PRINCETON — In August 2006, Tom Bishop made the trip to Princeton from Chilhowie, Va., to tour a site he thought he might demolish.

Two years, thousands of pounds in scrap metal and millions of dollars in construction later, Bishop is the proud owner of Recycle West Virginia, a metal recycling business on the verge of powering up a 4,500-horsepower shredder capable of chewing up a car in 30 seconds and sorting its metal parts for resale.

By the time the indoor scrap yard is completely operational on the historic Virginian Railway yards in Princeton, Bishop estimated Friday he will have invested close to $20 million in the business.

When he first heard of the site, developers wanted to clear the land as much as possible to make room for a brand new industrial park. Once the Virginia businessman saw the Virginian buildings firsthand, he started dreaming of new possibilities for the historic area.

“I didn’t want to tear these buildings down,” he told Princeton Rotarians Friday, standing in a conference room built into one of the restored shop buildings just under the Thorn Street bridge. “This was an indoor scrap yard already in place.”

Once he made the decision to get involved, Bishop worked with Sam Sink, Star Builders, E.T. Boggess Architects, federal historical preservation experts and environmental engineers to turn the old railroad property into an environmentally sound business location capable of buying, shredding, processing and selling almost all kinds of scrap metal.

Although there is more land in what has been declared the Virginian Industrial Park, Recycle West Virginia occupies the biggest piece of property and all the structures the railroad left behind. One of the restored buildings will house office and conference areas, a compactor and sorting processes for smaller metal and storage areas, while the shredder, its control tower, a complicated array of sorting equipment and a 1,700-foot conveyor system will fill another building that measures 100 feet wide x 558 feet long.

Wednesday, crews dropped off a Siemens variable-frequency drive that Site Supervisor Jason Breeden said will allow the shredder to run on lower electrical voltage than initially estimated and services already available at the industrial park. It’s an innovative technology in the shredding and recycling industry. Of the 249 shredders of its kind currently operational in the United States, Breeden said none have utilized this kind of energy efficiency.

“This is a first for any shredder,” he said.

While the variable-frequency drive arrived Wednesday, Breeden said there’s still a significant amount of wiring that must be completed, in addition to the motor control center that remains to be constructed, before the shredder is ready to bite into the mountain of metal that currently lines the perimeter of the yard.

Breeden said estimates are that the shredder and sorting operation could be running by late fall.

There’s still some site preparation in the works as well, including lots of concrete that remains to be poured. As of this week, crews had already poured 4,500 cubic yards and expected that much more to be put into place within the next two months.

Despite the large amounts of concrete required, Bishop said it was the most environmentally friendly option to build the yard on.

In addition, several hydraulic areas near the shredder are still under construction in R-50 styrofoam-form concrete walls.

While inbound scales have been in place since late 2007, Breeden said another set, this one on the outbound area, should be installed next month.

Once the shredder is running, the existing stockpile of scrap metal should disappear within weeks, eventually getting the operation to the point that it can shred the metal purchased within a day or two. Bishop said the Princeton business will work six days a week, alternating shredding and processing days.

Not all of the metal Recycle West Virginia purchases is headed for the shredder, which turns cars and old appliances into metal “meatballs” for resale, but Bishop said the vast majority is. He estimated 85 percent of the metal his employees purchase will go through the big machine when it starts up.

The shredding process is complicated in its technology but rather simple in theory.

Once metal is fed to the shredder, Bishop said, “It’s literally just metal against metal. Hopefully, the shredder wins.”

The shredder will pulverize the metal into pieces small enough to sift through a variety of grates at the bottom.

“It literally beats that material until it falls through those grates,” Bishop said.

From there, a conveyor system will carry the smaller pieces of metal through a magnet system that will extract steel, a cyclone-like device that separates dirt, debris and “fluff” from the ferrous material and other sorting components that separate various metals and bale them for resale.

So far, Bishop said he was extremely pleased with Recycle West Virginia and its Princeton home. And, he expected his business to help put a new face on the area, as the resale value of scrap metal continues to attract attention and lure unique entrepreneurs to clean up dumps in search of metal to trade.

“This operation will literally clean the area up for 60-75 miles,” he said.

Once the shredder is up and running, Bishop estimated Recycle West Virginia will employee approximately 40 people, and that number could rise with the business that crosses the scales.

“That’s going to go up,” he said.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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