MYRTLE - Michael Whittington never went to the front row for anything, and some folks might have different philosophies, but that is fine with him.
“I’m a junk man, always have been. It’s all I’ve ever done,” said Whittington, 47, owner of Whittington Parts and Wrecker in Myrtle. “I never bought anything new, except a tractor, for my daddy,” Whittington said, as he rested from working in the sweltering heat. Whittington wiped his slick forehead with the back of his arm, and gently herded his giggling little nieces into a cool, upstairs office, where a feast of peanut-butter cookies and a showing of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse awaited them.
“I won’t say I’ve done well, but I’ve worked hard, and made an honest living,” Whittington said, collapsing into a tattered office chair and shoving aside a stack of papers.
Down a hill, past gigantic bales of crushed cans, weighing more than a Ford pickup, as well as a fleet of pancaked cars, stacked like cord wood, and a pile of transmission housings, Whittington’s father operated a track-hoe dangling a magnetic fitting. Gordon, who started the scrap-metal business in 1976, carefully lifted different grades of metal, swiveling the Jurassic machine and dropping the metal into containers with surgical precision.
“Cans are what most people associate with us, and we process about 42,000 pounds every month and a half,” said Whittington. “Cans are a different animal, though,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and smiling. “You don’t make money off cans. You handle cans to do good, and you hope folks come back and do business.”
Whittington’s scrap-yard, at 1097 County Road 56, is a cemetery of intriguing machinery. Metal drums full of cylinder heads and crank cases, with the rubber bushings melted off, sit alongside distributors, intake manifolds, tire rims, and all the other parts Johnny Cash snuck out of the factory in his lunch box.
Whittington and his father started “on the road,” as he said, driving to scrap sales all over the Southeast, buying and selling, trading and dickering, hacking out a living, deal by deal.
When the junk duo settled down and set up shop, they had to weigh trucks at the local feed mill. They installed their own scales in 2002.
Whittington describes himself as a simple man -- in the Lynyrd Skynyrd sense--but the scrap-metal business is not simple.
“You got more than 20 types of scrap metal,” Whittington said, raking his hand through his thick hair and exhaling. His yard is full of non-ferrous metals--those that do not contain iron--like aluminum and aluminum alloys.
“Most scrap is general automotive, but we take everything from mill-grade metal and old cast, to window frames and aluminum wheels,” Whittington said.
“We work a lot, separating, cleaning, and processing scrap.”
Most folks do not know the difference, Whittington said, and he certainly does not take offense. He is happy to explain things and reassure customers. He only gets frustrated when folks try to use his business as a trash dump.
“A propane tank, for example,” Whittington said. “It’s scrap, but, with the valve in it, it’s explosive. That tank has to be cut in half.”
Car engines, gas tanks, transmissions, and other components that might hold pressure have to be removed before the vehicle can be smashed and scrapped, Whittington said. First, scrap has to be made safe, then separated and sent off.
Dishonest sellers try to get over on him, Whittington said, like filling the empty cavities of refrigerators and other appliances with water to increase their weight and value on his scales.
“Most people are honest, though,” Whittington said, scratching his chin, and allowing himself a good-natured smile.
The Whittingtons also run three wreckers, and try to charge fair prices for roadside assistance and fetching junk cars, Michael said.
“We started with an old skid truck and dovetail, and now we’ve got three trucks,” Whittington said.
He and his daddy never wanted mansions or huge estates, Whittington said, just a chance to hack out a living, on their 30 acres. They want to provide honest service, to good people, at a fair price.
“Its a headache somedays, I won’t lie,” Whittington said. “But, you evolve, you change, you keep going, like working folks do. You work hard, you treat people right, you sleep good. That’s what I like about my life.”