The bullet-riddled auto body peacefully rusting into the prairie soil has become an icon of Western art, but soon there will be many fewer to shoot.
The world price of scrap metal has jumped nearly 60 percent over the last year, says Pacific Steel and Recycling
manager Mason Mikkola. Pacific was recently paying as much as $80 per ton for motor vehicles. Once word spread, Montanans started driving their car haulers stacked with old Suburbans on to Pacific’s Missoula scale.
For example, recently at Pacific a multi-ton Massy Harris could be seen perched on top of a pile of lawn mowers and auto transmissions. Elsewhere, a couple of steel implement and tractor wheels extruded from a mountain of broken machinery.
Pacific’s scrap metal collections have increased 95 percent during the last nine months to 1,200 tons a month, according to Mikkola. In fact, Mikkola says he recently cut the payout to $40 a ton, just to keep his inventory under control.
Mikkola says the demand from the growing economies in China and India, coupled with the declining value of the dollar, has contributed to the rising scrap metal prices. Even though most U.S. scrap metal gets recycled back into American-made products, domestic recyclers must pay the going global prices.
Missoula Auto Salvage has been among those taking advantage of the high prices by cashing out its multi-decade collection of old cars, says Donavon Russell, whose family owns the business. They closed the doors to the public in December and brought in a car crusher. Since then, approximately 4,000 cars dating from the 1940s through the 1990s have been squashed flat and shipped to the smelters, Russell says.
Russell sheds no tears at the fate of the old cars.
“They were pretty well gutted,” he says. “The older rigs were worth more in scrap than parts.”
Bill Armstrong, a car collector from Arlee, agrees. He sees farm trucks loaded with scrap driving south every day to Pacific’s scales. He admits he’d sell his own combine if he could get it loaded on a trailer.
“What do you consider an old car?” he asks. “The scrappers don’t care.”
Plus, he adds, “Some people might think my stuff was an eye sore.”