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Published May 08 2010

Brother-sister team turn boulevard shopping into art form

Ron Larson’s bright-yellow Silverado pickup rolls up and down the serpentine streets of an affluent north Fargo neighborhood.

His sister, Clem Buzick, gazes out the window with the intensity of a big-game hunter scouting for lions.

She sits straight up at the sight of green wooden deck chairs parked on the boulevard. “Pull over,” she says to Larson, her youngest brother. “Those look pretty cool.”

The two jump out and examine the chairs, which are in decent shape but need cushions. Satisfied, they load them into the truck box. A manual lawn edger, stack of saw blades and bird-bath basin follow suit.

“Everyone’s got some scrounge in them,” says Larson. “They just don’t necessarily get out of the vehicle.”

But Buzick and Larson do. The Harwood, N.D., siblings have been plucking the fruits of Fargo-Moorhead boulevards during Cleanup Week for a decade, and in that time, they’ve uncovered everything from a vintage Road Master bicycle and a fully functional DVD player to a massive moose head, which sometimes makes surprise appearances at family gatherings.

In fact, their berm-combing isn’t just about finding rubies amid the rubble. It’s also about good, not-so-clean fun.

On one street, the siblings spot two ’70s sofas in a relentless floral pattern.

“I wonder if the Bradys are home,” Larson says, sending Buzick into a fit of giggles.

‘Sometimes, junk is junk’

It’s Sunday evening, the night before Cleanup Week officially kicks off in Fargo, and a misty drizzle is keeping the curbside connoisseurs at bay.

Still, Buzick and Larson have already scored some finds.

They’ve harvested wire fencing for Buzick’s daughter’s garden, a plastic garbage can labeled “Please take,” and glass fireplace doors, still wrapped in plastic.

They’ve passed on items like a plastic high chair, wall mirror, sewing machine cabinet and a jumbo coffee cup, which Larson jokes he could give to his wife for their upcoming anniversary.

As experienced pickers, they know some of these items are best left unplucked. Most of the water heaters sitting on the curb don’t work, Larson says. This year, a rash of Christmas lawn deer are a big boulevard item, probably because they no longer light up. (Some other top throw-aways: toilets, luggage, planters, computers, shelving units and exercise equipment.)

“Sometimes, junk is junk,” Larson says.

People also toss out lots of mattresses and carpeting, although – for hygienic reasons – the siblings prefer to leave soft, porous items alone. “We do have a little taste,” Larson says.

But once in a while, jewels lurk amid the junk, like the vintage “15 Toes” Nash skateboard that Buzick unearthed from a curbside in mint condition. Although Buzick’s husband, Brian, isn’t always crazy about his wife’s boulevard bounty, he flipped out when she brought home the 1960s board, now valued at up to $250 on some online sites. “To this day, he swears that was his board when he was a kid,” she says.

Or the time Larson found a Lawn Boy push mower bearing the sign: “Take Me. Good Luck.”

Although the machine needed to have a few bolts tightened, it now trims the lawn at the family’s lake cabin. (In fact, many of their “picks” – from closet doors to a bedroom set – now decorate that cabin.)

Although some of their curb cache requires repair, the two don’t mind. They grew up on a dairy farm, where their mechanically minded dad taught them the importance of using what you had to make something work.

Today, Larson is a mechanic, and Buzick, who owns a quilt shop, can sew and upholster anything.

“Usually, if we can’t fix it up or use it, we’ll re-boulevard it,” Buzick says, laughing. “There’s always a generous return policy.”

Also about experience

But this isn’t just about what you find. It’s also about who you meet.

The two talk of the camaraderie they develop with fellow pickers. “If someone has trouble lifting something, you always should help them out,” Buzick says.

They quickly tick off the unwritten rules to successful picking. That includes canvassing older neighborhoods first because people there tend to throw away better stuff. It also means good trashiquette. That includes pulling over if you hold up traffic and not making a mess on the homeowner’s lawn.

They’ve even become savvy about how the homeowners should display their disposables.

Buzick points out a pinata atop a pile of trash. “If you want to attract people to your garbage, put something bright on top,” she says, laughing. “It’s like a cherry on a sundae.”

Most homeowners are happy to see the berm-browsers haul their stuff away so they don’t have to look at it anymore. Some will even duck into their garages and offer up bonus items.

Every once in a while, though, they find a hostile homeowner, such as the gentleman who yelled that they should get real jobs.

The siblings didn’t have the heart to tell him they actually own their own businesses.

And, after all, picking isn’t so much a job to them as it is sheer joy.

“We’re not doing this for profit,” Buzick says of their springtime hobby. “It’s more for entertainment than anything else.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525