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EVERY LITTLE CAN COUNTS : RECYCLER RAISES $23,500 TO BUILD HOMETOWN MUSEUM.

Byline: Diane Nelson The Modesto Bee

Charlie the Can Man takes it nice and slow on his monthly trips from Groveland to Modesto. He has to be careful, especially around those tight mountain turns. He has a museum in his truck.

``The start of a museum, anyway,'' says Charlie, climbing out of the white pickup. ``We should hit about $23,500 today.''

He's recycling 20 bags of cans, squashed and sorted, weighing about 23 pounds each. That's about $480.

``That's a lot of cans,'' says the Reynolds Aluminum recycler, strapping on his back support and jumping down from his van. ``That's the biggest load I've ever seen.''

Charlie beams.

Charlie Heath has been collecting cans for the cause for five years. He has five dozen 50-gallon drums scattered across Tuolumne County, painted silver and announcing: ``Help Groveland Build a New Library and Museum.''

When the drums fill up, about once a month, Heath and friends bag up the bounty and Heath hauls it down the hill.

``Reynolds Aluminum here in Modesto gives me the best price,'' he says, pulling a fistful of coupons from his back pocket. ``A dollar a pound, plus two cents a pound for my seniors discount, two cents more because the cans are crushed and five cents more because of these coupons people send my way.

``Modesto Junk is good too. In the winter, they give me the best price,'' he said.

Heath is a can connoisseur. He can tell you what people drink (Coke, Bud and Bud Light are big) and he can spot a nonredeemable a mile away.

``Oh, now this here is no good,'' Heath says, fishing a Kern's can from the river of aluminum flowing from his bags into Reynolds' barrels.

The Can Man began when a doctor told Heath to walk for exercise after an operation in which Heath got two new knees.

``As I (walked), I would pick up cans here and there, and I thought, how could I collect cans and make money for someone?

``Well, about that time, I went to a historical society meeting, and they talked about making money for a museum. I suggested the can thing, and they said, `Go ahead, Charlie. Collecting cans; that's a fine idea.' ''

He placed drums around town and beyond. There's even a neighborhood in San Jose saving cans for Charlie.

``A woman from San Jose comes to her cabin in Pine Mountain Lake on the weekends, and when she does, she brings all her cans. And her neighbors' cans, too.''

The real fun comes on crushing day, when Heath and friends have to make five truckloads of cans fit into 20 trash bags.

``I have a $12,000 can smasher - and you're leaning against it,'' Charlie says. ``My truck, that's how we crush the cans.''

Heath and his helpers sort through the barrels, line up the keepers and then take turns running them into the ground.

``It takes three times to get them down to this,'' he says, holding up a Miller can flat as a stale beer.

The Reynolds man starts weighing the load, one bag at a time. Heath watches, writing down each weight in his accountant's book. ``I keep real accurate records so I know how we're doing.''

He used to say he would stop when he hit $25,000, but lately he's not so sure. ``I keep thinking someone will take over for me. I'm 79 years old, you know. But I don't know, I like doing it.''

Friends can't believe he's stuck with it so long.

``It's hard work,'' Bob Minke says. ``And Charlie gets nothing from it except for his truck worn out.''

Not true, Heath says.

``Look here, these are the exercises doctors in Stanford told me to do,'' Heath says, bending over and flailing his arms like a swimmer loosening up.

``Now, would you rather stand around and do those silly exercises or would you put those arms to good use?

``I say, put those arms to use. So I guess I'll keep collecting cans until I fall over dead.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Charlie the Can Man, a k a Charlie Heath, totes up t he day's proceeds at a Modesto recycling center.

Associated Press
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 18, 1996
Words:705
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