On One Acre, Super Salvage Recycles D.C.’s Metal Scraps

Mon April 04, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

Since the business opened in Washington, D.C., in 1951, Super Salvage Inc. has evolved and grown from recycling paper and rags to salvaging various types of metals. The first change, involving location, occurred only three years later.

“The company opened its doors at this location back in 1954,” said Bob Bullock, chief financial officer. “They had existed in another location in town, and had been run off by urban renewal. The company bought the ground that was left over when an elementary school was demolished and closed down, and transferred their operations half a dozen blocks from one section of Washington to another.”

The business was founded by Bob Kaplan, who died in October 2003 at the age of 90. His son, Paul, retired from the business in 1998. Another son, Joel, is the current owner. However, as part of the retirement benefit sponsored by the business, 45 percent of the company is owned by the employees in an employee stock ownership plan.

In the beginning, the business primarily involved paper and rags, which 50 employees handled manually, including the huge bundles of paper. The focus gradually changed to iron, steel, copper and brass, and the company now deals exclusively with ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

“As Washington is remade,” Bullock said, “what is salvageable out of old Washington comes in here for recycling or goes to a neighbor of ours that recycles brick and concrete and asphalt. We chop it up into manageable sizes so that the mills and foundries can use it to charge their electric furnaces to make new material — that’s on the ferrous side. On the non-ferrous side, we ship it out to people that either work strictly with aluminum or strictly with copper or brass. We just prepare it for the end user.”

Super Salvage employs approximately 20 people, whose jobs range from sorting metal by classes to cleaning ferrous material from non-ferrous material or assisting in chopping up the ferrous material. An 800-ton (726 t) Harris sheer is used to chop structural steel and other large pieces into 2- or 3-ft. (.6 or .9 m) sections that can be handled by the mill. Three people also operate cranes in the yard to either load, unload or move material.

Bullock noted that he tracks dollars and cents rather than pounds and tons, and 2004 was the biggest dollar year the company has ever had because prices for recycled material were “outlandishly high.” They processed a little over $7 million worth of material. Previously, the best year was $5 million in a lower-price environment.

“That year was probably a greater tonnage,” he said, “simply because it was the height of the subway construction operation here in Washington, D.C., when they had all kinds of heavy scrap as they finished their tunnels and excavations and track laying and other activities associated with building a major transportation system like that.”

The business facility occupies slightly less than one-acre, with only approximately 15 percent of it under roof, including a warehouse to process non-ferrous material and lock it up overnight, a scale house and a small office.

“We process an awful lot of material here on one acre,” Bullock said. “Our contemporaries in the industry are surprised at how much we can move through this little acre in southwest Washington.”

Bullock noted that the company went through an evolution from old American cable cranes to hydraulic cranes, and beginning last year they made the shift to Fuchs vehicles.

“We had to replace a Link-Belt that we had been using for 14 years and it just wore out,” he explained. “They didn’t have anything they could deliver to us for several months, and Fuchs had one that they could bring in in a week.”

Super Salvage still uses one Link-Belt, and purchased two Fuchs 350s from J.W. Burress last year — one in June and one in December. They are used to moving material from the yard into the sheer, or to load the trucks with the material after it has been cut to size.

“Occasionally,” Bullock said, “the grapple crane is needed to unload one of the trucks. If it comes in with a particularly large piece of salvageable material, and he doesn’t have a dump bed, we lift that stuff off before we break it up.”

Forklifts also are used to move the material around the yard, and small alligator sheers aid in cutting non-ferrous material into pieces small enough to load into boxes for shipment.

“The paper industry did bequeath some equipment to the scrap metal industry,” Bullock said. “We have three old paper presses that used to be used to squeeze paper together and bundle it for shipment. Now we put radiator cores and other material that can be compressed into bundles in the non-ferrous side. So, even that equipment has evolved, just like our business has.”