I don't know if there's a gene on our chromosome that designates dumpster divers or if it’s a learned behavior.  I learned it from my Dad.  There weren't any dumpsters in Oregon but while he was working around the boxcars he'd check inside for what's called dunnage.  That's the boards and timbers used to keep the load still.  The business that gets the load is supposed to unload the dunnage but many times they would just put it back inside the boxcar and send it on its way. 


Dad couldn't stand to see lumber go to waste because as a boy he'd have to go into the desert around Deming, NM and dig up mesquite roots for fire wood.  We always had piles of timbers and boards laying around the yard.  He'd say, "If nothing else I'll cut it up for firewood."  I remember one time he found a pallet of plywood inside a boxcar.  The sawyer had trimmed one end of the plywood sheets wrong.  Rather than let his boss see the mistakes he just hid the whole stack of about 50 sheets of plywood in a boxcar.


I did a little scrounging when I lived in Phoenix.  I remember going to a place that sold ceramic sewer and water pipe.  They gave me several 3'and 4' pieces that were broken on the small end.  I put them on end at various heights with the bell shaped end sticking up in a corner near the swimming pool.  They made great planters.


I've noticed that scrounging for good stuff is much easier near big cities.  Businesses don't have any place to keep things so out it goes.  In the summer Donna and I go over to an industrial park on a regular basis.  There is a carpentry and cabinet shop there.  They throw away all kinds of pieces of oak, cherry, and walnut.  The true scrapes I cut into kindling for the winter, and the others become picture frames or small shelves.  We even found some short pieces of round wooden columns that were hollow inside.  A bottom and a roof, with a hole in the side and you have a terrific birdhouse.


One evening this past summer we stopped at one of those huge open dumpsters parked in front of a building.  When I climbed up the side I found it filled with computers and big pieces of office furniture liked desks and steel shelves.  The computers were old and most had been taken apart, but there was also two very large boxes of computer disks.  We were barely able to get the boxes over the side of the dumpster and into the pickup.  Many were from original software of Windows, D-Base, and other programs.  When we got them home I discovered they had all been bulk erased but they format and work just fine.  Thanks Boeing!


In the mid-1980's Donna and I used to take our daughter, Michelle, out on Sunday evenings looking for plants.  We discovered that flower shops threw away hundreds of living plants because they started to fade or get sick.  I'm sure they didn't have a place for all of them nor did they want to have a sick plant infect the healthy plants.  We brought home every kind of plant imaginable.  From stag-horn ferns to 6' fescues. 


Whenever we would go to someone's house to visit or for a party we would take one of our plants that we'd nursed back to life.  Donna made me stop telling them where we got them after the first time they looked at me very strangely.  


Without doubt the high point of our dumpster diving occurred in early 1984.  Roy Roger’s fast food restaurants had a contest that lasted for three months.  Each drink cup had a tab on the side that you pulled off and put into books.  Small drinks were 30 points, medium 40, and large 50 points.  When you had enough points you could send the book in for the prize.  It had been going on for a couple of weeks when Michelle, who was ten at the time, said she wanted to save enough points for a jump-rope.  Donna and I hadn't paid any attention to the game because we seldom stopped at Roy Rogers.


It wasn't long before I realized that if you wanted any big prizes you had to take matters into your own hands.  That's what we did.  I started going around to all of the Roy Rogers in the area and going through their dumpsters at night.  Donna and Michelle would usually wait in the car as a lookout, but occasionally they would work from the other side.  We'd rip open the plastic bags and look for the cups with the tabs still on them.  We found thousands and thousands of cups.  We would bring the whole cup home and stack them on pieces of thin plywood to dry.  We also found hundreds of plastic trays that people threw away.  We sold the trays at yard sales, gave them away, and still use them around the house.


I was always very careful to never leave debris outside the dumpster.  I'd also pickup loose trash and put it inside in an effort to leave the area better than when I arrived.  Occasionally one of the restaurant people would catch me.  Sometimes they'd ask me to leave.  I would.  Then I'd come back later, being more careful not to be seen.


At one point I was going through dumpsters of about 10 restaurants.  By that time the points really started to add up fast.  Of course so did the empty cups in our trashcan.  I've always wondered what the trash men thought when they saw our large trashcans filled with empty cups. 


Donna started to have doubts about whether we would get all the prizes.  We set up a system where prizes would be mailed to different members of her family in the local area.


Finally the contest was over and we sent off for our prizes.  A few weeks went by and the prizes started to arrive.  Here's what we got:


Two Window Air Conditioners

Two Microwave Ovens

Two VCR's

An Exercise Gym Set

A Small set of Tools

A Tape Measure


And of course, a jump-rope for Michelle.  We gave a microwave to Donna's Dad and a VCR to her Sister.  They had them for many years and they worked fine. 


Every so often we start talking about this story and laugh.  If Michelle's around at the time, she'll say it scarred her for life.  Of course she's smiling from ear to ear when she says it.


I'll have to admit there was a time when we were collecting these cups that I didn't expect it to work out.  When it was over I was kind of disappointed.  Then again all good things must end, especially since we'd collected over 563 thousand points.  Thanks Roy Rogers!


So there you have the confessions of a dumpster diver.  It's really a lot of fun if you're careful and you don't mind getting a little dirty.