LEXINGTON, KY – Each year nearly 180 thousand tons of steel and over 10 thousand tons of other metals get diverted from landfill and waste heaps in the Bluegrass by Baker Iron and Metal Company. “On the steel side we process around 13 to 15 thousand tons a month,” said Gregory Dixon, Manager of the Lexington based company. “On the non-ferrous side, it’s somewhere around a million and a half to two million pounds a month.” That includes aluminum, copper, and brass. The recycling brings a tremendous savings in cost and energy when compared with metal production with virgin ores.
This summer the company expanded with the acquisition of 20 acres along Old Frankfort Pike. At a July grand opening for the expansion, Congressman Ben Chandler, Mayor Jim Newberry, Ken Robinson of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, and business leaders all spoke. “Baker was a green company before anyone knew what a green company was,” Newberry said.
In 1921, Morris Baker and Morris Wides, immigrants who made Lexington home, opened the company on the corner of Limestone and Seventh Street in an old hemp factory building. “Originally, most of the scrap came from the farmers and the distilleries,” said Harold Baker, who led the family company after he returned from Army service during WWII. He recalls that the volume of scrap metal was much less in the company’s early days. Back then the company also cleaned and sold used rags and dealt in cowhide and furs. “As the automobile business became more and more important, more scrap started to come from the automobile,” Baker said. He saw the arrival of IBM in the 50s and the coming of more industry to the region. “Whenever you had a new plant that produced a metal product, there’s scrap,” he said.
Greg Dixon recalls the Lexington of his youth. “When you went from one side of town to the other, most of the time you just went through town” he said. “To go south to north you went down Limestone and you went past Baker Iron and Metal. I remember seeing it when I was a kid.” He worked for Baker Iron and Metal starting in 1984 for 16 years. Then he moved on to work with another recycling company. He was invited back to manage the company in 2004 when Cohen Brothers, Inc. of Middleton, Ohio, bought it. Offices and operations were moved to Seventh Street near Winchester Road. The company under its new ownership right off bought its main competitor in the region, Frankfort Scrap Metal, and expanded its operations with workers and equipment from Frankfort. “We doubled our business in the first six months,” said Dixon. Baker now also has branch operations in Morehead and Southern Indiana. Baker has about 70 employees, 55 of them in Lexington – a mix of management, maintenance, machine operators and truck drivers.
On a drive around the grounds of the company’s Seventh Street location, Joe Anderson, manager of non-ferrous metals operations, pointed out numerous stacked bales of salvaged metal. Bales of hundreds of automobile radiators stacked high. More piles of bales , some of aluminum siding, copper piping, guttering, air conditioner coils, and insulated power lines. The steel works yard has hills of crushed cars, washing machines, driers, refrigerators, pipes, bicycle frames and all manner of discarded appliances and pieces of steel that rise up to two stories high. Overhead hydraulic cranes with big metal claws called grapples or with 5-foot diameter electro-magnets lift and move metal objects for processing. A huge pair of metal shears attached to the crane cuts metal into pieces. Mixed in with all this are occasional pieces that are of uncertain origin. Anderson says he’s one of two people authorized to use their Spectrometer gun, which when pressed and triggered against metal will analyze its chemical composition, identifying the alloy and informing them as to which recycling stream it belongs.
The Seventh Street yard is where the Baker offices are located. It’s also where “peddlers” come to sell junked metal products. A line of pick up trucks waited at the entranceway to the yard, their back ends loaded with metal stuff to sell to Baker. The trucks drive up on scales that weigh their load. Sensors check for radioactivity. Automatic cameras document the loads. The peddlers present their IDs.