A Few Reflections on “Skunk and Junk”
Brandon Sun, April 14, 2005 - David McConkey
An era ended when Davie Weiss, the former owner of Brandon Scrap Iron
and Metals Recycling, died recently at age 91.
His scrap yard at First and Pacific was a Brandon landmark for more than half a century. How many people over the years took in hides, furs, scraps of copper, or a truckload of old farm machinery? How many fondly referred to the business as “Skunk and Junk”?
How many answered the call to earn a few bucks breaking batteries? “Hard and dirty work,” according to his ad in the Brandon Sun. Some quit at noon, but you were paid more per hour if you could stick it out for the whole day.
Davie Weiss was a self-made man, who grew up poor in small town Saskatchewan. He exemplified the ideal of combining hard work and creating opportunity where he could find it. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and in his case, he made a good living from waste.
Being Jewish, he also survived and thrived when there was still much discrimination in our society. There are those who remember not only subtle prejudice, but also public signs in Manitoba that even said “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.”
The obituary in the Brandon Sun mentioned how Davie Weiss was a successful businessman, and a civic leader, serving on Brandon’s City Council. As well, he was very tolerant and understanding towards everyone, and to the diversity of the faiths of all people.
I was fortunate to have met Mr. Weiss. He was still in business when Westman Recycling was just getting started. We were part of a newer trend to recycle more materials, and to bring recycling into every household on a daily basis. Recycling was starting to be viewed in a larger context of environmental responsibility.
The scrap business rides on a roller coaster of prices that change daily. But the Weiss motto was, regardless of markets, he would always buy whatever you were wiling to bring to him.
Recycling markets are still subject to changing prices. Today, however, market fluctuations are evened out by a greater mixture of materials, and often supplemented by funding from levies which consumers pay when they first purchase the product.
I once asked Mr. Weiss about the “skunk” in his business. He answered that skunk fur could be a valuable commodity, and, if done properly, did not stink! There is the genius of an entrepreneur like Weiss: out of things like skunk skins he could create a successful business, employ people, and spread cash around to the many people who sold to him. He turned garbage into money!
The Weiss scrap yard at First and Pacific was a traditional one, located near the centre of town, and close to a residential area. It was right by the railway tracks as well as by the Assiniboine River. There are many such locations all over the country, because that is how cities developed and grew.
Today, of course, new recycling facilities are constructed in more appropriate areas, like the locations where Wesman Salvage and Westman Recycling are now. Environmental and other concerns of locating in more sensitive areas like beside a river or residential neighbourhood were not recognized until more recently.
All traces of Brandon Scrap Iron at First and Pacific soon will be gone. Everything is being knocked down and cleaned up in preparation for the new City of Brandon public safety building. But the spirit of the life of Davie Weiss lives on. Recycling is still growing. Discrimination is still receding. Entrepreneurs are still searching for innovative ways to make a livelihood out of what otherwise would be unwanted or overlooked.
Every so often, especially when I go by First and Pacific, I will pause and reflect on the vision and hard work of Brandon’s Davie Weiss.
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