What started as a hobby nearly 50 years ago, has for Roger Venjohn been a fun and profitable business that has grown extensively since its beginnings in the 1960s. “I always liked building things with metal,” said Venjohn, “and recycling old metal has let me do what I like to do and given me a bit of extra spending money, too.”
In the early days, Venjohn was living in Ree Heights and working at the implement dealership there. “I started my little recycling center at a slower pace, using a cold chisel, hammer and a hack saw that first year to cut the steel down so I could haul it,” said Venjohn. “I had a small trailer made out of a pickup box that I pulled behind the family car until I could afford to buy an old pickup.” In 1963 Venjohn purchased an old Chevy for $500, which he reconditioned over and over again to keep it going. A sentimental Venjohn admits to still owning that pickup and having aspirations to rebuild it someday.
The business was moved to St. Lawrence for a time before relocating to the old town of Vayland, on Highway 14, six miles west of Wessington. “I bought a couple acres of property on the south side of Vayland in 1981 and started moving the scrap yard load by load that spring,” said Venjohn, who by then was working fulltime at Ree Electric. “It took me three years, working nights and weekends, to move all the inventory over,” Venjohn said. “At the time, there was no market, so I had no choice but to move everything here. I couldn’t begin to count the number of loads of old machinery and cars I moved from St. Lawrence to Vayland.”
As more property became available throughout the years, Venjohn bought it up, expanding his salvage business to approximately 25 acres. He has also acquired more of the necessary equipment, including a cutting torch, pay loaders and a skid loader, a crane truck, two boom trucks and a couple of good hauling trucks, not to mention an enormous amount of scrap metal and salvage. “We recycle all kinds of old cars, farm machinery, appliances, tin, wire, literally anything made of metal,” Venjohn said. “We also collect bikes and wagons to take to Springfield, where the prisoners fix them up for needy kids.”
One thing Venjohn has enjoyed doing is cleaning up farmsteads. “I go clean up all the metal and everything else and haul it away,” said Venjohn. “I bring the metal here, sort it, and then disperse whatever I can to various outlets.” He also likes finding good deals at farm sales.
Venjohn Wrecking & Salvage is definitely a ‘man’s world’ according to Venjohn-though husbands are always welcome to bring their wives along to visit with Lora, Venjohn’s wife of 17 years. “Lora is always eager to serve a cup of coffee or tea,” said Venjohn. “We both really enjoy the social aspect of our business. “People are generally great to deal with, and I like to visit with my customers,” said Venjohn. “There aren’t a lot of salvage businesses that keep any salvage in inventory like I do, so we get a lot of people coming here looking for a certain tractor or car part or piece of machinery.”
If there is a downside to the business, Venjohn says it would be the widely fluctuating price paid for metals, over which he has no control. “The price of metal is based on supply and demand, so price can change overnight,” said Venjohn. ” I stick my neck out whenever I buy iron because I may get $200 a ton or only $5 a ton, depending on the market.”
However, Venjohn’s least favorite part of the salvage business isn’t the changing markets. It’s wet weather. “Farmers want the rain, but I’d rather not have it because it makes it pretty hard to work with all the mud,” said Venjohn. “I don’t like the snow either, because it shuts you down completely. This was a nice winter for me.”
Venjohn feels his business provides a valuable service to the area. “There are a lot of guys who come in from out of state offering to haul metal away from local farms, but they don’t always pay like they say they will,” said Venjohn. “I always think it’s better to deal with someone you know. People who know me know I will give them a fair price for their metal.”
When Venjohn is not collecting metal, he is using it to make something, like the Internet tower he recently built. “Ice took down a communications tower south on the Vayland Road a few winters ago and got to clean it up,” said Venjohn. “I managed to salvage 25 feet of the 200 foot tower and now we can get internet access, something we couldn’t get before because we are in such a low spot.”
Even after all these years, Venjohn still loves getting up every day to work at his business. His philosophy has always been this, ‘A business won’t work for you unless you work for it’ and he is certainly not afraid of hard work. He just happens to also get to have a lot of fun working at something he really loves and he hopes to continue for a long time into the future. “We’re going strong and will continue doing this for as long as we can,” said Venjohn.
Spring is a good time to clean up and it’s always a good time to recycle, says Venjohn, so if you have old appliances, cars, machinery, any metal you want to get rid of, or you are looking for salvage parts, give Venjohn a call at 605-853-2528. “We’re available between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., but if we don’t answer, be sure to leave a message and we’ll get back to you.”