Herb Business Sprouts Into Metal Recycling Plant

Mon June 20, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Brian H. Kern

Going from the medicinal herb business to scrap metal recycling may not seem like a natural transition, but it worked well for Don Wilson and his family. He grew up in his family’s herb business and when World War II fired up in the early 1940s the family diversified into a much-needed scrap metal recycling business.

As a young adult in the 1960s, in an attempt to discover other means of livelihood, Wilson ventured out on his own to become an insurance agent for People’s Life Insurance Co. in Eastern Tennessee. Wilson’s son, David, president of Johnson City Iron and Metal Co., said his father started the company when he saw a need for a scrap metal industry in the east Tennessee region.

“My parents established Elizabethon Herb and Metal Co. Inc. in 1968,” David Wilson said. “My dad loaded that first rail car by hand, and he’s still working today — I won’t let him quit.”

The elder Wilson originally coordinated the family’s two entrepreneurial ventures under one moniker — thus the unique incorporation of herbs and metals.

“Our operation is now the largest private scrap dealer in the Eastern Tennessee,” David said.

Johnson City Iron and Metal Co. was established in 1990 as an offshoot of the Elizabethon operation. The company’s two locations employ 115 personnel and indirectly promote positive impact on the area’s economy by buying scrap and prepared metal from local dealers and small peddlers.

“We get our metal from three sources,” David said. “We buy trailer loads of cut and prepared steel from dealers who are not large enough to have rail sidings. We buy scrap metal from peddlers who drive on to our scales with pick-up trucks. And we purchase metal byproducts such as stampings and flashing from more than 200 large industrial accounts.”

Johnson City Iron and Metal recycles ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Ferrous, or magnetic, metals include steel, cast iron and tin. Non-ferrous metals include aluminum and copper.

Johnson City Iron and Metal has four Link-Belt 370 LX modified excavators to handle and move metal scraps, car hulls, I-beams and appliances. The excavators for the scrap metal industry are equipped with grapples and magnets and have elevated cabs for visibility over high-sided trucks and rail cars.

“We find the Link-Belts to be very durable and efficient pieces of equipment,” David said. “Our oldest Link-Belt is a 1997 model and it still does 3,300 hours per year. We just added the fourth 370 LX to our fleet this year.”

David said the company buys its machinery from AE Finley and Associates.

“Finley is an outstanding company that provides superior service,” he said. “They are always ready to help and they can usually supply whatever we need within 30 to 45 days.”

Johnson City Iron and Metal uses Texas Shredder’s 80/104 model to shred car hulls, appliances and steel. The shredding system runs on two tandem 4,000-hp (2,900 kW) DC motors and sits on a 2.5-acre (1 ha) piece of land. The system runs every day, rain or shine, and can shred up to 1 million lbs. (454,000 kg) per day.

David said a car that is shredded in the morning can be delivered to a steel mill in the afternoon and, by 5 p.m., can be received at a construction site as re-bar. An automobile hull can be shredded by the Texas Shredder in five seconds flat.

“We use Mosley Guillotine shears to cut steel that is too big for the shredders such as I-beams,” David said.

Johnson City Iron and Metal has a fleet of 30 trucks that covers a 100-sq.-mi. (260 sq km) region around Johnson City.

“We also have 15 trucks that run daily service to area steel mills and we have rail service at two locations in Johnson City,” David said.

From David Wilson’s perspective, the steel industry in Eastern Tennessee seems to be in good health. CEG