I.M. Salvage finds treasure in destruction
Ralph "Bones" Gollnick started collecting salvage long before 1986, when he founded I. M. Salvage, Ltd., 737 W. Cleveland Ave., a salvage contracting firm, yard and warehouse that sells reclaimed building materials of all kinds.
"I feel like I was the first one to get into this business. In the '80s, pretty much everything (from demolition) was left behind, before auctions were widespread. There was no place available for the public; there were a lot of restoration and antique shops, sure, but no place where somebody could buy salvage on a walk-in basis," says Gollnick.
I. M. Salvage has, or had, almost everything imaginable from structures built a few months to 140 years ago. For example, street lights, exotic chandeliers and ordinary kitchen lights fill just a few of the different spaces in I. M. Salvage's 30,000-square foot building.
In between rows of doors and windows are items like six pillars from a Beaver Dam church built in 1887, wood cabinets from Walworth High School classrooms, plaster and horsehair pillars once inside a funeral home and gas stoves from one of Milwaukee's first furnished apartment buildings.
"There's a lot of history here, representing a lot of different places all over this side of Wisconsin," says Gollnick.
There are huge commercial garage doors standing on end next to 4-by-6 residential ones in the warehouse. And across the aisle from these are restaurant refrigerators and a commercial-grade wine cooler with tappers that retails for $14,000.
In the 20,000-square foot yard in back of I. M. Salvage are fences (and not just parts for fences but entire fences that used to be around buildings, like a North Side Walmart) as well as hard-to-find bricks and blocks that will match homes built over 100 years ago. There are also industrial trash compactors and loading docks. And some still-open space.
"We've got a lot of room for expansion, for advancement," says Gollnick, with a gleam that can sometimes be noted in a collector's eye – and in the eyes of everyone who loves what they do.
Gollnick's primary business used to be remodeling and construction and he originally started I. M. Salvage primarily to collect materials for remodeling jobs.
Gollnick started in an era before demolition firms sent concrete for grinding and reuse instead of dumping, and separated iron for scrapping instead of adding it to a landfill.
"It just got too expensive not to," says Gollnick, who adds that the culture of re-use is now to the point where he's seen some doors in his salvage yard four times.
Gollnick, and his second-in-command, Mike Mann, take pride in what they salvage and always seem concerned about the condition of materials they resell.
I. M. Salvage has rows of iron radiators and is getting even more from a current salvage project, but Gollnick doesn't sell anything that he doesn't first test.
"Radiators have to be handled a certain way. I run the boilers up to temperature to see if they work first," says Gollnick. "Some people have come through here with a couple radiators in the back of a truck looking to sell them and I always say, 'Take them to the scrap yard.'"
Mann now does much of the field work and is currently on projects along the Kinnickinnic River just north of the salvage yard, where 85 houses are being demolished.
"We've done about 29 houses for two different (demolition) companies so far," says Mann.
Gollnick says that on some projects they're able to salvage over 90 percent of the structure, removing stairs and railings, lights, windows, wood flooring, anything that might have value for someone.
Gollnick says he's become a "master of removing stained glass" and getting these to lay flat once again, if they break. He understands sandstone so much that he knows how to take it apart just by looking at it.
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