New Hampshire's Used-Tire King, Ernie Hunt, Warns His Pesky Neighbors: Don't Tread on Me

updated 09/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ernie Hunt feels misunderstood. As he sees it, the 43-year-old businessman of Danville, N.H. has been performing a public service for the last 10 years by sharing his two-acre spread with 15 million old tires that no one else wants. Yet the people of rural Danville (pop. 1,400) have been, says Ernie, damned ungrateful.

"I used to run a junkyard here," he says, popping a fresh brew and gesturing toward the 50-foot-high rubber mountain behind him. "But me and a friend found we could get 10 bucks a load hauling old tires away in my pickup. Tire factories, gas stations, tire stores, they've all gotta get rid of junk tires." From that humble start, Ernie was on a roll and made "a whole ton of money" (at least $200,000, according to one estimate).

That's when the fuss began, he says. "If you're poor and just making a living, they don't bother you," Ernie sniffs. "But look like you might make a little money, and they're all over you." "They" are town officials, who slapped a cease-and-desist order on Ernie's business in 1981. Further gripes from neighbors prompted a judge to order Ernie to fence in his plot and separate the tires with 25-foot-wide fire lanes.

The twice-married, twice-divorced Hunt, a Danville native, complains, "I got grandfather rights. I was here first." Nevertheless, he's been lying low, checking out offers that promise to take care of his problem, and his future, in one big blowout of a sale.

"I look out there, at all those tires with all that oil in 'em, and I see a gold mine just waiting for somebody to grab it," he grins. Although he's had an offer from a New York import-export firm, and says Arabs have come "sniffing around," Ernie holds out, confident his ship will come in.

"It's one of the wonders of the modern world," admits a bemused Danville selectman, "and probably one of the largest mosquito-breeding sites in the country." Meanwhile, Ernie, smart enough to recognize fat city when he's sitting on it, enjoys all the attention. "Those tires have bought me some good times," he chortles. "I'm lookin' forward to more."

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