Chilliwack man cleans riverside with ingenuity

David Elderkin has rigged up strong rare earth magnets and a bucket system to clean burn piles from Fraser River's edge

David Elderkin uses magnets to clean up nails littering local shorelines. So far

David Elderkin uses magnets to clean up nails littering local shorelines. So far

How do you collect hundreds, even thousands, of pounds of nails left behind by riverside yahoos?

Not one-by-one, that’s for sure.

Instead, David Elderkin has been using a system that picks up pounds of nails at a time. He has attached two rare earth magnets to a bar that sits inside a bucket. Each magnet can pull 250 lbs. of ferrous metal. The bar is attached to a rope, and as he drags the bucket across the ground, the bottom of it attracts whatever junk is left on the ground. Door brackets, bed springs, fuse boxes, but mostly nails. Lots and lots of nails.

Once the bottom of the bucket is full, he lifts it over a second collecting bucket. He pulls away the magnets, and the junk drops.

So far, he’s collected 500 pounds, equal to 10 50-lb buckets.

The system is fast and efficient, and he’s got plans to improve on it.

“Once I get three thousand more pounds (of junk metal), I’m going to get another magnet,” he says. So far, he’s got 500 pounds to show for his efforts. Pick-A-Part buys the buckets of nails for 3.5 cents a pound, and the rare earth magnets he uses are about $50 each, ordered online.

“I don’t do this for the money,” he points out, chuckling.

No, Elderkin is in it for different reasons — to lift his own mood, and to clean up the environment.

“I do it because it makes me feel better,” he says. “If I’m feeling down, giving back makes me happy.”

There is a seemingly endless supply of junk metal to pick up. The piles are endless along river entry points, as people bring pallets, furniture and other garbage down there to burn off. Eventually, the river rises and whatever is left behind ends up in the riverbed or caked into the ground. He is working toward doubling up his magnets, to give his bucket a 1,000-lb. pull, that could loosen more of the buried nails.

He’d like to see the whole area cleaned up.

“I went down there for years as a child,” Elderkin says. “I had fun down there quadding and all of that, and every time I go down there it’s just littered with nails.”

Right now he’s working on Jesperson, and when he’s gathered what he can there he’ll start to focus on the Gill Road parking area.

In addition to helping the environment, he feels he’s helping out other people who enjoy going down to the Fraser.

“I’ve talked to people who say they get a few flat tire each year,” he says. “That’s just no fun. It’s quite distressing to see that and the damage to the area.”

But he doesn’t hold any anger toward people who have left behind this metal mess. Many of the young people having fires aren’t aware of the mess left behind, or just aren’t thinking. He’s hoping some public education will eventually change that.

This isn’t the first time Elderkin has stepped up to help cleanup the community. A few months ago he was leading the charge in some impromptu street clean ups, rallying people online to come out and walk the streets while cleaning up.

Interest in that has died down in these summer months, and he was often left doing it alone. So, he’s happy to have a new area to focus on.

Elderkin figures from the amount of nails he’s picked up so far, he’s cleaned up the mess from about two or three thousand pallets.

It’s tough work that often leaves him covered in the dirt and dust he dredges up while collecting the nails.

“But it’s kind of fun,” he says. “I got inspired by it from the river cleanup they did a few months ago.”

A volunteer down at the river was using the pole and bucket system, and she was thrilled to have collected 20 pounds.

“I thought, ‘well, I can do better than that’,” he says. “I’m very competitive.”

He moves so fast he doesn’t have a chance to inspect all of the material he’s picking up.

“I don’t really look at the findings because I’m walking in burn piles and covered in charcoal dust,” he says. “I pick up and dump it as fast as I can, and it picks up anything that’s magnetized. I’m sure I’ve found nickels and dimes but I just don’t look at it.”


David Elderkin has started a GoFundMe page since this story first ran. It is called Chilliwack Cleanup by David Elderkin, and any money raised will be used to purchase more reachers to pick up garbage, along with buckets, garbage bags, and trolleys. Elderkin will also buy more of the rare earth magnets.

On the GoFundMe page, Elderkin says: “The issue of litter and illegal dumping in our town and recreational areas hits me right in the heart. I was born and raised in Chilliwack. From what I have observed, the problem with litter has been getting a lot worse in the last few years. It pains me to hear stories of people consistently getting flat tires while trying to enjoy our beautiful river. I believe that if you build it they will come. Meaning that if we have the supplies to get the job done then volunteers will show up and put in the hard time.I believe we should lead by example and through public education we can make this a better world for all.”