Is there a “Surplus Season?”
We did a column on surplus stores in early January this year. Must be something about short days that gets the “project juices” boiling.
Some of the best hours of father-son time with Pappy and me involved a surplus store just north of 4th South and Michigan Street in Seattle’s Industrial area. Timeframe? Late 1950’s. And the place was affectionally called “Black & Tan” – having (according to local legend, anyway) be founded by an enterprising Black fellow and an Italian from over in Garlic Gulch (Rainer Valley).
“Dad, could I have that?” as I pointed at some 500 pound, small diesel powered waste water pump, or such.
“Got a need for it? Big Project? Tell me about it…”
Neurons fired, mouth opened, but my sales skills were weak. Or his sales resistance was high. Had to be one or t’other.
B&T wasn’t the only surplus operation we visited. I think probably half the Fire Department visited the place on the off-shift every few months: There seemed to be an unlimited supply of anything an off-shift firefighter, inventor, tinkerer, artist (or any other wide-ranging designer) could want for home improvement projects. Or just for whatever…
It you needed some green corrugated fiberglass panels for roofing a shed? A buck a panel…less if you dickered a bit.
A quarter-horse electric motor for some hare-brained power tool? Plenty of those and from $3-bucks and up. Depended on shaft size, ease of mounting…everyone knew the dance. Or learned. Again, walking away twice and doing the deal on the third pass was generally how it worked out.
For me? Nested aluminum tubing for antennas. Sold for between 50 and 75-cents a pound. Word was a lot of their stuff came from Boeing. But that was before Boeing Surplus – which has – over the years morphed into “Investment Recovery” at Boeing came along.
Besides the ham radio antennas, Black & Tan was also loaded with prized leftovers from the marine and forestry industries. If you needed place to pick up 200 feet of 3/8″ steel cable, then B&T (or Northwest Salvage up near fire station #14 south of 4th South and Lander) were the choice destinations.
A young man growing up back then could almost trace the development of his lifetime interests based on which surplus stores were visited. Order mattered.
Damn shame most of the ship-breakers are in India, now. They were treasure troves, too: Hatch covers, port holes, huge rope – thick as Ure arm.
Achievement Follows Interest
I saw through the eyes of a Cleveland High School student, at the time. Some of the guys would go with their dads to the more traditional Army-Navy surplus stores. Across the street from Black & Tan (later formally called Aircraft Supply and Salvage, as I recall) there was Winter’s Surplus. Later in life, these school chums might go camping, but that faded. Some I hear played golf.
A lot of dads – like mine- would start off a weekend surplus adventure with a cup of coffee and a review of the upcoming projects and dreams lists.
The whole day wouln’t be wasted. Just 6-hours typically. The adventures shoved-off from the house about 8:30 AM, or when coffee after breakfast was done. Couple of cheeseburgers at Dag’s if the surplus spree hadn’t busted budget.
Going through B & T could take two hours; longer depending on what had just come in. Once, around 1962, or so, we were going through the piles of goodies and Pappy found box after box of 1/16th inch (or so) net (seine) twine. Black and green nylon looked like a great find. We both loaded up.
For me, that treasure haul turned in to antenna hoists. For Pappy? Well, he had all these spools of seine twine sitting around and then it occurred to him “You know, I could turn these into macramé!” For years, he perfected various hand-woven macramé shopping bag designs, totes, and so on. Much to the delight of people receiving them as gifts. (If I sit for days tying repetitive knots? Shoot me.)
Winter’s Surplus was a different kind of place: Few hard goods, more softs. Musty smelling, but that was because they had all kinds of wool, nylon, plastic, and ammo cans. When we had camping or fishing trips scheduled, we’d go to Winter’s first. Folding shovels, those nested metal mess kits, early canned rations, pilot bread, camo netting, poncho’s, and tarps. Ever notice how military tarps weighed a ton and smelled like tar?
Pappy had a keen eye for making up “kits.” A couple of ammo boxes went in the cart. Down the next aisle, leftover railroad flares. Stored in the trunk, we were always ready to help at any accident should we happen across one.
Thre exspanded metal traction mats cobbled out of B&T stock and the folding shovels saved our bacon, though, on numerous adventures fishing the real back-country lakes of B.C. and Washington.
Pappy never took to fresh water game fishing Oregon. Premonition about the people be crazy there? No: maybe it was just too warm. He believed a worthy fish could never be caught in comfort. Washington and B.C. ruled.
MRP Killed Surplus
Material (or “Manufacturing”) Resource Planning – as an artform – has evolved over the years.
Gone are the days when you could furnish an entire computer start-up with leftovers from Boeing Surplus. Back when, my buddy Gaye and I were in Seattle’s early Halt and Catch Fire days, can remember many companies going through the Boeing leftovers on weekends. Many a start-up was thus born.
Cubicles hadn’t been around forever yet, but filing cabinets? OMG – How many did you want? Boeing must hve sold off millions.
I imagine the flow would have been similar when Detroit was unwinding. We still see occasional blips of great surplus manufacturing equipment (like a Bridgeport on eBay, for example) out of places like Connecticut. But the sun is setting on quintessential “surplus.”
Mainly digital junk some damn fool figures can work for another little while.
Not Dead Yet
After the article in January, reader Ray was kind enough to share his extensive list of online sellers. Forget about Facebook and the million twits. Open your mind and change your world. For the work? You’ll need parts, so here’s a bunch of sources:
(Disclaimer: Have your spousal unit impound credit cards before clicking on any of these links!)
- Surplus Center
- Surplus Sales of Nebraska
- All Electronics
- Jameco Electronics
- Fair Radio Sales Company Inc.
- Consolidated Electronics, Incorporated
- Steve’s Web Junkyard
- Antique Radio Parts
- Sundial Wire
- Wicks Aircraft
- Skycraft Parts
- Powell’s Books
- Allied Electronics
- MSC Direct
- Galesburg Electric – Tools
- Southern Tool
- Tool Discounter
- Quick Cable – Tools
- Global Supply
- Alliance Supply
- Northern Safety
- Home Depot
- Northern Tool
- Open Source Ecology
- The Tone Lizard
- Richardson Electronics
- Angela Instruments
- CE Distribution
- Radio Daze
- Parts Express
- Parts ConneXion
- Antique Electronic Supply
- RF Parts Company
- Just in case you need real grounding rods
These two are invaluable. Because in the case of “Hayseed” thety make modern replacement capacitors for old (tube type) stereo, music, and ham radio gear. If you can’t find a good metal can replacement for that Fender Amp or that SR-15o transceiver you’re restoring, they’ve got you covered.
As for the Online Metals people? Well, they have a terribly dangerous new product offering: What they call “Proto Boxes.” You can pick and choose from among 16 different types of metals and box weights over here. I might be tempted on some of these…but having enough projects for now…
Another “Surplus-Like Buzz”
Came up with another variant of the traditional “Surplus shopping” on Amazon this week. Decided to get a little more methodical or creative in my collecting of project parts.
I could take an outfit that does hardware I seem to use all the time, and search Amazon for their other assortments.
So, under “Glark’s” for example, I was confronted with choices like:
- Glarks 665Pcs M3 M4 M5 M6 Stainless Steel Flat Hex Head Screws Bolts Nuts and Flat Gasket Spring Washers Assortment Set
- Glarks 100Pcs Adjustable 8-44mm Range 304 Stainless Steel Worm Gear Hose Clamps Assortment Kit, Fuel Line Clamp for Water Pipe, Plumbing, Automotive and Mechanical Application (Hose Clamp Kit)
- And I may be on my second batch of these now: Glarks 175Pcs 304 Stainless Steel Large Penny Fender Washers Assortment Set-M3, M4, M5, M6, M8, M10, M12.
So here are some of the other “maker” brands that I can get lost in for hours over a quiet holiday week:
- Sopoby (lots of crimpy things)
- BSTEAN (syringes for oil, glues, etc)
- Bridgold (semiconductors, RF transistors)
- UXCEL (lots of electronic component kits)
- WMYCONGCONG (either for cattle-tagging the kids or for the level wire connectors – who knew?)
Anyway, before you copy and paste these into Amazon searches, give the spouse your wallet or change account passwords so only THEY can log in and approve what’s in the cart…
As Times Change, Surplus Changes
With the aircraft industry in a (call the pun police?) “holding pattern” due to CV-19 drops in air travel, most of the aviation-related surplus is likely already gone. With fewer wars around, same thing with the surplus Army-Navy kind of materials.
Computerized management tools are improving utilization and redirecting resources is becoming the norm, not exception, in well-run businesses.
The one oddity we see if all of the old and left-over computer gear coming to market now. Old technologies that have run their course, though. And short of stacked Xeon workstations with 8 (or more) cores, we don’t see much need for big router and other network tech as being useful in the home market.
I don’t know about you, but by the time I get all “shopped into” a project, there’s hardly any time left to actually DO it.
So, for occasions like these, the answer is more, faster, better Power Tools…but maybe we should save that for another morning. Big morning ahead – trying to find a power tool I don’t have yet.
Write when you get rich,