APRIL 2009

 

A Closer Look E-mail the author

P&L Scrap Iron & Metal
John Lujan • 719-471-9876

“We’ve seen it all,” John Lujan said, referring to some of the more peculiar things that have come into his scrap yard in the past 37 years. One of the oddest was a cremation urn found in the back of a car purchased from the local impound lot.
Lujan said that the owner had left the urn in the back of the car. It was there when the car was impounded, and still there when it was finally sold for scrap. “It was the guy’s mother,” Lujan said, but despite several calls, no one ever came to pick it up.

“We finally buried the damned thing,” Lujan said. “It was all we could do.”

Lujan has also been witness to marital friction when one spouse sells a car for scrap and the other shows up and wants to buy it back. “It can get messy,” Lujan said.

His 37 years in the scrap business in Colorado Springs have taken him through a lot of ups and downs in the industry. And before he started his own business, he worked at his father’s junkyard near Alamosa, Colorado, which had been operating “since the thirties,” according to Lujan. “We just kind of grew up in it.”

Lujan didn’t plan on going into the scrap business, but when he got out of the military, he was looking for something to do. His brother was a mechanic at the time, and the two decided that there was money to be had in junk. They started the business “with nothing – a pickup and a trailer, and that’s about it.”

During the best years, P&L employed about 20 people, but now it’s a family operation again with Lujan and his wife and son, his brother, and a nephew. “We used to do up to 1,500 cars a month, but now we don’t do 30 cars a month when metal prices go down,” Lujan said.

Even so, P&L accepts scrap from towing companies, salvage yards, and the public, and has industrial accounts. “We’ll drop a box off for them,” he said. Many of his regular customers are holding back on selling cars, hoping prices will go up, but competition from auto shredding companies that have moved into the area have also eaten into his business.

But when there’s work to be done, Lujan’s got a car crusher and plenty of torches and other equipment ready to process what comes in.

Most of Lujan’s scrap is sold locally, but he said that one of his biggest challenges has been “dealing with foreign markets.” And of course, anticipating local markets can be just as trying. “All the fire’s gone out of it,” Lujan said. “It was great then, but not now.”

Whether he’ll choose to weather out the current bad economy, he hasn’t decided. “I’m 64 now, my brother’s 68,” he said. Even if the scrap business doesn’t get passed down to the next generation as-is, Lujan said that he had a piece of property set aside where his son could operate a towing business.

Meanwhile, he’s got no regrets about his career choice, noting that having a business like his allowed him the freedom to take time off when he wanted. “No need to ask anyone,” he said. “You can take off to go hunting or fishing whenever you want.” As for the future? “It’s anybody’s guess.”