WILKES-BARRE — Have you ever wondered how a space capsule landed on top of a scrapyard in Wilkes-Barre?
Sans a scientific survey, it’s safe to say probably every person who has passed Bielecki Scrap and Recycling Center at 640 N. Pennsylvania Ave. has asked that very question.
First of all, the space capsule didn’t “land” there — it was placed there by the business owner, the affable Pete Bielecki. On Wednesday, Bielecki told the story of how he came to own the iconic cone.
“A farmer came in one day to drop some stuff off and he told me he had this space capsule and wanted to get rid of it,” Bielecki said. “I told him I’d take it and he said come out and get it.”
Bielecki, 73, said it’s not a real space capsule, but it does look like the real deal. Bielecki even painted “USA #1” on the side.
“I just liked it,” he said. “So I bought it. It’s different — it’s interesting. It’s really something.”
So that dispels the legend that space aliens may have landed there and now walk among us. And it didn’t get there when a secret Mercury mission went awry, missing its drop spot in the Atlantic Ocean by 1,300 miles.
Bielecki got the space capsule in 2002 and it has adorned the roof of his recycling center ever since — except for the time when it was pushed onto North Pennsylvania Avenue and another when it was stolen.
“The police called me late one night in 2003 to tell me my space capsule landed on the street,” Bielecki said.
A few years later in 2005, the capsule was taken from the property. Bielecki said a woman from East End — less than 2 miles away — called him to tell him the space capsule landed in her neighbor’s yard.
“I went up there and there it was,” Bielecki said.
He called the police and then went to retrieve his prized possession. He said it took five guys and a dump truck to retrieve the 400-pound aluminum spacecraft that stands 7 feet high.
“Everything is back to normal,” Bielecki said in a Times Leader story back then. “She’s back on the launch pad.”
Bielecki said people comment about his space capsule all the time. He said he had to appear in court one day when somebody was before a Luzerne County judge for stealing something from the scrapyard.
“The judge asked me my name and I told him,” Bielecki said. “He asked if I owned the scrapyard and when I told him I did, he said he knew me. He said he knew exactly where my business was located because of the space capsule on the roof.”
Bielecki said he asked the judge if he wanted to buy it, but the judge declined.
Now, after nearly 20 years on Bielecki’s roof, the space capsule is still not for sale. Bielecki has owned and operated the business since 1985.
“A lot of kids from Coughlin (High School) walk by and I hear them say, ‘Hey, look at the space capsule.’ So I offer to have them get inside and take a picture for $2, but they never do,” Bielecki said. “I used to put Santa Claus in it with Christmas lights around it, but I stopped doing that.”
Bielecki said he’s had some fun with his business — he once created a hidden museum of strange and historic rubbish, including three caskets, brass beds, funeral home candleholders, parking meters, runner sleds, spittoons and a moonshine still from an old house in Ashley.
Bielecki said he usually only deals in metal and cardboard.
But then he pointed to his latest “gift” from an unknown donor.
“Yeah, somebody dropped off that toilet the other day,” he said. “You never know what people are going to bring here.”
Even a space capsule.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.