Sunday, February 28, 2010


A salvage economy takes the remains of the previous economy and repurposes it. It happens all the time.

After the days of the Egyptian Pharaohs, their monuments and tombs were taken apart for the building materials. Much easier to take apart a pyramid than quarry fresh stone and haul it to the city.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the salvagers moved in. So much stuff was taken apart for scrap steel that it depressed world steel prices. The average Russian reused just about anything they could get their hands on. Since the currency was no good for a while, barter kept some economic activity going. Salvaging was a big part of that economy.

Much of the world's economy is in trouble. Imagine if you will, what will happed to world commerce should the US dollar fail. For all intents and purposes, the dollar is a world currency. Other countries use the dollar as a reserve currency. Most of the world's oil is traded in dollars. US dollars are no longer backed by gold, but by the petroleum in other people's countries. The system made sense when the US was the world's major oil exporter. It's a bit of a rip off now, and some oil producers are looking to get away from the dollar.

Dimitry Orlov's "Reinventing Collapse" speculates that the US is going the way of the Soviet Union. He's not alone. Our collapse could be happening any day now. We could be in one now.
All empires fall.

Don't let that get you down. Think of all the salvage opportunities. Many already have. Think of all the foreclosed and abandoned houses. They've been stripped of their wire, pipe, fixtures, siding, right down to the timbers. Unlicensed freelance salvagers (a more generous label than thief) have recycled many houses already. They got in on the ground floor. (and took the floor too!)

Eventually salvage becomes organized. It's nothing new. A few years ago the mill in my hometown closed. It wasn't too long before the place was bought by a dismantling company. Tools, equipment, and machinery were stripped out of the buildings. Eventually the buildings themselves were taken apart.

My dad was always a great collector of junk. We used to joke that given enough junk, he could build anything. His backyard was organized. Angle iron in one pile, aluminum in another, pipe in another, sheet steel in another, and so on and so on. His basement was full of shelves and jars of salvaged items: screws, nuts, bolts, wire, washers, rivets, gages, electronics, sewing machine parts, etc..

He had the tools to build things with all those parts: welders, air tools, drill presses, power tools of all sorts, files, hammers, wrenches, glues, and of course -duct tape. Just as important, he had the knowledge and skill to make use of everything.

I can't but help follow in his footsteps. There's a lot of stuff around my place that I just can't throw away. I've had piles of salvaged windows taking up space for ten years or more. So far only used a few. Built a solar batch hot water heater using old windows and a propane water heater tank. Still have the outer sheet steel from the water tank. My truck could use a few good steel patches. Most of the rest of the windows are going into next month's greenhouse project.

My truck is largely parts salvaged from other trucks. My buddy Jeff has been collecting old Fords and Ford parts for years. Jokingly, I refer to my truck as being to the "Jeff Standard." When the starter failed, Jeff was right there with a salvaged part. It runs fine. If for some reason I had to give all the parts from Jeff back to him, the truck would fall apart.

America overbuilt just about everything and if we didn't build it, we imported it. Those days are coming to an end. Enter the salvage economy. We might give it a sanitized name like recycling. No matter. We will end up dismantling the monuments to our gods. The endless miles of strip malls, our monument to our god of money, will be torn down for parts.

Knowing what to do with salvaged materials is a darn good skill to have. Wouldn't hurt to know Jeff either.



  1. You have just given a lot of people a clue as to how to make a living in the future. I hope they appreciate what you have done for them. I know I do.


  2. I was doing the salvage bit for awhile up until last spring. Then the bottom dropped out of the scrap prices and folks weren't buying any of the gear I was recycling. I made the switch to roofing and caught up a few jobs. But, I had to be the low bidder. Come spring there'll be lots of work needing done due to winter storm damage, but folks don't have the cash for repairs and most have let the insurances go. If they let the home repairs slip to far, they will be forced out of their homes. At least that's the way it happens around here. The Russian hit the nail squarely on the head. We are going down. I may have waited to long to bug out. Some folks think barter is the way to go, but I disagree...If they don't have anything I want or need, I ain't working for em. Same can be said for the precious metals crowd...There is no reasonable return on any PM investment, Nor is it a way or the way to preserve wealth...Folks still can't buy my services for PM's. The whole PM scene has one basic flaw. That being people are expecting the return of some kind of government. The New Dark Age approaches and few folks have a clue.