Braille Monitor                                                   April 2010

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Training Reflections

by Jeff Altman

Dan Treffer uses a torch to cut scrap metal into manageable pieces for sale.From Barbara Pierce: What jobs do blind people hold? We have all been asked that question. The longer I live and meet Federationists across the nation, the harder I find it to give an answer. Blind people are doing all sorts of things. The following profile describes Dan Treffer, who is doing something that I would never have thought to list as a job a blind person can do. The profile appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of the newsletter of the Nebraska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Here it is:

Dan Treffer, 2000 graduate of the Nebraska Center for the Blind, runs a unique business from his home. He has devoted approximately half of his three-acre property to his metal recycling business, but thanks to the privacy fence that surrounds his work area, you might not know what business he is in. Dan takes metal of virtually any type, including old cars, appliances, and scrap from the farms, which he cleans up, and uses a torch to cut the metal into manageable, eighteen-by-thirty-six-inch pieces, for which the scrap yard pays a higher rate. To make this process faster, he has placed markers that he can feel on the hoses of his torch at eighteen and thirty-six inches so that he can compare the markings on the hoses to the metal. He is then able, in one easy step, to know where to begin each cut. Dan jokes that he has nearly set himself on fire a few times: “I’ll get done cutting up something and then forget and lean up against the hot metal. The next thing I know, my overalls are starting to smoke. No matter what, I think that is just one of the hazards of the work.”

Dan points out that the hardest part of the job is taking apart the appliances, since the scrap yard will not accept the plastics inside of them. He says, “You’d think that, after so many years of tearing apart appliances, I’d know how to do it pretty quick, but sometimes I’ll spend a lot of time looking for just one more screw that has to be removed before the plastic liner will come out. It can be very time-consuming and frustrating.”

At first, Dan says, he wasn’t really sure what to do with the plastic materials he was taking out of the appliances because the scrap yard didn’t want them, and trying to put them in his trash was creating a real mess. Then he found out that the scrap yard would accept them if they were inside the body of a junk car, so he has been doing that ever since. He also said that running the business has been a learning process for him. For example, he was throwing the wiring from the appliances into the car bodies along with the plastic parts until one of the scrap yard workers told him that they actually buy insulated wire, so now he makes a little extra money from every appliance he disassembles.

Another important part of the work is sorting out the different types of metal. For the steel and iron Dan uses a magnet. For other types of metal Dan uses his basic knowledge of what types of metal are usually used in the manufacture of certain items, such as plumbing pipes, which are often made of copper, and old lawn chairs, which are usually made from aluminum. Dan can also use his limited eyesight to identify the color of other pieces of metal, but it isn’t always simple to figure out exactly what they are. For example, Dan explains that there are three types of brass and two types of aluminum, and these have to be separated. “I sort out the metal the best I can, and the fellows down at the scrap yard help me out from there, when I take a load in.”

Dan stores the smaller pieces of metal in steel drums, which are painted different colors that he can see well enough to tell apart. He also has a loader to move the larger pieces around his work area in order to cut it up or otherwise process the materials. He says, “Sometimes I’ll run over something or bump into one of the junk cars, but it doesn’t really matter, since they are being scrapped anyway. As long as I take my time and I’m careful, I can handle the loader fine.”

Once he has enough scrap for a load, Dan hires either a family member or a friend to drive his truck down to the scrap yard. He processes from six to eight tons of metal each month, which really helps to supplement the family’s income. Dan also had done some mechanic work for a while after leaving center training, but he says that he doesn’t have the equipment or knowledge to work on the new vehicles, with all of the computer and electronic systems built into them, so he gave up on this part of his business. Aside from his scrap metal business, Dan babysits for his grandchildren, which he says “Doesn’t pay anything, but it’s my favorite job.”

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