WALLA WALLA -- A longtime Walla Walla salvage company has been busy both recycling metal as well as its image this past year.
On a site once marked by towering piles of scrap, Stubblefield Salvage and Recycling LLC has been shrinking its footprint while focusing on one specific segment of recycling, the rapid reprocessing of scrap iron, copper, brass and aluminum.
Started in the 1940s by Emory Stubblefield, the scrapyard covered 11 acres at the end of Offner Road at the time of Stubblefield's death last year. When that happened his son Al Stubblefield and daughters, Lily Stubblefield-Shoop and Lenora Shell took over the business and, along with it, a massive cleanup job.
"We could see there were a lot of changes that had to be made," said Lily Stubblefield-Shoop. "There were multiple issues we had to deal with right away."
Among those were the removal of piles of tires, more than 100 junked car bodies and many other items deemed as hazardous waste. Working with a host of agencies, including Labor and Industries, the state Department of Ecology and Walla Walla County, the family began clearing out and cleaning up the debris and removing contaminated topsoil.
The result has been a steady shrinkage of the original scrapyard and the mounds of metal it contained. "We've reduced it to two acres now," Stubblefield-Shoop said.
The family has also modernized the way the 60-year-old business is being run. Its focus today is recycling ferrous and nonferrous metals as quickly as possible. They no longer process whole automobiles, do hulk-hauling or provide wrecker services, Stubblefield-Shoop said.
The change has also meant an increase in the work force from the two employees in 2008 to 20 full-time workers today. Those employees recycled more than 24 million pounds of iron during the last year as well as tons of aluminum, brass and copper.
The people bringing in the metal include large and small farms, construction and demolition companies, the region's large windmill projects, electricians, plumbers, small businesses and homeowners. "People used to have to pay to dump these items in the landfill, now we pay them so these things can be recycled," Stubblefield-Shoop said.
The metal is sorted and large items sliced apart by workers wielding cutting torches. Once processed, it is then loaded onto semi-trucks that haul the metal to different markets near and far, wherever the demand is highest.
In the meantime, the old piles of scrap continue to shrink, a disappearing act that has generated questions.
"People look at us and ask, 'Are you going out of business?'" Stubblefield-Shoop said with a laugh. "And I tell them 'No! We're just doing same-day processing.'"
Andy Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.