DULUTH — There’s a landline phone in the bathroom. An old washing machine in the basement, and upstairs, a 100-pound safe and a collection of garage door openers. This is what we leave behind. This is what Bernard McCarthy is called in to handle.
McCarthy is the owner of Twin Ports Trailer Trash, a junk removal company with a focus on reuse.
“We do what we can to keep as much out of the landfill as possible. If there’s a couch that doesn’t need to go to the landfill, we find a new home for it,” McCarthy said.
So, they aim to dispose of what they can through an auction, or they donate to second-hand stores and local organizations. And they find everything from silverware to air conditioners to cleaning supplies.
McCarthy used to buy storage lockers at auction, hoping to find items of worth. Hauling unsalvageable goods to the landfill, he said he realized people might pay him to get rid of their unwanted goods.
From there, he bought a small trailer, put ads on Facebook and Craigslist and started doing it on nights and weekends.
He charged $100 a load, hauling items in a small trailer. He realized he wasn’t making much considering gas, landfill fees and time. He called other companies to ask about prices, and he landed on charging $30 per cubic yard, which is about the size of a washing machine. He also learned to update costs based on the nature of the job and what they’re disposing, he said.
McCarthy launched Twin Ports Trailer Trash in 2014. He brought on more staff. After two years, he brought on business partner Malcolm Johnson. McCarthy’s wife, Emily, does the books.
“He was always a treasure hunter,” she said. He’s an entrepreneur at heart, and when he finds something he wants to do, he’s all in.
Recalling when they first started the business, she supported the idea, but: “Part of me thought, ‘You really want to be working with other people’s junk? Let’s deal with our junk,’” she said.
Added Bernard: “In some ways, she’s like the shoemaker’s daughter because I have some junk at my house that I haven’t gotten to yet.”
When their garage filled up, they had to stop taking in items he found at work. And he has found a lot. Signed baseball bats, silver coins, new power tools, Italian furniture.
“The most exciting part of the job is cracking the door open for the first time,” he said.
McCarthy passes that on to his employees. They can take what they want from jobs as long as it’s not for sale and can be used in their own homes.
John Cieluch has been working with McCarthy for four months and has gained new patio furniture, a two-person recliner and a basketball hoop for his kids from different jobs.
While he didn’t keep it, Gordon Eggen said a standout item he saw while working was a mint-condition newspaper from the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Eggen and Cieluch recently hauled boxes out of Sue Bremer’s basement.
Bremer sorted through travel journals, hand-painted plates from her mother, old teaching assignments.
“I’ve been here for 25 years, and crap accumulates,” she said.
Bremer hired McCarthy to help her haul and sort. There were three signs on the lawn: keep, donate, trash.
The goal is to have less, so when in doubt, donate, McCarthy said.
He noted that parting with items can be difficult for clients; he anticipates this and trains employees with that in mind.
“Even though it’s going to the landfill, people might still have an emotional connection, so I tell my guys, ‘Don’t just throw it … Have respect for it when you’re loading it in the truck.’”
Heavy emotions come, too, in other instances.
When someone has their house taken away in a tax forfeiture, they don’t always leave it in the best condition. “The things that they do are pretty unspeakable,” McCarthy said. (Think excrement.)
Sometimes, conditions are unsafe, such as in a hoarder house.
They’ve also run into a family of rats, urine-filled containers and a drum of a mysterious chemical for which they contacted a hazardous waste facility to dispose.
Along with a sledgehammer, shovel and Shop-vac, McCarthy and his team travel with hard hats, high visibility vests and even hazmat suits.
It’s also physically taxing work. Estimating the time a job takes can be challenging, especially for awkward items like pianos, hide-a-beds, pool tables and old hot tubs.
McCarthy has lost 30 pounds since June, when he started working at his business full-time. Johnson has pulled muscles from not stretching beforehand. But they said that the physical, hands-on part of the job is rewarding, and there’s always a clear view of the fruits of your labor.
On a recent Friday, a subwoofer blasted hip-hop as McCarthy, Johnson and three others scattered around a rural Hermantown property. They had to clear out a house, two garages and random, rusting metalwork strewn across the yard. It was hot and humid, and the guys brought boxes down from upstairs, they tore apart wooden frames and sorted through garbage bags and buckets.
The previous owner was a collector, said Eric Berg. He rehabs properties through his small business franchise We Buy Ugly Houses in Duluth, and he has been working with McCarthy for more than a year.
Berg used to do his own hauls. “It would take days to get stuff cleaned out. These guys are faster, more efficient,” he said.
“Good news: I found us some copper,” McCarthy said, lifting a long copper piece weighed down by filled plastic garbage bags. “Bad news: These bags are full of concrete.”
The mystery material ended up being garden lime, but this discovery can stay out of the landfill; Berg can sell it for about $2.50.
When they had two trucks filled, “I’m going to go dump Junior,” Johnson said, of their second truck.
McCarthy plans to add elements to the business that go hand-in-hand with junk removal — dumpster and storage-unit rentals, even crime-scene cleanup.
He wants to keep saying “yes” to jobs. “If we haven’t done it before, we go on YouTube, and we figure it out,” he said.
More info: duluthjunkremoval.com