There is a sign at Utah Barrel and Supply Co., 370 W. Ninth South, which reads, "Junk is a four-letter word. Scrap isn't."
That pretty well sums up the business life of Sanford Pepper, the third-generation owner of Utah Barrel, who stresses that he in the scrap business and not the junk business. "We try to not waste anything," the bearded Pepper says during a golf-cart tour of his scrap operation.An evidence of Pepper's philosophy of recycling items so the material can be used again lies in the thousands of pounds of corrugated steel culvert removed recently from under Ninth South when a new water line was installed.
He said the culvert undoubtedly was made in the East during the 1920s because Utah didn't have a steel mill at the time. He bid on scrapping the culvert that was replaced by a concrete pipe.
Pepper takes the culvert, cuts it into small pieces and ships it to steel mills where it is melted, rolled into flat sheets, sold to a company, made into culvert and put in the ground again.
"That makes it a never-ending cycle where the materials are used over and over again," Pepper said.
Utah Barrel was started in the early 1900s by Max Pepper. Ben and Morris Pepper, Max's sons, took over the business when he died and when Ben, Sanford's father, died, Sanford became president. He leases the 15 acres from his uncle, Morris, but Sanford owns all of the equipment.
Sadly for Pepper, none of his children seem interested in the scrap business so a fourth-generation at Utah Barrel is unlikely at present.
A son, Mark, is majoring in psychology at the University of Utah, a daughter, Cynthia, is a dancer and choreographer in San Francisco, and another daughter, Lisa, does public relations for a Portland, Ore., radio station. Unless a daughter marries someone who wants to be in the scrap business, about the only way for Utah Barrel to continue after Pepper retires is for an employee to purchase the company.
Pepper started at the business when he was 18 years old and his first jobs were delivery and "cleaning up messes." Over the years he has acquired a knowledge of various types of metals and parlayed the knowledge into a business with $2 million in annual sales.
"The main portion of Utah Barrel is devoted to scrap. We buy all types of metals and process them for foundries and secondary manufacturers. The materials come to Utah Barrel either from people hauling it to the lot and selling it by weight or by Pepper bidding on salvaging the item.
He used to melt aluminum, but that became uneconomical, so now he processes it by cutting it into small pieces and then ships it to recyclers. Utah Barrel also has a machine to crush aluminum cans into compacted cubes and when enough of the metal is accumulated it is shipped away.
True to its name, Utah Barrel also handles barrels of varying sizes and materials. Some of the barrels cannot be reused because of their contents so they are squashed by a large machine until they look like large "hockey pucks," and sent to steel mills for reuse, said Pepper. Other stainless steel or metal barrels are used to store items for long periods and plastic barrels that can be used to water storage.
Utah Barrel has several large cranes, magnets and hydraulic machines for handling the heavy metal and breaking it into pieces so it can he shipped economically for reuse.
Several years ago, Pepper started selling various sizes of chains and eventually got into a line of industrial tools and today stocks hundreds of items. One person suggested that customers be allowed to wander around Utah Barrel to get an idea of what off-beat and unusual items Pepper has so when they need something they know where to go.
Some of the items Utah Barrel handles are cable, chains and fittings, construction equipment, drums and containers, items for the ironworker and landscaper, power tools, rope, rigging, trucker supplies, stationary tools, tire chains, truck boxes and wire rope.
In addition to having a successful business, Pepper is a community-minded person because he hires minorities, people living in halfway houses and University of Utah athletes. "Not all of us are college graduates, but we have fun and exhibit common sense and compassion," said Pepper. He is proud that many of his 28 employees have worked for Utah Barrel for more than 10 years.