users, the peddlers the scrappers that are out there everyday hustling, they don't care about the day to day, you know, they that's a micro view, the macro view is can I make money off of the same account by treating them fairly for the next 10 years. And that has to be one of the most important lessons that you learn throughout your career?

Tom Buechel Sr.:

Well, you happen to know about my one job that started off with at&t long lines, and went through a succession of different companies. I kept that job buying their scrap material for 25 years.

Tom Buechel:

Wow. I didn't realize it was that long. 25 years, I never gave them a hump, I just made certain that everything was correct. They saw the way they weighed stuff. And I paid them what we was agreeing to and that was the end of the deal. And I did the pickups and I gave them service. And that was what that was why I kept that job. And you know what, I think that that that service aspect and a little bit of that transparency, and we always tell people to weigh their material ahead of time because you can buy scales, so inexpensive nowadays, compared to what they used to be, you know, to kind of wrap this whole thing up with a bow from from a scrappers perspective, because I know that while you own the scrap yard, you always had that that scrapper mentality that I was never able to have, because I was never a scrapper, you know, I was brought into a scrap yard. So you had the unique idea of being a customer of a scrap yard for so many years and then transitioning to becoming, you know, a business owner and having employees work for you know, to wrap everything up. What would you say over all of your years of working in scrap is one of the most important lessons that you learned, other than the repeat business and taking care of customers that you could tell the scrappers Listening to this.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

Get up early work while everybody else sleeps, and you will live like a dream.

Tom Buechel:

And on that note, I really appreciate you taking the time your time today.

Tom Buechel Sr.:

I love you I would do anything for you.

Tom Buechel:

So well I appreciate it. We were super happy to have our first interview being with my dad Tom. We wish you guys we hope that everyone enjoyed listening to this we'd love to hear questions or feedback from this and and if you ever want to be featured in our you know, podcast or interviews for scrap you later, by all means you can email us you can tag us you can private message us through our Facebook account. And Dad we really I appreciate you coming on I love you. I love the stories. I know that we could talk for hours and if people want to hear more stories, hopefully we can have you back in the next few months. That sounds great, son. Hey guys, this is Tom from the iScrap App. This is our first interview on our podcast scrap you later. If you're looking for any other information of course you can become a Patreon supporter, getting tips every single day and week about scrap learning about the markets. Dad thank you for your time and scrappers. Until next time, I'll scrap you later. Awesome.