The Rag Man

by Charles McGrath


In Vailsburg when I was a little boy ( in the 1940's ) there were two different Rag Men. They were both immigrant Jews with their own horse drawn wagons. The horse and wagon was rented from a stable on Livingston Street in Newark (that was located a little south of Springfield Avenue below Bergen Street). The horse was a draft type like a Clydesdale (Budweiser Horse) with only one exception being a Palomino.

To a young boy it was a spectacular site. A horse was the closest a young city boy could ever come to the Wild West that was so enjoyed in the movies. A cylindrical shaped canvas feed bag was hung underneath the rear of the wooden wagon. It would sway back and forth as he rode through the street. This bag contained the oats that was fed to the horse at midday. At that time it was placed over his head like a dog's muzzle so he could feed.

The Rag Man would sit up on the buck board with a whip in hand and ride slowly through our street at least once a week. He would yell out in a monotone "Rags, Rags". He would take rags, newspapers, scrap metal, metal foil ,water heaters, pipes batteries etc. In turn he would pay you in cash what he felt the material was worth.

As a little boy during WWII I and others would save metal foil to sell to him. We would search the streets for chewing gum and cigarette wrappers. We would then peel the foil from the paper backing. The foil would be rolled into a ball. When the diameter of the ball reached a couple of inches it was sold to the Rag Man for a couple of cents. Some boys would try to cheat him by starting the foil ball with a small round stone.

The Rag Men went to sleep forever in the early 1960's.

When you stop and think about it, they were 50 years ahead of the times. They were actually the first of the recyclable movements


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: