How Not To Recycle A Piano

NOTE: Another amusing article my my uncle, David Klockau. -TK

One of the fun parts of my job with City Carton Recycling is when I don my “Community Education Coordinator” hat to make environmental presentations at local schools. These student groups have ranged from pre-school to college. While the most fun groups are the 3-4th graders, a few times I have felt I was losing an audience. Let’s face it; recycling is not always the most exciting thing to discuss. When this has happened, especially with the younger audiences, I ask them if they would like to hear how I launched a grand piano out of a pick up truck. This usually gets their attention, since it involves an adult screwing up (that would be me), action, drama, and property destruction.

Before I joined the recycling industry, I worked in the waste business as a service manager for a local waste hauler. Every now and then we would get calls from people wanting us to haul and dispose of something a little unusual. These calls were usually directed to me. One day, I took a call from the local community theatre group. They were making their seasonal move from the local fairgrounds exhibit hall and needed to do a clean out. I started to quote them a price for a dumpster, when the caller cut me off to say that they needed to dispose of not one, but two big old upright grand pianos.

As a musician and a recycler at heart – even then – I could not understand how someone could just trash a musical instrument. Even one which tipped the scales at about 500 pounds. I told him I had a friend who was looking for a piano for his wife. So, I called my buddy Poco who wanted the piano, and then borrowed a piano dolly from a local music store and a pick up truck (a late 1980s-vintage Mazda B-Series) from my son. We went out to the fairgrounds to move the first piano. My friend was a little nervous about this, but I had actually moved pianos for a music store one summer, so I knew it was not that big a deal. The first move was no problem – we took that one to my garage. I was planning to sell this one. We then went back for the second piano which we would take to my friend’s house. We stopped at a Quik-Trip to get a pop. As we walked out to the truck, Poco looked at the piano and said: “You know, maybe we should tie this down man…” Being the former professional piano mover, I replied a little too confidently: “Naw, that piano isn’t going anywhere, and we don’t have that far to go.” However, as we were heading East on Burlington St. and turned North onto Dodge – and with God and Poco as my witness it was a very slow turn – the piano went South. And it didn’t just tip over the side; it did a complete flip. I know this because within a split second, the view in my rear view mirror went from solid piano to daylight.

There was a very loud musical sound from the piano as it landed dead-center in the intersection. I couldn’t decide if it was A flat or B flat, but it was definitely flat! Amazingly, no vehicles or pedestrians were damaged or hurt. All sound and motion just stopped…kind of like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix movies. Poco and I were in shock. And then, the very next thing I heard was Poco blurting out the words I had heard so often as a kid: “Take off, man!!”

Poco and I have been friends for a long time and spent some wild times together as University of Iowa students doing some pretty stupid things: ripping off lounge furniture at the dorms and Xeroxing our faces to name just a few. And I really did consider taking his advice, but only for a second. I did the responsible thing and we got out of the truck to pick up the piano pieces. However, the piano was still in one piece! Although it was a little crumpled like a half-crushed pop can. We hauled it to my house and unloaded it into my garage. I asked Poco if he wanted the other piano – the one we didn’t flip out of a truck – and he decided that his wife would be happy with one of those new portable keyboards. But, he did take most of the piano body and built a work bench out of it. I kept the legs as a memento.

It turned out one of my neighbors was restoring an antique piano and happened to walk by as we were dismembering the piano carcass. He took all of the ivory and ebony keys and inner workings. The only thing left was the soundboard which is a huge frame with 88 strings-kind of like a giant harp. My “hobby inventor” mechanic who worked at my company took it and mentioned some thing about a giant cross bow. Of course, this is the same guy who took the door off one of those really old refrigerators, removed the handle, and put about 10 coats of car wax on it and used it as a sled in the winter. Luckily, one of my other neighbors saw the un-demolished piano in my garage and asked if she could buy it for her daughter. I told her it’s free, and we just rolled it down the street and into her family room.

Just the other day I was talking to Poco. He said his mother-in-law had just passed away and had left her piano to one of his daughters. He told me he was going to Oklahoma over Thanksgiving to move it back to Iowa City. I asked him if he wanted me to help. He looked at me for a moment with one of those nervous sideways looks, and then said: No way man! And that’s how a 1920’s Kohler & Campbell upright grand piano, lovingly built by old world craftsmen in New York City, was recycled in Iowa City, Iowa.

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