Off the Porch: Bill Lopp and Copperhead

Jan. 02, 2013 @ 01:06 PM

Bill Lopp and Copperhead were an ill matched pair. Bill worked at Thomasville Furniture, he called it “Finches”. He ran a tenon machine. He had a scraggly beard most of the time and was clean shaven about twice a month. His hair was curly and dark and he used hair tonic to keep in combed in place. His clothes were chosen on price, not style and they showed the wear of working in a furniture plant and his hobby, scrounging for scrap metal. Bill was also scary looking. He had a wild man smile with squinted eyes. When he smiled, he looked like the crazy guy in the movie just before he blew up the building with him in it.
Copperhead, on the other hand was a shiny red Labrador retriever. He was a pampered dog with a leather collar with Bill’s phone number and address. He and Bill were, for the most part, inseparable. He was overweight, but if you mentioned this, Bill would laugh and agree, saying Copperhead was worth his weight in gold so weight was a good thing.
Bill was a frugal man, you could see this in his clothes and the ratty old red Ford truck he drove but he had a lot more disposable income than most of the folks working at “Finches”. Today, we’d call Bill an entrepreneur. Bill salvaged scrap metal and sold it to recyclers, though in those days, they were called junkyards. When Bill wasn’t working at his furniture plant job, he was working at his “hobby” finding, separating, and selling scrap metal.
In those days, iron brought little money…unless you had a lot. Steel brought about two cents a pound and cast iron, three. Aluminum, brass, and copper brought substantially more with copper being most valuable. It brought about fifty cents a pound. Bill was smart and he’d offer to remove almost anything from anywhere. He had a big trailer he pulled behind the rusty Ford and he was smart about rigging. He would pull some huge machine out of a derelict plant, tow it home behind the Ford and work tirelessly until it was reduced to piles of steel, iron, aluminum, brass and copper. Then, he and Copperhead would load it up and make a sale. He told me once that he made a lot more from his “hobby” than he did his job at Finches.
In those days, I was working at “Finches” as a maintenance man. I worked on Bill’s machine from time to time and sometimes we went to the Tville Diner for lunch. When we went to lunch in the cooler times of the year, Bill would insist on driving and Copperhead would be lounging on the truck seat when we came out of the plant. Bill would let him out to pee, give him some water, and we’d proceed. When we ordered, Bill would order a plain cheeseburger to go and, back at the truck, he’d give it to Copperhead. We waited outside until the big red dog had consumed his meal, and proceeded back to work.
In those days, I didn’t make much money and I asked Bill why he didn’t just bring Copperhead a little bag of dog food instead of feeding him a two dollar cheeseburger. Bill shook his head and laughed, “Copperhead really likes cheeseburgers,” he said. “I give him Eucanuba dog food at home to make sure he gets everything he needs, but he loves cheeseburgers. When I eat out, he gets a cheeseburger.” He paused, “If I eat fish, I get him an order of shrimp, though. He loves shrimp.”
I thought about this for a minute and on the ride home, I said, “Bill, you really love Copperhead, don’t you?”
Bill grinned his scary grin. “You bet. He’s a great dog and he’s also my business partner, he’s worth his weight in gold.” Copperhead was sitting up between us on the truck seat. Bill rubbed his ears and Copperhead preened.
A few months later, I was to learn just how valuable old Copperhead was. Bill called me over to his machine one day. “You want to make some money?” He grinned his evil maniac grin.
I was cautious. “How?”
“There’s an old steam generator at Plant B they’re going to let me have. It’s going to be hard to get out and I don’t know how to take it apart. I figure you do. Wanna’ help? You’ll make a lot more per hour than you do at this dump.”  He grinned again.
The job went fast but getting the big cast iron engine out was challenging. Afterwards we disassembled the thing down. It was full of copper. From the way Bill was smiling, you’d have thought it was gold. It took two trailer loads to haul the iron. Strangely, Copperhead didn’t ride with us to the scrap yard. I thought this unusual but I didn’t say anything. We drove the truck into the yard and onto the scales. They weighed us and gave us a ticket.
When we came out to weigh the unloaded truck, I was going to walk back when Bill told me I had to get in the truck.
“Why?” I asked. Bill patiently explained that they weigh the truck as it comes in to get an accurate account of how much we dropped off. If I wasn’t on the scales when they weighed out, the yard would be paying for more scrap than they got. I understood.
When we loaded up the copper, Bill motioned to Copperhead and he bounced up into the seat to ride with us. As we got near the scrap yard, Bill looked at me and winked, “Now Copperhead earns his money. OK, boy.” Copperhead crawled down into the floorboards under my feet. He was so big he pushed my knees up. We drove through the scales with Copperhead’s huge bulk hidden under my feet.
Once we were through the scales, we drove to the spot where we dropped the big copper coils off. There were several hundred pounds and I was thinking of how much money I was going to get when Bill told me to get out of the truck and let Copperhead out. I walked on to the copper pile and Copperhead slipped off. I assumed he was going to find a bush. Bill seemed unconcerned when the dog disappeared behind a pile of scrap cars and we began unloading copper as the yard operator rode over on a small lift.
We weighed out and when I saw the numbers, all I could think of was the cash. At fifty cents a pound, I was going to collect about a month’s wages from this project and we had less than 20 hours work in it. I was dazzled so much I forgot about the dog until we were about to go out the gate.
“Bill, we forgot Copperhead!” I yelled as we pulled out the gate.
Bill looked at me and gave me the evil grin again. “No we didn’t. He’s right up here.” We rounded the first bend and Copper head was sitting on the side of the road just across the side ditch. The truck stopped, I opened the door, and the big dog jumped across my lap into his position.
Bill grinned at me again. “Well, maybe Copperhead isn’t worth his weight in gold, but, today, he was worth his weight in copper.”

Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites. He loves to cook and does cooking segments on WXII TV.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com or offtheporchmedia.com.