Metal Man, ‘a Real-Life Superhero’

Four million pounds in 12 years: the amazing adventures of a king of scrap
Von Strauss has hauled more than four million pounds of scrap iron, steel, and castoff appliances to salvage yards like this one, the Gershow Recycling Center in Medford. Courtesy of Metal Man

It takes a smart person to know his destiny when he gets a peek at it, and it takes an even bigger person to make the leap of faith once he does. Von Strauss, for example, is a classically trained pianist with a college degree in business. He lives in Islandia now, but his family has a house on the Napeague stretch in Amagansett and he’s played in a series of local rock bands over the years, and written over 1,000 songs. (“None of them published yet, but I’m working on it,” he says.) 

Yet it wasn’t until a buddy asked Mr. Strauss if he could accompany him to the Hamptons to pick up an engine block and take it to a recycling yard that his life really pivoted. After a week of rambling around together and peppering his friend with questions about “scrapping,” Mr. Strauss bought himself a brand-new Toyota Tundra truck, printed some fliers and business cards featuring an Atlas logo he lifted off Van Halen’s “5150” album, and broke off on his own.

That was 12 years and four million pounds of scrap metal pickups ago. 

That’s how Metal Man was born.

“Now I’m a real-life superhero,” Mr. Strauss said with a laugh. “People call and say, ‘Hey Metal Man, get over here.’ I put on my black pants, my Metal Man shirt and steel-toed boots and I go to work every day. I go scrapping anywhere from Remsenburg to Montauk. And it’s a great job, a great job. I love it. I own my own business. Make my own hours. Meet all kinds of people. And I get paid every day. Sometimes I get up at 3:30, 4 a.m. to start and get home late at night, feed my cats, pass out, and do it all over again the next day.”

  It helps that in addition to having a tireless work ethic, Mr. Strauss has a mathematical mind and gregarious personality. He can quote the current price per pound of everything from aluminum to grade 1 iron to mixed steel by heart. He knows the best spots to take scrap metal to at any given time — Crown Recycling in Riverhead, Two Brothers in Farmingdale, the Gershow Recycling yards in Farmingdale and Medford.

He’s built a reputation for being a man of his word and he’s made a lot of friends along the way too — contractors, builders, business owners, real estate agents, homeowners, you name it. It’s not unusual for him to get 12, even 15 calls a day. Many folks hear about him by word of mouth. Mr. Strauss said one of his most gratifying moments came when he got a call from a homeowner on Further Lane in East Hampton who gave him the security codes to her house to pick up some things unsupervised even though they’d never met, because, as she told him, “You come highly recommended.”

Mr. Strauss said his late father — an ear, nose, and throat doctor who passed away in 2003 — “would’ve been really proud. I just know it. I mean, how amazing was that?” 

Over the years he has collected a lot of other stories about memorable pickups or unexpectedly lucrative scores. He remembers “a stretch there in 2011 when prices skyrocketed and I couldn’t miss. I was making no less than $800 a day and I paid off my Tundra, paid off my Prius, was able to put my daughter through college.” 

He told a story about Hans Van de Bovenkamp, a well-known Dutch sculptor in Sagaponack, who called him once to take away what turned out to be a treasure trove of high-end scrap: “Marine stainless, red brass plate, which at that time was $1.65 a pound. That job was like backing up the truck and saying, ‘Open the vault. Just throw all the money in here.’ ” 

Mr. Strauss said he made $12,000 on that gig in just three days. Then he went back unbidden and gave the sculptor a $1,000 cut. “He was very thankful I suggested it. I said, ‘You don’t look like you need it’ and he said, ‘No, I don’t. But it’s nice to know you care.’ ”

 Mr. Strauss laughed and said that was fun. But his “weirdest job, by far” was a pickup at a house that was undergoing a gut renovation. When he and his buddy Glen arrived, they found a giant safe in the basement that was six feet high and weighed over 1,000 pounds. The contractor who called was skeptical that removing it was possible. But Mr. Strauss eyed the scene had a superhero idea.

He and his friend pivoted the safe on one end back and forth, back and forth till they got it near the basement’s Bilco doors. They laid two ramps on the stairs leading outside, lashed a chain around the safe and tipped it on its side so it rested on the ramp. 

Then they attached the other end of the chain to Mr. Strauss’s Tundra.

The construction workers  — about 30 of them, Strauss said — were all on their lunch break by now and watching raptly as he climbed into his truck and inched it forward till the chain attached to the safe was “nice and taut.” 

“Then Glen gave me the signal, I gunned the engine, the truck flew forward and that safe came flying up out of the Bilco doors and actually caught air. I mean, this thing literally came shooting out of the stairs, flew up in the air, and then stuck in the ground! Sideways! Like a bottle rocket that fails.”

Mr. Strauss laughed again. 

“It was absolutely great,” he said, “because all these construction workers who were watching all this, they couldn’t believe it. After the safe came flying out of the doors and crashed, they were all standing and cheering ‘Metal Man! Metal Man! Metal Man!’ ”

The Metal Man can be reached at 631-335-5939.