A Win for the Weird

Junk removal is a job that yields constant surprises. Workers at 1-800-GOT-JUNK found that they were continually uncovering unusual items, such as a mortician's closet, a unicorn-shaped coffee table and a defused bomb from World War II. So the Canadian-based junk removal business decided to hold a company-wide “weird junk” contest to unearth the strangest discarded items.

In May, the company, which has branches in the United States and more than 200 locations worldwide, called upon its truck teams to submit any “weird” items found while on the job. The contest was advertised through the company's bi-monthly publication “Truck Team Talk” and by management. Participants were given two months to submit entries. “We like to encourage communication and keep the culture between all of our truck teams going strong,” says Sandra Hanna, community relations manager for 1-800-GOT-JUNK. “So we [thought], ‘Wouldn't it be fun to do this contest?’”

The contest's requirements were simple. The items had to be “anything that someone considered weird,” Hanna says. The entries had to include where the item was discovered, a photo and an identification number to verify that the object was found on the job. The submissions also had to contain the story of how the item was found, and organizers discovered that there was no shortage of interesting narratives.

A panel of 10 employees from the company's head office presided over the contest, reviewing submissions such as a hydroponic light system, to determine which object was strange enough to take the contest's top award. Nate Kuehl and Rob Judge, truck drivers from Canada, won first place with their entry of a pair of functional, six-foot-tall pink walkie-talkies. Titling their entry “Can You Hear Me Now,” Kuehl and Judge detailed how they discovered the items, which were a part of a display that was being dismantled, while at a job at a children's museum. Following the contest, the walkie-talkies were briefly used as an actual PA system for a local business. The workers each received a $500 cash prize and were recognized in the company newsletter and during daily meetings.

Runner-up entries came from truck teams in Seattle and Sydney, Australia, who submitted a truck full of mannequin parts and a collection of denture molds, respectively.

With the success of the inaugural contest, Hanna says the company plans to hold another competition, giving employees another chance to tell their stories behind the junk that they find everyday. “Who knew junk would be so interesting?” Hanna says. “We always [tell] the guys on the trucks, ‘Whenever you have something weird, let us know,’ because it's fascinating to people.”