Monday, January 26, 2009

Praxis: Scavenging as a Guerrilla Art Form

Dumpster diving is the practice of sifting through commercial or residential trash to find items that have been discarded by their owners, but which may be useful to the Dumpster diver. The practice of Dumpster diving is also known variously as urban foraging, binning, alley surfing, aggressive recycling, Curbing, D-mart, Dumpstering, garbaging, garbage picking, garbage gleaning, dumpster-raiding, dumpstering, dump-weaseling, tatting, skally-wagging, skipping, or trashing. -- Wikipedia

OK, first of all I'd like to apologize to anyone who lost their morning coffee all over their keyboard and screen for that illustration. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Anyone who has read much of my Praxis stuff knows that I am a big believer in scavenging. I get this compulsion from my early training at the knee of my mother's father, Lewis Nace, who, after being injured in an industrial accident at Clark Equipment, supplemented his disability by trash hauling. He would put an ad in the newspaper and offer to clean out basements and attics and carry off unwanted items to the dump. Boy, did he make out like a bandit. Hey, he even carried off firearms and ammunition (unfortunately this was many years before I was allowed access to firearms). He would recycle scrap metal, fix broken furniture, sort clothes, you name it. When he had a load, he would go down to the great flea markets and auctions just below the Michigan-Indiana line. My earliest memories of him include wheeling and dealing at the Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market, in the heart of Amish country.

I used to make a good living myself diving the dumpsters of the Ohio National Guard on 161 outside Linworth, back before everybody got so paranoid about property books and terrorism. I did my best gleaning for manuals, discarded load bearing equipment, even brass, links, bandoleers, rations and pyrotechnics. Ah, the good old days.

But once an urban forager, always an urban forager. Take my latest trip to the range. The brass had already been policed before we got there, so there was little on the ground. But, oh, the trash cans. Most people hate to dig around in trash cans, mostly because there's trash in there, some of it organic and a fair percentage of that objectionable from an olfactory point of view. But here's my take from three trash cans:

4 SKS stripper clips
234 pieces of brass, various
4 brand new factory loaded rounds, Remington .243 still in box.
1 8mm Mauser bandoleer.
1 .22 pistol magazine, uncertain progeny.
24 empty cardboard ammo boxes, some useful as bandoleer sleeves, others to be used to contain .45ACP, 7.62 NATO and 5.56 NATO reloads.

(The pistol mag was apparently discarded for being dirty. I brought it home, stripped it, cleaned it, reassembled it and it seems perfect. No damaged feed lips, spring strong, no rust, holds .22 rounds no problem. Now if I can just figure out what it fits.)

And this was a slow day.

In the past, from the same cans I have retrieved a .22 rifle scope that was found adjusted all the way to the right and up, indicating that the guy had a problem with his base needing shimmed. I put it on one of mine, adjusted it and it works perfectly; a half dozen Australian 7.62 NATO bandoleers, complete with discarded stripper clips and guides; a pair of binoculars with one lens fogged (I stripped it, cleaned it and resealed it and it works fine.); an M-1 carbine 15 round magazine with a dent that obstructed the follower (I used a vise and a homemade fixture to straighten out the dent and it works fine now.); and, most importantly untold hundreds of boxes and thousands of pieces of brass that people just throw away.

Not to mention uncounted coins, three cell phones (one still had minutes on it) and a twenty dollar bill. The list could go on and on. Trash is the gift that keeps on giving.

Don't forget thrift stores either. I once got a medium kevlar PASGT helmet from the toy shelves marked, like all the other bike helmets, for $1.98. I have twenty-two five gallons icing buckets, each packed with two GI wool blankets, picked up at the thrift stores or garage sales for as little as 50 cents or as much as $4.98. What will I do with the wool blankets? Well, you never can tell who might need them. Besides, in the end they were free. I found three brand new 1943 Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot blankets that I sold to WWII collectors and re-enactors for a total of $135.00. That paid for the rest of them.

Anyway, I'll be interested to see if any of you have guerrilla scavenging stories. Oh, yeah, and sorry again about the picture.


Anonymous said...

Don't worry about the picture, Mike, it actually was better than a 3rd cup of coffee....

j said...

Caption " Somebody done throwed away a perfeckly good woomin."

Actually I have done this for decades but never at a range, though I hope to go to one in the next couple of months. My own adventures with genuine dumpsters were first out of necessity when my Dad was unemployed for a few years, and I was way too young to work; then secondly for gathering tactical information dumpster diving late at night outside of two of the local abortion mills on Southside, and in between those years, back when there were no open ranges for private citizens around here, a friend and I would take our old 7x57 Mausers out to a huge multi-location dump and plink in some of the areas where we had a strip pit with 50 foot backstop - a natural red clay berm! And of course we would root around in all the stuff people had dumped.
We found all manner of things from heirloom-type jewelry to gardening tools, old bottles and line insulators, rusty but still perfectly usable hand tools... it made for a wonderful morning's visit. And like yourself, I used to ( when I had more free time) drift through the old Veterans' Outlet in West End, the Salvation Army store and Jimmie Hale store ( Goodwill got too fancy and their prices went way up!) and little individual flea markets.

IF anyone is going to do any serious dumpster diving, as opposed to city-dump scrounging, I would offer just a couple of thoughts.
If it is a place where you might be noticed just climbing in and out of there, and prehaps draw unwelcome attention - then note what kind of garbage bags are thrown in the dumpster and obtain similar bags; stuff them with old newspaper, rags, whatever, so that when you take the bags OUT of the dumpster, doing a late night drive-by in-and-out, you have a few to place in there, so there are still bags in place and no one grows suspicious, You can then take the liberated bags to a safe place and empty onto a tarp or ground cloth to examine contents. Should be an area where no kids or pets can get near your project, as both are curous and need to be protected.

Next - whether you are standing in the dumpster and examing stuff or taking bags home - wear heavy boots, the tallest you have, and two pair of gloves. A thin pair like the blue or purple nitrile ones, covered with the heavy gauntlet style Playtex kitchen gloves or even the long black chemical proof work gloves. There ARE sometimes very nasty things, from hypo needles to thin slivers of broken glass, to nails or fishooks, waiting to surprise the imprudent hand or foot. And trust me - whatever is in there, has been stewing in a perfect solution of bacteria, moisture and heat, and a pinprick can introduce you to the wild world of hepatatis, HIV, tetanus... you get the idea.

One of those LCD headlamps with the elastic headband - Wal Mart, twelve bucks - is also incredibly helpful, both while inside a dumpster at 11:00 at night, and also while going through the goods on the tarp. A sturdy plastic box or a dozen of the heavy, thick zipper-type freezer bags, is good for separating and holding salvageables.
Final note: No matter how fresh they look, jelly beans or chewing gum are to be avoided.
Good hunting.

Anonymous said...

The picture reminded me that I need to practice unnoticed approach tactics some more.

Warthog said...

That pic...

Now we know what Hillary was doing after the primaries.

Atlas Shrug said...

No problem at all with the photo. In fact, Ms. Erin looks like a very good dumpster diving/freecycling partner!


If nothing else, a good diversion. No one will notice you scrounging if they see her. And she can always be looking for that ear ring that was accidentally thrown away....

(Use your imagination here, as looking for some small thing of the wife's that you as the dumb guy threw away is a standard and ready cover story....)

Anonymous said...

I Trace my dumpster driving roots back to my tenn years living on a street with two city blocks of apartments and an alleyway in between.Those dumpsters were a treasure trove.I found a back pack gas blower (still have) ,T.V's a huge roll of bundle twine(still have but almost all gone),boomboxes,tools,toys,furniture,sports equipment,pocket knives (still have),jewelery I could go on and on... beginning and end of the month was the time when people were moving in and out. Nice Post!

Anonymous said...

hit the upper class neighbor hoods the night before trash day or couple hours before pick up you won't believe what the lazy snobbs will throw out

Anonymous said...

Have down this for YEARS. Twenty years ago we lived in a trailer park and used to make a point of going through late at night before garbage pick up and got all types of things...used to then have thousand dollar garage sales. Once found a chair someone died in out in front of a home...we didn't know him, the chair was less than six months old so we took it home. We live near a BIG university and used to go through the student housing as they were moving out...again - made thousands on what they trashed. Can't tell you the wonderful items we've found and kept or sold. Too numerous to mention. Don't forget to check out your communities freecyle websites...go to to check it out. Again, can find a lot of goodies being given away...just this week scored a huge bag of first aid items - mostly gauze wraps and many, many four by fours.....and some sterile liquid to use to clean deep wounds. Would have cost well over $100 - got it all FREE!