When I was a toddler dad called in a favor and got one of the low level contracts to remove abandoned vehicles from the Chicago's south side. He leased flat bed tow trucks from Wiseman Ford and made a hundred and forty bucks from the Cook county road commissioner per removed vehicle. A disposal yard with a car crusher gave us seventy per vehicle on top of that. To stay out of trouble with irate owners the cops marked 'em and dad towed 'em away. After the race riots in the 60's there were one hell of a lot of burned out wrecks.
When I learned to keep my mouth shut dad let me ride shotgun. I think I was about nine. I watched him pull batteries and pull out the seats of a lot of old cars to recover what people had forgotten or lost. We collected a lot more pistols than you'd think. It being the early seventies we found a lot of illegal drugs too. The pills and baggies of white powder got dumped down the storm sewers. Dad took the pot home to get high with mom. From the sounds I heard it sure made her frisky. The batteries brought in a lot of money. The pistols? not so much. It was just that there were so many of them! They went to the pawn shops. Even with the time taken to scavenge we took eight to twelve cars and trucks off the street every day with one tow truck, depending on how far we found 'em from the wrecking yard. It kept a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and we had good clothes for church.
After I became a teen dad started me doing some of the scavenging work. The cars never had keys, but I had a universal tool--a three foot pry bar. I learned to pop a trunk lid in fifteen seconds. People left suitcases, tool boxes and guitars in their trunks. My eyes popped the first time I found a roll of bills in a drug dealer's car. Everything went to dad, though. What the hell was I going to do with five hundred odd bucks? Get in trouble?
When I was seventeen dad leased a flatbed for me. It was in his name to keep the insurance down and to fool the Commercial Drivers License people, but I drove it. We got a few new contracts to dispose of cars left in police impound lots and a few other places that stored vehicles for insurance companies. We got paid less for them but we got a lot better swag. Especially from the insurance claim vehicles. I got a nice deer rifle in an aluminum case and a couple shotguns that way. I also hooked out a nice fiberglass recurve bow that I had fun shooting. We got more vehicles per hour moved to the crusher from those as well, averaging under one an hour because they were all in just a few places. We didn't have to go looking for them.
It was a good thing that more abandoned cars and trucks kept showing up. Otherwise we'd have passed the break-even point paying for gasoline, insurance and the tow truck leases. Dad went to the city offices with proof of our increased expenses over time and got our rate increased to two hundred and ten dollars per chassis. It sure eased our household budget.
Mom made dad and me baggie dinners. As soon as I got home from school I went out with my flatbed and started hooking police-marked cars and trucks. With the traffic and distances involved I averaged one every hour and three quarters to one every two and a quarter. I worked until after ten every night and drove almost continuously on Saturdays and Sundays. We kept those trucks in the best shape we could to get the highest MPG, stretching our fuel dollars. It wasn't an easy life but our house in Oak Lawn was paid for. We had a four year old Toyota and a chest freezer full of meat in the garage. There were a lot of folks around doing much worse.
The wrecking yard was next to the 294 corridor in Alsip so making runs down to Chicago Heights was no great hardship. One Saturday I was hauling cars and trucks out of an insurance yard at a hundred bucks a pop and getting twenty bucks per core for the batteries. I popped the trunk latch on a late model BMW to see what might have been overlooked. It was my standard operating procedure. Neatly lined up I found an American Tourister suitcase and four oversized catalog cases. The suitcase didn't hold any surprises. However, when I went to pull out one of the catalog cases I about wrenched my shoulder. I had to put one hand on the trunk frame to power lift them out of the trunk well. Curious as to what was so damned heavy, I popped the latches one by one. It was a Christly enormous coin collection. The inside covers of the cases were marked "Numismatic Financial Corporation". Each case contained three sets of four books, each one fourteen inches tall. I flipped through the books one by one. I didn't see much new stuff, and it was mostly silver. One of the cases had a lot of tiny little gold coins in it going up to big honkers, and the contents of one entire book of coins were marked 'Krugerrand' and 'One Oz. Fine Gold'. I'd heard of them, and I realized that at least my college education was assured. Each book held twenty coins to a page and sixteen full pages. I figured it out at fifteen troy ounces per pound. There was twenty-one and a third pounds of gold coins sitting there. I didn't know who owned it all before but it was mine now! I got them up into the foot well of the tow truck's passenger seat. That was my biggest find ever. Still, I dragged out seventeen cars and trucks that day before calling it quits at ten.
When I got home with my loot I was bursting to tell my folks. Mom and Dad were sitting at the kitchen table just staring at a couple flat open wood boxes. At first I thought that they were fancy silverware cases. Then I got a closer look. They were filled with little tan paper envelopes about an inch square. Mom was giggling and crying. Dad looked like he'd seen a ghost. He said, "Pull up a chair, Tommy. You're lookin' at ours and your retirement." He looked back at the boxes and whispered, "Diamonds. Almost a thousand diamonds, all cut, polished and graded."
I flopped down in a chair and laughed. "And I thought that I'd hit the swag of the century. I've got a rare coin collection in the truck that weighs over a hundred and twenty pounds. A good quarter of it looks like it's in gold coin." Mom crossed herself and said, "Thank you Lord Jaysus."
I had a bad thought. "You know that the tax man's goin' to eat us alive, don't you? We'd best try to lay off as much as we can on dealers. If we can get cash under the table so much the better for us." They nodded soberly. We all begrudged the tax man his unfair share. We were from Chicago. It was a given that the rich paid less to the government that us working class stiffs. The unfairness of it always bothered us.
Dad helped me get the coin collection in the house. We spread out the books on the table and slowly went through them. They were all beautiful except for some really ugly coins marked Puerto Rico. I wondered what they were doing in there, but kept my mouth shut. It was late and we had church in the morning. It was time for bed.
While listening to the service I notice that mom had a troubled look on her face. I leaned over to whisper in her ear. "We can tithe one of the books of silver to the church and let THEM get it appraised." She seemed a lot happier after that. Over our Sunday pork roast we planned what to do next. We got out the phone book to look for gemstone and coin dealers. We marked them out on a map. Then we took instamatic pictures of each page of each book.
Mom called the school Monday morning, saying I had pink-eye. It's infectious as hell so I had an automatic five day pass.
We packed most of the silver and some of the gold, as well as the jewels in the car. I argued that we keep the Krugerrands in reserve because they were like cash--they traded at the spot market price anywhere that traded in gold.
It turned out that they were the most inexpensive gold coins in the collection.
I also put aside a double handful of the smaller gold coins. Gold dollars, fractional eagles, eagles and double eagles. I wasn't an end-of-the-world year 2000 nut or anything, but with the price of gas going through the roof and the value of the dollar against other currencies shifting all over the place, I thought it was common sense to hold out what I could after a windfall like that.
Coin by coin, book by book we got the collection appraised, all but one book of the silver coins, the Krugerrands and the book of small golds that I absconded with. We couldn't afford the percentage cost of the appraisals so we offered some of the collection in payment. The appraisers couldn't screw us as they'd already written down their guaranteed values. Some of those coins were worth upwards of twenty thousand bucks. Those ugly Puerto Rican coins were some of them!
We took the last book of silver to church with us the next Sunday. After the service we asked to talk to the priest. We explained that we were given a gift and wished to tithe part of it to the church. Dad wasn't very happy with the whole idea, but mom was a staunch Catholic and rode over him with hobnail boots. When it came to matters of faith mom drew out her flaming sword and took no prisoners.
.... There is more of this story ...