Over the years, 1-800-Got-Junk has hauled away some unusual stuff. A sampling:
• A one-month old kitten named Freon rescued from a refrigerator
• 400 brand new wedding dresses
• Urns with ashes
• A couch full of bees
• A horse buggy
• Old, un-cashed security and rebate checks
• A full shed of roller skates and bowling balls
• 18,000 cans of expired sardines
• A defused World War II bomb
• A 1954 Martin parlor guitar valued at over $8,000
• A truckload of denture molds
Most of us have too much clutter and junk. Getting rid of stuff, especially if it's big and bulky, isn't always easy.
You may have seen trucks that say "1-800-Got-Junk." That's the legal name of a company that will pick up just about anything. With more than 300 franchise outlets, it's the largest junk-hauling company in North America.
Junk haulers often have a sketchy reputation — the guy in the baggy pants with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. In 1989, the young founder of Got Junk, Brian Scudamore, wanted to change the image and professionalize the industry.
The company's custom-built dump trucks are equipped with navigation gear, and employees wear a neat, blue company uniform.
Customer Lynne Lacher recently hired a Got Junk crew to clean up her late brother's modest Seattle bungalow, where he had lived for about 40 years.
"He just knew how to save anything and everything," Lacher says. Her brother told her, "'You're going to have a mess, sis.' And I said, 'Don't you worry, I'll take care of it.'"
For two-and-a-half hours, Got Junk employee Clint Nicholson and three other workers move quickly and deliberately through piles of stuff. First, they tackled the yard (with a sizeable stash of debris, lumber and old wood), then the basement, and finally the garage.
The workers come across several items that can be donated, including a weed eater, a fishing tackle box, a sander and a small compressor.
The workers sort through the stuff as they go, making a point to separate what can be given to Goodwill or the Salvation Army and what can go to wood or metal recyclers. The company estimates that as much as 60 percent of the items it picks up can be recycled, resold or reused.
Sometimes what Got Junk hauls away has significant value: nearly new sporting goods, antique jewelry and classic comic books. But other times it truly is junk — like the recent Kansas City pickup of 8,000 pounds of cheese intended for catfish bait.
After the work at the Seattle bungalow is done, Lacher does a final walkthrough.
"Oh my goodness, this is incredible," she says.
Her brother's garage has been cleared out, swept and is practically spotless.
"Isn't it interesting that we need to have this in today's world?" she says. "That's how businesses get started, is that they fill a need — supply and demand, and there's enough of a demand. So for me, who had a problem to deal with, I mean, these guys were a godsend."
Others clearly agree: The company expects revenues of $150 million this year.
The service isn't cheap. Two truckloads of stuff cost about $1,200 to haul away.
Got Junk drivers like Nicholson typically make about $10 an hour. But, as he explains on the way to the recycling center, there are some unusual benefits. In many cases, Got Junk workers get to keep or sell the stuff they collect.
Nicholson has furnished just about his entire house from things he has picked up on the job — including a leather couch, a recliner and a TV.
It's amazing what people give away, Nicholson says. The haulers often tell the owners that their stuff is valuable, he says, but they throw up their hands and say they just want to get rid of it.