Contributing columnist Jeff Dearduff turns his reality-television viewing into the real deal by offering a slew of ways bakers can make “one man’s trash another man’s treasure.”

Once again I find myself coming to the end of another Chicago summer, and with the sun going down earlier and evening activities tailing off, there is more time for a new season of “reality” television. In the past, my household has been hooked onSurvivor, The Amazing Race andThe Biggest Loser. Over the past spring and summer though, two History Channel shows have caught our attention:Pawn StarsandAmerican Pickers. These two shows run back-to-back, so when we do catch them, you can figure two solid hours of our life are shot in the backside.

Pawn Starsis a 24-hour pawn shop in Las Vegas. The operation is run by three generations of local family and the hook for watching it is to see the odd items and stories that people bring in to pawn or sell, as well as the negotiating that takes place. You know these people are seeking cash that will later end up in the pockets of the casino operators, but it is interesting nonetheless. 

The second show,American Pickers, is about two guys that drive around in a Mercedes “Sprinter” van, looking for old barns and sheds that might contain something of value. They get hooked on old ceramic sign boards, bicycles and motorcycles. This show also has to do with the interesting items they run into, the characters they meet along the way and the negotiating they conduct when bargaining with junk collectors who don’t always want to get rid of that old dented oil can they have had for 40 years.

Both of these shows make me wonder if maybe we have a similar reality show brewing in the parts rooms and storage trailers of our own baking companies. The discontinued inventory still sitting in each of the facilities across the country will most likely contain once-valuable items that no longer fit in the plant. These pieces could find their way to a “bakers’” pawn shop or in the back of some picker’s truck. I know for a fact that I can walk down to the parts crib at the bakery closest to my desk and put my hands on items that fit equipment that were headed for the dumpster 10-15 years ago, if not longer.

This same bakery recently inventoried their storage trailers - not the items inside - just the trailers. They came up with more than 50 units full of stuff that will likely never be offloaded at this plant, ever. My guess is that the bakery isn’t the only one with this dilemma.

Why do we keep this stuff? What can we do with it?

Why we keep this stuff is simple. What was once valuable, must always be valuable, at least that’s what most of us think. Whether it’s a section of a conveyor, a homemade barrel vacuum or an old flour unloading hose, we always have some reason to “throw it on a trailer,” as if we might use it again one day. This mindset is borderline “hoarder” mentality. If you have seen the reality showHoarders, you know what I mean.

What can we do with this problem? Somebody needs to jump up and create a network where the information on the discontinued items from a bakery can be shared with bakers around the country. One thought would be to use an auction-type trading system similar to the eBay concept but designed for bakers.

Because many of us seem to have a love affair with these old parts and machines, I’m thinking we need something more of a “” concept. You know, a system where one lonely part could find the perfect mate in the way of usefulness in another bakery. This is the ultimate description of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

How many times do you hear from your suppliers that they can’t supply a part for that older machine you are still operating? With this trading system in place, you just might find somebody that’s storing one on their shelves that will never be used in their system. Everything from original equipment manufacturer-fabricated parts to bearings, electrical components to unit machines could be made available through this system.

How great would it be for the “picker” to find that elusive part or for the “pawner” to have some extra shelf space and empty trailers. Either that, or throw it in the dumpster. Nah, the minute you throw it away you will need it, right?