RIP, John Hargrove, Whose Orr-Reed Wrecking Business Salvaged Lumber and People

When I made a call yesterday about John Hargrove, owner of Orr-reed Wrecking who was beaten to death in a Dallas bar over the weekend, I told the person I called I was calling only for personal reasons and not working on a story. I guess I'm going back on that a little. But this is not a story about any of the personal information we exchanged on the phone.

Hargrove, 50 when he died, is one of the people I wrote about in chronicling a battle between businesses on Rock Island Street, a small light industrial zone stuck between downtown and the Trinity River, and City Hall and The Dallas Morning News. The businesses won and did not have to vacate this old island in the river.

See also: - Scrap-Yard Owners Evolve to Survive Assault by City Hall and the News

But I was familiar with Hargrove's business before that story, because my wife and I had shopped there for years, even before Hargrove bought it in the early 1990s. Orr-Reed Wrecking salvages and resells cool elements from old buildings, so it's a premium place to find that perfect old door or paint-peeling bead board for an old house. Plus, it's a fun place to explore.

It's not the only architectural salvage yard in town. If you're in the market, you should look at them all online. It happens to be my favorite.

So this is about one incident when I was there hunting for something. One moment. That's all. It leaped to mind when I heard of his death, maybe because I've been working on a story recently about people who are considered "outside the labor force." Those are people who never have formal jobs.

No big morals of the story here today, no preaching. Just a memory that came to mind when I learned that somebody I liked had died a brutal death in the city where I live.

One hot day I was prowling the cavernous aisles of Orr-Reed looking for a certain type of bad lumber. Bad lumber was my term for it. My wife had a more erudite term. In her mind bad lumber is called "historically accurate." I had wanted to go to Home Depot and get something inaccurate but new, so I could run a saw through it without having it crumble into sawdust. But, no. So I was searching for old crumby beat-up raggedy historically accurate wood that I knew I would be able to find at Orr-Reed.

Here a board, there a board: I pulled them out one by one and dumped them in the aisle. When I had what I wanted, I started looking for a flat-bed cart so I could haul them up front and pay.

But this guy showed up. He was pulling a flatbed with one arm. The other arm was withered. I saw that this was his job. He smiled and said he would handle it. Then he stooped and began fishing the boards onto the cart. He twisted his body low from one side, clutched each board by one end with the good hand and then rotated his shoulders somehow to flip it up onto the cart. Where the work was supposed to be linear, up and down, his efforts were a spinning and turning, more like a corkscrew.

My first impulse was to help, because his exertions made me uncomfortable. But I hesitated. He was still smiling, so he must not have been in pain. And there they fell, all of those boards one after another, flipping down into a perfect stack on the cart. What had looked awkward and painful to me at first blush became almost a ballet.

I don't know why I asked. But I did.

"What happened to your arm?"

"Been like this since I was born," he said.

"But you work anyway."

"Try to."

I said there would be no big fat moral to this story, and so I have nothing to say about people who do not work. I have only this little window to offer -- an eccentric moment in an eccentric place, the sort of thing I was not going to see at Home Depot.

The guy wanted to work. Hargrove hired him. He did work. He worked hard and well. His labor was the dance of human dignity.

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