On March 12, Legionnaire Hector Caballero put his company – Junk Vets – and The American Legion in the public eye. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, hosts of the hit reality television show “American Pickers” on the History Channel, visited Caballero and the Junk Vets warehouse during episode 13 of the show, titled “Slam Dunk Junk.”
Caballero started the veteran-owned Junk Vets in Chicago as a way to provide a cost-efficient and convenient alternative to dumpster rentals. The junk removal company either donates, recycles or disposes of what it collects after cleaning out people’s homes. Caballero said that while a lot of what they find is junk, there’s always a percentage of items that are good “so I try to find a home for it.” Until those items find a home, they are stored in a 4,000-square-foot warehouse that Wolfe and Fritz sifted through and found some treasures to buy – a Janis Joplin poster, gas can, old tin signs, a seat from the old Comiskey Park baseball stadium, and more. Their purchases totaled over $1,000, which Caballero donated to his American Legion Edward Schultz Post 697 in Lansing, Ill. Photos of Post 697 and its members are featured in the episode.
The idea of donating back to The American Legion was easy for Caballero. “I thought of what am I most involved in and what means something to me,” he said. “(Post 697) is my spot; I go there all the time. It’s a very tight-knit group here in Lansing. When I got out of the Marines in 1998, I remember how welcoming they were. I went down to the post one day and they were like, ‘Hey, come to a meeting.’ They asked me to be a member; they were very welcoming. I’ll never forget that.”
Junk Vets prides itself on giving back to the community and offers discounts to veterans, active-duty military personnel and seniors. For example, a local woman’s house burnt down and Junk Vets was able to refurbish her new residence from items they had in the warehouse. “We get so much stuff it’s unbelievable,” Caballero said. “It’s a pretty neat business.”
A few of his favorite discoveries have been World War II memorabilia, such as rifles; family photos from the 1900s,;and one-of-a-kind memorabilia of Miami Heat basketball star Dwyane Wade.
Following the airing of Junk Vets on “American Pickers,” Caballero said his phone was ringing nonstop and his email inbox was filling up. People wanted to buy items that the show aired, especially the Dwyane Wade ones; however, those will all go back to Wade. Caballero was contacted by Wade’s management team as the basketball star thought the memorabilia – which dates back to his college years – was long gone.
Junk Vets is only a four-person team, with two veterans on staff as Caballero focuses on hiring veterans first. He is thankful for the publicity that “American Pickers” has given to his company and to The American Legion.
“I’ve lived in Lansing for 40 years. I believe in this town, and I just love The American Legion, I love this town,” he said. “And I just wanted to throw some greatness and publicity at (the Legion). It worked out great. (Junk Vets) is on the show and Post 697 is on the show. And they appreciate it.”