Don’t let the dictionary scare you from scavenging

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 8/2/19

I’m amazed at some of the stuff people throw away.

Good stuff — sometimes great stuff — placed at the curb to be hauled off.

I once rescued a perfectly fine rocking chair from an untimely …

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Don’t let the dictionary scare you from scavenging

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I’m amazed at some of the stuff people throw away.

Good stuff — sometimes great stuff — placed at the curb to be hauled off.

I once rescued a perfectly fine rocking chair from an untimely date with the landfill. The only thing wrong with it was that its previous owner had tired of it. I’m using it to this day.

I love those sort of finds.

And I guess that makes me a scavenger.

But that sounds bad.

I looked the word up in a dictionary. A “garbage collector,” it said. An alternate definition was “junk collector.”

Neither of those definitions is inherently negative; but neither has me rushing to add “scavenger” to my resume, either.

“Scavenge” is defined this way: “To salvage from discarded or refuse material.”

That sounds more agreeable.

Whatever the dictionary may say or imply, I’m a believer in the principle.

I get a lot of pleasure out of rescuing good, usable stuff from the garbage.

I have standards, of course.

Before I claim a chair — or anything else — that someone has deemed unworthy, for instance, I ensure it is sturdy and safe. I don’t want junk, after all.

It also has to be clean, or at the very least not so dirty as to be unable to be cleaned and brought to an acceptable level of cleanliness.

So much of what gets discarded, though, is perfectly fine. That’s the part that continually amazes me. I’ve found great quality furniture — no scratches, blemishes or mysterious stains diminishing their value — hauled to the curb.

Sometimes, though, the value of a discarded item isn’t immediately apparent. For instance, I’ve kept my old lawnmower in working order for several years thanks, in part, to the spare parts I’ve gleaned from “junk” lawnmowers others have thrown away. The discards may not crank, may be rusted beyond use, but their wheels are still good; or some variation on that theme.

One of the tricks to proper scavenging is timing. There’s an old saying about it: The early scavenger gets the chair.

Or something like that.

On our morning walks before sunrise, my wife and I get an early shot at the good stuff, especially after a weekend when folks have had time to sit around getting tired of their surroundings and itching to replace them.

But among us scavengers, there’s competition. At least a couple of other scavengers (remember, that’s not a pejorative term) patrol the same neighborhood with trailers in tow, cruising at slow speed to inspect the offerings and frequently stopping for a closer look or to lay a claim. They may operate on a larger scale than I do, but our interests overlap.

Not long ago, I happened on a discarded lawn mower at the curb. It happened to be a mower just like mine, only in much better condition; so I stopped and talked to the owner, being uncertain — due to the mower’s seemingly good condition — whether taking it would be a legal act or an action that would land me in jail for theft.

“It costs more to repair it than it does to buy a new one,” the soon-to-be previous owner explained, confirming his intent to scrap it.

I took it home and claimed the couple of parts I needed and, not wanting junk laying about, put the remainder of the mower — still largely intact and still looking shiny and nearly-new — at my curb.

A few hours later, someone rang my doorbell.

“Is that your lawnmower?” the stranger asked.

I nodded and explained the mower’s provenance and invited him to take it.

He just wanted the wheels, he explained; and he spent the next 10 minutes or so taking them off — this fellow scavenger had come prepared with tools — leaving the body of the mower at the curb.

It was all fine by me, another confirmed scavenger.

After all, we all know the other old saying that applies here: One man’s trash is another man’s set of wheels.

Or something like that.


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