The Scrum for Scrap

Does a supercharged Chinese economy make drainpipes disappear?

Minneapolis Police Department spokesman Ron Reier says he is unaware of any scrap-theft trend. Officers in the property crimes divisions in the Third and Fourth precincts--north Minneapolis--say they haven't noted a spike either. But they concede that thefts are tracked by dollar value--not type--meaning that a wave of stolen scrap might not be immediately apparent.

Among Twin Cities property owners, stories still circulate about copper and other metal fixtures gone missing from vacant properties. Steve Meldahl, a Minneapolis landlord, says someone recently ripped off the plumbing from a North Side home he purchased to rehab. Meldahl, however, thinks such thefts were much more common in the late '80s.


Metalmania: A can man takes a break by a North Side scrap yard
Daniel Corrigan
Metalmania: A can man takes a break by a North Side scrap yard

On one recent afternoon, a scrapper who identifies himself only as "Mike" is busy cashing in his daily haul at one of the scrap yards on North Second Street. Mike explains that he was laid off from a construction job last summer and has been unable to find other work. The way Mike sees it, he's better off scrapping than robbing people or dealing drugs.

He then allows that he's pushed the legal boundaries in his scrapping career. Late one night, Mike says, he and a partner borrowed a vehicle and drove to East Lake Street, where they furtively stripped all the copper plumbing out of a fire-damaged house. It yielded a $300 payday. More commonly, Mike says he simply cruises a circular route of north side alleys, pushing a grocery cart and carrying a bag of tools to break down his find. On a good day, he says, pointing to his cart, he can clear $94 "with the buggy."

The day after Dan Corrigan's copper drainpipes disappeared, he printed his photograph of the copper thief and returned to the scrap yards on North Second Street. At one yard, an employee said she was certain the man in the picture was the same guy she saw hauling a load of metal across the Broadway Bridge. When Corrigan showed the picture at another yard, he says, an employee there said some copper pipes matching his description had arrived at the site that very morning.

Sure enough, they were Corrigan's missing pipes. He snapped a few pictures, gathered up the pipes, and returned home. Until he can find a way to affix them more securely to his house, he says, those babies will remain stored in his garage.

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