Family Finds Shiny New Money By The Roadside

October 21, 1990|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Contributing writer

From behind the wheel of the little Chevrolet truck, Dorothy Hackman peels her eyes for something shiny in the roadside brush. Budweiser, Busch, Miller Lite, Coca-Cola, Pepsi -- that's money out there.

She's pointing out the window: there, over there. "Check that box."

Now one, two, three skinny boys and a girl jump off the tailgate, hustle to the roadside and return, each chucking a can or two or three into the back of the truck, taking care not to strike the younger children inside.

It comes to about a penny per aluminum can at today's scrap metal rates.

Not much money. But you do what you can.

The Hackman family is quite the sight on roads these days.

Dorothy Hackman heads out days and evenings with a truckload of children -- the older ones sit on the hood or ride the tailgate during slow-speed can patrol, the little ones huddle inside among the cans. The truck trawls for hours at 5, 10 mph on three worn regular tires and one little spare on the right rear wheel built for emergencies but serving now for day-to-day driving. This brings in a few dollars.

Hackman, who is 29, says she had hopes of collecting cans "just for some extra money," even after she returned to work. She's been out of work since she fell and injured her right hand July 4 in a local grocery store. Just a week ago, she got word that she's been replaced on the food processing line at Hearn-Kirkwood Inc.'s Produce Line, a food processing company in Hanover.

She and her husband, John, 44, have six children and three grandchildren, all living with them. A fourth grandchild, 21-year-old Betty Clark's fourth child, Brittany, was born Aug. 19. John Hackman works as a maintenance man at Anchorage Marina in Baltimore.

These 12 people live in a rented four-bedroom house tucked behind the Timbuktu restaurant on Dorsey Road, on the Howard-Arundel county line.

Their phone was recently disconnected.

It's been about three months or so since Dorothy Hackman's sister suggested that maybe there was money for the picking lying out on the roadsides. Dorothy said she'd collected cans before but never with the whole family and never on such a regular schedule. For weeks the family has been making daily rounds, learning the most fertile spots and prime times for can collecting.

"Mainly I go out all night, that's when all the alcoholics are out," Dorothy Hackman says. "My son said, 'You can tell people are drinking and driving.' " They pick up mostly beer cans, a lot of Budweiser, a lot of Busch, a lot of discarded cans that are not entirely empty of beer. They usually work the territory around the house, near Dorsey Road, the Elkridge-Hanover area. She tells also of the abundant trash cans in a nearby park. The best time there is closing time, around sunset, when the trash cans are chock-full.

Roadside collecting is a family tradition of sorts, Hackman says. Her father, former prizefighter Joseph O'Connell, now retired from the City of Baltimore, has spent his share of time "jumkin'", as she puts it. Before a heart attack forced him to slow down, he'd go out collecting aluminum, copper, old televisions, whatever might fetch a few dollars at the local scrap yards.

Her husband, also, has picked it up. The children say their father has a saying: "My name's Jimmy. I'll take whatever you gimme." Usually, Dorothy Hackman says, her husband's out for junk copper -- worth about 75 cents a pound.

"From shopping carts to pickup trucks, we get all walks of life coming in here," says Neal Shapiro, whose family owns Cambridge Iron & Metal Co. Inc., a scrap dealer at Fells Point in Baltimore.

"We have a lot of street people, homeless people," bringing in scrap metal, Cambridge worker Carol Burnham says. Sometimes she pulls the Saturday shift and opens the place at 8 a.m. to find people waiting at the door.

"I've had them there with a rose in their hand, or sleeping on the sidewalk," she says.

Dorothy Hackman went to Cambridge on Aug. 10 to cash in her first load of cans: 70 pounds for $17.50. That's a rate of 25 cents a pound for aluminum and mixed-metal cans. Twenty-four, 26 cans usually make a pound, Burnham said. Two weeks later, the price was up to 30 cents a pound and Dorothy cashed in 79 pounds for $23.70. Oh yes, she also got $2 for two car batteries and 60 cents for three pounds of scrap aluminum.

The grand total for more than a week of foraging: $43.80.

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