Jasper Salvage: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

Buck Hudson and his son, Jerry, kid around in the office of Jasper Salvage on a recent morning. While Buck is retired, he and wife, Mary, still visit on a regular basis. Jerry Hudson and his sister, Janet Judd now own the business and have been joined by members of the third generation. Buck was not the original founder but his innovations and upgrades made for a much more efficient operation. Jasper Salvage provides a very necessary service, not only to Jasper and Dubois County but for surrounding communities and counties as well. (Photos by Grace Mayhall)

Some businesses are created after months (or even years) of planning, complete with detailed financial examination, projections, and an excessive amount of research.

And sometimes the wise businessman (or woman) just kind of falls into it, recognizing a good thing when said good thing presents itself.

The latter was pretty much the case for Gerald “Buck” and Mary Hudson — patriarch and matriarch of Jasper Salvage.

Buck is quick to point out he didn’t start the business — it was originally called Leistner Scrapyard, founded in 1949 by Russell and Bertha Leistner. But there is no doubt that under Buck and Mary’s tutelage the business grew and flourished.

As with any worthy tale it might be best to start at the very beginning when Buck Hudson and Mary Reckelhoff met at the Bretzville Dance Hall. They were both 14 years old at the time. After that initial meeting, Buck says,“We went every Saturday night,” paying the 50¢ admission and presumably dancing up a storm.

Sometimes the twosome opted for an evening at the Schnitzelbank Dance Hall for a change of pace, but dance they did.

Mary claims Buck is a really good dancer (and vice versa).

Buck grew up in Jasper and Mary was the proverbial “military brat,” with her dad in service. Her grandparents lived in Dubois and she attended school in both Jasper and Dubois. After meeting at age 14 neither one had eyes for anyone else so they tied the knot between Christmas and New Year’s in 1952 — almost 69 years ago.

While finding the love of his life at a young age, Buck had not yet found his passion in the working world. He did, however, like to drive and often drove trucks for various businesses.

“I was unemployed at the time,” Buck explains, “and a driver from Leistner Scrapyard had been in a fight at a shooting match. He had gone out with a load and was in Dale when the State cops pulled him over. [He was arrested.] They left the truck sitting there. Russell [Leistner] called and asked if I would take the load to Evansville so I did. The next day they asked me to take another load.”

And so it began — 65 years ago in October.

Buck continued to drive for the Leistners and found he loved the scrapyard business — he had a true affinity for it. He would haul loads of steel to the Chrysler Foundry in Indianapolis, or to Kokomo or Columbus or Louisville and sometimes to Illinois.

“I loved to go along,” recalls daughter, Janet. “I would crawl in back in the sleeper.”

That was Janet’s introduction to the scrap business.

When Russell died, Bertha tapped Buck to manage the business.

During this period Mary was busy at home with the couple’s seven children who came in fairly rapid succession.

Buck thought the world of Bertha Leistner but was maybe not quite as impressed with her business acumen.

“They had this old junk crane with one magnet and we’d struggle [to amass enough] steel in a week to make payroll.”

One great benefit to the business — Patoka Lake. Buck remembers in 1964 when the office was more of an old shed. The river flooded and he put on waders but was still waist-deep in the water trying to salvage what he could. Patoka made a huge difference for that area in Jasper.

Buck observed the way the business had been run and he managed it as Bertha wanted, but in 1983 Buck and Mary bought her out.

The first change?

The name, from Leistner Scrapyard to Jasper Salvage.

Ross Beckman loads metal on a scale.

The second?

The addition of recycling.

“At the time there was lots of stuff in the landfill.” Chick Alles was mayor and he visited Buck for some help. 

“The old dumpsite is full of rats and mice,” Alles explained. 

Occasionally former Ferdinand Police Chief Jerry Durlauf would load his pistol and help curb the infestation at the dump, but that was not an ideal pest control situation.

“People were throwing trash in ditches. Chick wanted to make sure no more metal went to the dump and nothing was tossed in ditches.”

Jasper Salvage was already collecting and sorting all things metal (steel, copper, aluminum, and brass), so adding recycling of newspapers and aluminum cans made sense.

Eventually, with the help of Jasper Salvage, the city was able to clean up the dump and provide an invaluable service, not just for Jasper but for Dubois County and beyond.

At work in the scrapyard.

The junk crane was replaced, thanks in part to a huge increase in the value of metals not long after the Hudsons bought the business. In 1989, Buck built the current, two-story office building. More equipment was added that would make it easier to sort the various metals. Buck says you never know, they could melt down an old appliance at the foundry that a local customer brought in and it could come back as a brand new Cadillac!

For a time Jasper Salvage also recycled glass and would haul it away by the semi-load as a community service, but they lost money on every load and eventually, there was no place that would take it.

After the kids started school, Mary joined Buck in the business and fell in love just as her husband had. “I talked to customers, did the books, paid the bills, and really enjoyed it,” Mary says.

She did those books in ledgers — QuickBooks did not yet exist.

The kids, and grandkids too, came and helped their parents when they got old enough.

“They were good kids,” Mary assures.

Like their parents, son, Jerry Hudson, and daughter, Janet Judd, felt a true affinity for this business and joined their parents full time.

“We both turned 65 in 2000,” Buck explains, “so we retired, and then worked another 20 years.”

He is just kidding about that last part. “Now we come in and say hi and visit.”

Jerry and Janet run a very efficient business, continuing the tradition of excellence instilled by their parents.

As a help for rural areas of Dubois County and surrounding communities (Montgomery, Loogootee, and Oakland City to name a few) they added huge, roll-off containers where people can dispose of metal items and are picked up after they are full. People can get rid of steel, sheet iron, appliances, all sorts of items. The containers can also be rented and Jasper Salvage does not charge for pickup or delivery.

Jerry and Janet know their metals and talk about angle iron, channel iron, steel plate, aluminum, and the like with easy familiarity.

Jessica Capehart, Janet Judd’s daughter, is hard at work in the office.

While Jerry Hudson and Janet Judd are the current owners of the business, Jerry’s wife, Sheryl and their kids are the third generation in the business. Son Zach works in the yard and Haley helps in the office, along with Janet’s daughter, Jessica. Meanwhile, Janet’s husband, Roger, drives the roll-off truck and keeps the equipment in prime working condition.

“We know our equipment is being taken care of,” Janet adds.

The brother-sister team works closely with the Dubois County Solid Waste Department, as well as with the city and they continue to build and maintain solid relationships with area businesses — many that began with Buck and Mary.

Speaking of the patriarch, Buck says, “We’re both 86 now, married 69 years. We come in when we want. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Mary adds, “We had seven children but we lost one daughter, we have 10 grandkids, six great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren plus one on the way.”

“We’ve had a wonderful life,” Buck concludes.

And a wonderful business that is continuing on into the third generation — a family that is as strong as steel!

This story is part of a series called Entrepreneurs and Innovators designed to highlight the stories of some of Dubois County’s businesses and the people behind them. We hope it inspires the next wave of entrepreneurs and innovators in this area. If you are ready to take your idea to the next stage, there are many resources and mentors to help you. You can start by contacting the Jasper Chamber of Commerce at 812-482-6866 or chamber@jasperin.org and the Dubois County Chamber of Commerce at 812-827-8274 or info@duboiscountychamber.com. They can provide assistance and also put you in touch with their partners at Dubois Strong and the Indiana Small Business Development Center.