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
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