Recycling the Past



Author: Courtney McCann
Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP - The White family sees the world a bit differently than most people.

You see chunks of teal glass the size of small boulders, they see paperweights.

You see old bleacher boards, they see coffee tables.

You see a stone monolith with carved caricatures of Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, they see ... well, they're actually still working on that one.

Matt White, along with his brother Josh and father Steve, run Recycling the Past, an architectural salvage business built around turning construction castoffs into architectural gold. This month the family and the business became the subject of the home improvement show "Operation Salvage," a new series on the DIY network.

The show debuted on June 1. The Season 1 finale airs at 11:30 a.m. today.

For the past 20 years, the Whites have scavenged old buildings and auctions for everything from doors and beams to church bells and World War II tank springs. Some of their loot is sold to contractors or antique buffs, but most of it sits in the yard of their Route 9 business, waiting for reincarnation.

The family's unique occupation caught the eye of several production companies that, over the years, strove to come up with a solid pitch for a reality show.

In 2005 Pilgrim Films & Television, the people behind "American Choppers," contacted the Whites about filming them for an episode of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs."

"They liked the dynamic of the family, the father and two sons," Matt White, 37, said. "We're not as crazy as the 'American Chopper' guys, but we're as creative, if not more creative in our own medium."

In 2007, the production arm of the National Association of Home Builders began working with the family to start their own TV show based less on drama and more on the process of salvage and restoration. DIY picked up the show in 2008.

White welcomed the publicity that put his southern New Jersey business in the limelight, and shifted easily from welding and hammering to planning episode arcs and recording voiceovers.

"(Being approached by networks) didn't surprise me at all," White said. "What we do is very unusual and very interesting. We've really come into a special niche."

Think Bob Vila's "This Old House," one of White's childhood inspirations. White wanted to show viewers how to transform doors into kitchen counters and bleacher boards into coffee tables.

"Not everyone can dismantle buildings," White said. "What we are teaching is how it can be done and should be done. Give people some ideas on different levels of creativity."

Some of the projects were simple. In one episode the Whites removed a window from an old YMCA building in Montclair, took out the glass and turned the frame into a mirror to hang in a restaurant in Asbury Park. Nothing too complicated right?

Skip ahead to today's episode, where the Whites will turn an old machinery cart from a recycling yard into a kitchen island using a plasma cutter. How many weekend handymen have those fancy machines lying around the tool shed?

Parts of "Operation Salvage" were filmed on location at various work sites, but most of the action happened at the Recycling the Past salvage yard.

Matt White recalls the camera crew being in awe when they showed up to start filming the first day. And with good reason.

The yard is a cross between a junkyard and something out of a Tim Burton film. Chunks of blue/green glass are piled in bins next to rows of bathroom sinks and tubs. Stacks of old wooden doors lean against one tree, while a large red telephone booth from Great Britain (White's 30th birthday gift to himself) is nestled in a corner amid some shrubbery.

The Whites have made a good side business out of loaning items to filmmakers for movie pr

Recycling The Past - Architectural Salvage
381 North Main Street, Barnegat, NJ 08005

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