Ohio junk haulers stumble on rare finds

KEN GORDON The Columbus Dispatch Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- As a junk hauler, Erik Hughes has picked up plenty of items that register high on the "bizarre" meter.

He wasn't prepared, though, for what he found about 18 months ago when he showed up to clean out the house of a Worthington resident who had recently died.

"He kept mice, and, every time one died, he put them in a cardboard box," recalled Hughes, the 39-year-old co-owner of a Junk King franchise in Dublin. "This went on for 10 or 15 years. There were tens of thousands of boxes stacked up along the walls.

"We took 10 trucks of mice boxes out. He loved those mice. He might have been as crazy as the day is long, but he took care of those mice and honored each one."

Many other central Ohio haulers -- with 373 licensed in Franklin County, according to the county health department -- have believe-it-or-not tales to tell, too.

The business, after all, tends to draw them into others' worlds at transitory times.

"You're dealing with all different types, and you never know what you will find day to day," said Alex Foster, 46, owner of At Your Disposal Hauling on the East Side.

Amid the flotsam and jetsam of customers' lives, stories inevitably surface.

Here's a sampling:

Arming the family

Some of what Hughes has run across defies description.

"I'll get weird-shaped devices that I can't identify -- like the things you see on Cracker Barrel walls," he said. "I have found everything from cannonballs to musket rounds."

Ammunition, he said, seems to be popular in Ohio.

"I think I have yet to sweep a basement after a job and not find .22(-caliber) ammunition."

Lamenting a loss

Foster worries that he has unwittingly thrown away valuable antiques.

"We deal with tons," he said. "I can't go through all the stuff."

He recalled rescuing a German doll that looked valuable. He took it to an antiques dealer, who bought it for a small sum.

"She told me it wasn't worth anything, but I often wonder how much it was really worth," Foster said. "If I think about it too much, I'd get sick."

Pushing the envelope

Nate Watkins, manager of the Columbus franchise of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, once hauled an entire truckload of envelopes -- only envelopes -- out of a house.

The owner had apparently saved them from every piece of mail he'd received for many years.

"He opened them all and took the contents out, then filed each envelope in boxes, neatly stored," Watkins said.

He also told of a time when he and a colleague, while working their way through a pile of trash, noticed a repugnant smell.

"There was a dead deer on the bottom," Watkins said.

Sharing a joke

Two items in particular stand out among his discoveries, said Brian Keiser, owner of Trash Daddy.

"Almost every house we do, we either find a Christmas tree or a sex toy," said Keiser, who has offices in Columbus and Canton.

The latter serves a running joke among the staff, he said.

"It has become sort of an initiation for new employees: Once they find ... (a toy), they are part of the crew."

Clearing the bedroom

A recent job in Powell stunned Ruthanne Clark, co-owner of American Eagle Cleaning and Hauling in the North Linden neighborhood.

The woman who called her had just returned from a trip to New York, where she had purchased a complete set of bedroom furniture.

"Her husband said he didn't want it; he wanted another style," Clark said. "We got rid of it so they could buy more brand-new stuff."

Providing a home

A 6-by-8-foot fiberglass sculpture of a winged woman holding a tire stands in the Cleveland offices of Moving Ahead Services, which also has a Columbus office.

The Goddess of Speed sculpture was made as part of a 2007 public-art project celebrating the Packard automobile line. The winged woman had served as a hood ornament on some Packards.

The sculpture had been displayed in a Cleveland gallery for several years when Moving Ahead received a call in February from the artist who had made it. She intended for the company to relocate the artwork to her garage at home but later decided that such a move was too costly.

"We ended up buying it from her," said Spencer Chappell, who oversees both Moving Ahead offices (he wouldn't disclose the price).

"We're not sure what we're going to do with it yet, but it was just a very unique piece."

Asking a favor

In his 15 years in the business, Jeff Bowen, owner of American Hauling & Dumpster Rental, estimates that he has dealt with one memorable request "about 20 times."

"A bunch of people have asked me, 'Will you haul away my husband?'" said Bowen, whose company has offices in Columbus and Westerville.

Does he think the women are serious?

"About half the time."

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com