How Do You Get Free Coffee? Ask Our Travelling Nails

Two cups of coffee

Enjoying coffee and a latte.

Every spring we enjoy a cup of free coffee.  In good years it’s coffee plus free lunch.   Nope, the coffee shop doesn’t skip our bill. It’s free because we’d just left the Marion Iron Company with cold cash after selling a year’s accumulation of scrounged metal.

Recycling, as most people know, is relatively new, but scrap yards have been buying and recycling metal for centuries. Here’s what we do to earn a few bucks.

 

We scrounge free pallets from businesses that toss them in heaps to be hauled to the landfill. Our Milwaukee circular saw cuts them into chunks that make outstanding wood stove kindling and fuel for outdoor campfires. When the ashes have cooled, we run a magnet through them, retrieve the nails, and store them in old metal paint buckets.

Picking Up Metal

Whenever we spot a chunk of metal along the road or in a parking lot, we pick it up and add it to our scrap metal trove. In some years we’ll have a couple of hundred pounds of nails and random scrap to sell.

We like selling scrap. It generates money but mostly just feels good to see our nails recycled. We envy them for their travels. Many nails are made in China and make the long journey across the ocean to eventually be used by pallet companies. We sell the reclaimed nails at the scrap yard. They ship them to a company near Chicago that melts them into solid blocks of steel. Those are bought by all sorts of companies that make thousands of products from them. So, our old nails may end up as a car, pocket knife, re-bar, or who knows what?  They might even cross the ocean to be sold to a foreign steel manufacturer.

Like-Minded Friends

We recently learned we’re not alone. Friend, Kurt Rogahn, saves bits of aluminum.   When a small pile accumulates off to recycling, they go.

We’re not getting rich selling metal. The price per pound at the scrap yard varies from year to year. If we have plenty to sell and if the price is high our old nails buy us an elegant lunch. In a poor year, it’s free coffee.

Scrap steel and iron usually bring the lowest price per pound.  Aluminum, copper, and brass sell for much more.

Dollar Bills

Cold cash for scrap.

After writing the above we delivered our metal to Marion Iron.  It weighed 80 pounds, and we left with $7.00!  Minutes later we were at Mr. Beans Coffee shop just down the road. Our cold cash bought us coffee and a bit more.

Recycling is the right thing to do with a free coffee bonus.

How Can Parents Influence Your Childhood Passions?

Keep the Photos!

An old photo or letter can bring back memories. That happened to Rich recently and helped him recognize both good parenting and a lifelong passion.

Rich was sorting through a stack of family documents when he discovered a paper his mother wrote in his “baby” book.  Written in 1959, when Rich was nine, it stated that he wanted to be a chicken farmer!  Of all things for a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey to say.

Rich became fascinated with chickens while only four or five years old. By the time his mother wrote in the book he had learned many chicken breeds. Another letter, dated May 5, 1959, was written as an exercise in his elementary school. The teacher was teaching students letter writing.  Rich’s note to his mother said:

Thank you for taking me to the chicken farm. Now I know what a black hen looks like. I now know why one costs more than a Leghorn. I’m going to cook breakfast for you.  Happy Mother’s Day. Love, Rich

A Budding Entrepreneur

A third document is an account of how many eggs his hens laid each day and a bill presented to a customer. 65 cents for a dozen in 1960. Adjusted for inflation that dozen would cost $6.50 today.

A pair of photos show 13-year-old Rich at his junior high school science fairs. One science project was titled, The Effect of Vitamin E on the Hatchability of Chicken Eggs, and the other demonstrated an incubator.

What Do These Documents Signify?

  • Great parenting. It must have seemed weird to his parents that their young child had such an unusual passion, but they helped, learned, and encouraged.
  • Chickens helped teach math, animal care, writing, business, and research methods.
  • Chickens became a lifelong passion.

Rich encourages parents to encourage their children’s passions. They might lead to lifelong hobbies and, perhaps, even a career.

Update on Careers

Rich never became a chicken farmer, per se, but he is co-owner of Winding Pathways where we encourage people to be creative in how they interact with nature and to consider backyard chicken raising. He developed another passion, fish, and earned a degree in fishery biology, and served as a biologist in Alaska.

What Can Solar Panels Tell You About Local Weather?

Many people dread the arrival of the monthly electric bill.   We look forward to receiving it.

A few years ago, we hired Site Gen Solar to install an Enphase solar electric, or photovoltaic (PV), system on our barn roof. Although it’s a small system, when combined with our energy efficiency, monthly bills from Alliant Energy are tiny.

Our PV system does more for us than make electricity. It’s an instant weather scanner. We can access our Enphase app from anywhere and it tells us how much energy our system is producing in kilowatt-hours. One kilowatt-hour is enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours. Our bulbs are LED and on average consume 12 watts.

On clear days our small system produces about 12-kilowatt hours. It powers our refrigerator, furnace fan, computers, and lights. When it produces more than we use, the excess goes out to the grid, subtracting cost from our bill.

The app tells us more. See these photos. When snow covers some panels, we can tell from the app that they weren’t producing much. When all panels are producing poorly, we know it’s a cloudy day or snow is covering all panels. Sometimes when we are traveling we open the app and learn about Cedar Rapids’ weather.

Can You Grow Sweet Potatoes in Iowa?

As we watched squirrels gleaning sunflower seeds from feeders in our backyard, we dined on 2021s sunshine!

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a healthy vegetable.

Thanks to last season’s sun our crop of sweet potatoes produced a bountiful crop, and we ate them until our last one became part of our February 8th dinner. We’ve only been growing sweet potatoes for a few years because we’d heard they need a long southern summer to mature. We now know that’s not true.

We love sweet potatoes. They come in many varieties and color shades from white to purple and the common ones with deep orange flesh. This nutritious plant originated from tropical South America and is now grown in warm regions all over the world.  Sometimes they are called yams, but these two plants are distinctly different. Yams originated in Africa.

 

Nutritious Vegetable

We love the taste and nutrition of sweet potatoes but here are some other ways we love this plant:

  • They are easy to grow. We buy “slips” and plant them in late May or early June.
  • The plants and flowers are gorgeous, and slips are sometimes sold as ornamentals.
  • They store well. We carefully dig them before the first frost, let them cure for a couple of weeks, and then store them in a cool dark place. They last all winter.

Sweet potatoes are easy. No freezing or canning is needed. We plant, weed a bit, dig, cure, and store and then enjoy eating them all winter. This year we’ve ordered a variety of sweet potato slips from Sand Hill Preservation Center and look forward to a larger harvest.  The company also sells heritage chicken breeds and vegetable seeds.

 

What is Lithium?

Only a few years ago few people had heard of lithium. Now almost everyone relies on this odd metal in their phone, laptop, and tools. It’s a world-changing element.

Metal?????  Lithium is a truly odd metal.  Iron, lead, and other common metals are heavy. Not lithium. It’s near the upper left corner of the periodic chart near hydrogen, the lightest element. Lithium is light, volatile, and scarce. Argentina and Chile, Australia, and China form the “lithium triangle” and hold the world’s greatest reserves. Smaller amounts are mined in the United States and other countries.

Many Uses

Lithium can jump. At least lithium-ion batteries can make a car jump. We experienced it when we drove a Chevy Bolt from Cedar Rapids to Dubuque. It’s an amazing car powered by energy stored in a lithium-ion battery, rather than gas. While driving on four-lane US 151 we stepped on the “gas” pedal and the Bolt jumped forward, swooping us around a sluggish car.

Lithium can also calm people down. For years it’s been an ingredient in drugs used to treat depression and bipolar disorder. The metal that makes a car jump can calm a person.

It’s also added to grease to make it even slicker.

Lithium Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries store plenty of energy, recharge quickly, and are making a huge change in American life. It started in 1991 when Sony used the first lithium-ion battery in camcorders. Since then, phones, tools, electronics, and even cars and trucks are powered by energy stored in these batteries.

We went “lithium-ion” a while back when we purchased Milwaukee Tool brand circular saws and drills. We were needlessly worried they wouldn’t be powerful and would run out of charge quickly. They were false fears. We love our battery tools and now have Milwaukee inflators, (i.e., to pump up tires), fans, and a pole saw. We also have EGO brand battery power lawn mowers, a trimmer, and a snowblower. They’re easy to use, quiet, and powerful. We love our battery-powered tools and can see a battery-energized car in our future.

Pros and Cons

There are environmental and health benefits when using battery, or cordless, tools.   They are quiet and don’t emit fumes. No need to pull a starter rope on the mower or blower anymore. Just flip a switch and vrrrooom! they go.  Recharging batteries costs less than buying a comparable energy equivalent of gas, and there’s no flammable gas to lug home and store. It’s all good. There are downsides to lithium mining but the environmental positives outweigh them. Mining can be done responsibly.

Care of Lithium Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are expensive but last a long time if given good care. Gerry Barnaby of EGO gave us these tips for battery care:

  • Take the battery off the tool when it’s not in use.
  • Protect batteries from extreme heat and cold. It’s a good idea to store them inside. EGO batteries are designed to discharge to 30% if not used for a few months at a stretch. It’s called “auto discharge” and light may flash, but this is normal. Just recharge the battery before using it.
  • EGO batteries are designed to last for 1000 charges. To calculate the battery life divide 1000 by the times it’s used per year. So, if a battery is used 30 times a year it conceivably could last 33 years. But if you don’t believe it, cut those 33 years in half and cut it in half again and the end result is an eight-year life.
  • When a battery is nearing the end of its life the run time will lessen. Then read a label on the side of the battery that gives a phone number. Call to learn where it can be recycled.

We’ll continue to invest in our battery-energized tools that are so easy to use.