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(HD Video) Gary Tjader unloads old toilets from his truck at a recycling dump in... ( Gary Reyes )
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Gary Tjader spots his quarry and swings his Toyota pickup into the South San Jose driveway just off Hillsdale Avenue.

There it sits as big as life in front of the garage - a discarded bright blue 1990ish Norris toilet.

Yes, toilet - as in can, commode, throne, pot, potty, loo, john, head, crapper. The porcelain bus. The thing that everybody uses, but nobody much talks about.

Unless you're Gary Tjader.

"I don't think I've ever had one of these in this color," he says, and yes, that is a bit of awe you hear as he lovingly lifts the tank lid off.

Don't laugh at Gary Tjader. You might need him some day. And when you need him, you really can't wait. He is the founder of This Old Toilet, the kind of business you wish you would have thought of starting.

"Toilets and shoes," Tjader, 54 of Los Altos, says. "Everybody needs them."

Not only that, many people need parts for old toilets, toilets manufactured years ago. Toilets they don't make anymore. Toilets that if you break their tank lids, you'd be hard pressed finding a replacement.

Tjader knows this because he used to answer questions on plumbing advice Web sites. One question regularly stumped him: Where can I get a replacement toilet tank lid for my ...

So, about seven years ago, he started his own Web site (www.toilettanklids.com). Now, largely through the Web, he arranges for a fee to pick up toilets from local homeowners who don't need them, and then he sells


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the parts to homeowners who desperately do.

Lids are the big seller, and Tjader is sitting on about 1,400 of them in a rainbow of colors and vintages. He walks among them like something of a toilet sommelier. He points out the difference between mint green and surf green. He shows me a New Orleans blue, a cobalt blue, sunlight yellow. He points to a 1956 pink Crane Pacific and a 1935 lavender Standard. Oh, and the 1928 kidney-shaped lid he's offering for $470.

"They were the Cadillac of toilets back in the '30s."

When it comes to the replacement biz, there are three great things about toilet lids.

"They're heavy," Tjader says, "and they're slippery and they're fragile."

Which means they break. A lot. Nearly every day, he mails out lids generally costing in the $100 to $250 range. They go to replace lids that have been dropped, kicked, knocked off, shattered, cracked and otherwise maimed by do-it-yourself plumbers, cleaning crews, painters. He's found replacements for lids broken by curious kids and agitated dogs. Who's to blame isn't important to Tjader.

Don't ask. Don't tell. Just find.

Tjader, whose day job is contracting with plumbing manufacturers to represent their products, has no lack of supply for his side business. He gets potties and parts from salvage yards and plumbers. He shows up at house demolitions and asks if he can grab a toilet lid or two. He finds toilets on the side of the road and dumped in bushes.

"It's almost like the thrill of the hunt," says John Winkelman, one of Tjader's friends who calls periodically with toilet sightings. Winkelman has been with Tjader when they've stopped for a toilet just off a mountain highway. He's cruised with Tjader on citywide cleanup days, when residents put out whatever they want (or don't want) for pickup.

"We put a little bell in the car, so whoever sees the toilet first, gets to ring the bell," Winkelman says.

Some friends tease Tjader about his work (bet you're pretty flush). But Winkelman puts him in lofty company.

"You take a look at any success in this valley," says Winkelman, "whether it's Hewlett-Packard or Apple. You put something out there and say, `Gee, I hope that it goes.'"

So to speak.


See video of Tjader and his lids on Mike Cassidy's blog (www.mercextra.com/ blogs/cassidy/). Contact Cassidy at mcassidy@ mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5536.