Digging Up A Junk Treasure

Whenever I meet my high school friends, I get a little jealous for one reason – they all have interesting stories to tell about their jobs. Pat owns a fishing boat, Jim is a high-school basketball coach, and George runs a security team at Portland International Airport. So whenever we go out for a beer and nachos, and they ask me if anything interesting happened at work, I shrug my shoulders as if to say, “What interesting could possibly happen during a junk removal job?”

That was until a few weeks ago. It was a slow week in the middle of August. There were no autumn chills yet, and I was seriously considering joining Pat on one of his fishing trips to Puget Sound. Then, out of the blue, I received a large junk removal estimate request in central Vancouver. I checked the map and figured I would need less than fifteen minutes to get to the address. The trunk tank was full, my crew was itching for some work, and I could use a good check before the weekend – so the fishing trip had to wait.

Any native son of Washington will tell you that the most conspicuous feature of the state is the constant rainfall. At least it feels constant, to the point where the locals pay no attention to it. But let me tell you – performing a large-scale junk removal in a downpour is not a funny thing to do. So, as I was driving across Hough, heading south on Franklin Street, I was grateful for the sunny, calm day.

Arriving at the address, I could spot Norman’s carpenter truck. Norman is a good friend, and we’ve worked together several times. I could imagine the customer who called me was completely refurbishing his property and needed to get rid of a lot of stuff. All the better – the more the junk, the larger the check.

The property in question was a standard framed two-story house with a freshly painted veranda and perfectly mowed front lawn. A large chestnut was throwing a deep shade on the entire left side of the house and the side alley leading to the backyard. As I was parking the truck, the front door opened, and a heavy-set bear of a man in his forties came down the porch.

“Howdy! You must be Colin! I’m Frank Sutton, we spoke on the phone.”

“Looks like you are in the middle of remodelling your house”, I noticed as we shook hands.

“My wife and I bought the place a few months ago”, said Frank. “The previous owners had taken good care of the place, but their kids grew up and went to college. So, instead of facing the empty nest syndrome, they decided to downsize and move to a smaller house in Salmon Creek. It’s not the house I’ve called you, actually. We have to deal with a shack in the backyard. Come on, let me show you.”

The shack did look out of place. The whole property looked prim and neat, while the wooden barrack, in stark contrast, was flimsy and dirty. But the real surprise came when Frank unlocked the door.

The place was overflowing with all kinds of stuff – football paraphernalia (both Seahawks and Washington State), an old mowing machine, decrepit bicycle tyres, an ancient-looking sowing machine, and boxes! At least half of the shack was full of boxes, and God knows what they included.

“We explicitly asked the previous owners if they wanted anything, and they declined”, said Frank. “I have no intention to go through this mess, so I rely on you to deal with it.”

A quick aside. I am a massive “Storage Wars” fan, and I’ve even considered switching my job to storage hunting. I knew 50% of the junk in the shack was totally useless, but the mysterious boxes provoked my interest. What if there was something valuable in them? I intended to find out.

Frank and I quickly went through the numbers, shook hands on the deal, and I went to call my guys up. As I was turning the corner, I asked him one last time: “You are absolutely certain about the boxes?” He laughed and patted me on the shoulder: “If you really find something worth ten bucks, buy a six-pack and let’s watch the Seahawks opener at home! The nachos are on me!”

The job looked tougher than it really was. It took us about fifteen minutes to deal with the junk, but the boxes were much easier to move. We cleaned the shack and loaded the truck in less than thirty minutes, just in time for an early dinner.

The next day, I went into the storage room we use to sort the junk out. 90% of the stuff goes for recycling or to the Columbia Resource Company yards. 9% is suitable for repair parts that I can sell to local machine shops, and there is the rare 1% that is actually worth something. The boxes had been in the back of my mind all through the night, so I couldn’t wait to see their contents.

The first few were a disappointment – old fashion and travel magazines, students’ notebooks and manuals, and old mail that the previous owners hadn’t had the heart to throw away. I should have known better. Still, I don’t like to leave something unfinished, so I decided to go through all of them. A few boxes caught my attention – the only ones with a written label, reading “Comic Books” in all capital letters.

How I found a comic book collection worth thousands of dollars.

Hardly could I imagine that I’ve found the Holy Grail. The comic books inside were obviously very old and in excellent condition. I am not a comics fan, but my intuition told me I might have stumbled upon something. Fortunately, I had the perfect guy to talk to. One of my son’s best friends was a walking comic-book encyclopaedia. I called and asked him to come by the storage, explaining what I had found. If he could teleport himself, he would have done it.

When he started browsing through the collection, the only sounds he could muster were “Ohs” and “Wows”. He was treating the books with the care of a librarian who had found an ancient papyrus. “Uncle Colin, the collection is incredible! Most of these are vintage pieces, and there are even editions from the late 60s. I cannot properly put a price on them, but we are talking in the thousands of dollars range!”

I looked at him dumbfounded. I knew numerous collectors were crazy about this stuff, but thousands of dollars in a few plastic boxes? And why would the former owners leave them behind? “They probably didn’t know that they were sitting on a small fortune”, suggested my “expert”.

I called Frank and told him what had happened. He was as dumbfounded as me but generously said he stood by his word – everything in the shack belonged to me now. I called the Portland office of a large appraisal company specializing in comic books. Three weeks later, I got a 5-figure offer for the whole collection.

Well, now I have the best story to tell come beer time!