CHICAGO (CBS) — You never know what you’re going to find next at one of American Science and Surplus’ stores, or in its catalog.

“Some mortar tubes – military – those used to have mortars in them; some sort of a Venturi here that’s used with a van… a spool for rolling up Christmas tree lights, and old military bags that smell of canvas and mildew” are among the items store owner Bob Cable pointed out.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, 75 years ago, American Science and Surplus founder Al Luebbers saw an optics company throwing out reject lenses and asked if he could buy them. He was told no; that he should just take them.

Today, Cable runs the business, which carries almost anything.

“We don’t generally carry clothing, and it has to be shippable through UPS or FedEx – that kind of thing – so we don’t carry large items like furniture and things like that,” Cable said. “But yeah, we get calls and samples every day.”

There are even a few robots and mad-scientist electrical equipment.

“It’s huge – yeah, you could film a good science fiction move with that,” Cable said. “The props – people love us. We’ve actually done a lot of movies.”

He says filmmaker Steven Soderbergh is a customer.

“‘Contagion’ – that was just filmed here last year – that was used with our laboratory equipment,” Cable said. “Their Centers for Disease Control labs were set up with our lab glass”

American Science and Surplus’ stores at 5316 N. Milwaukee Ave.; at 33-W-361 Roosevelt Rd. near Geneva, and at 6901 W. Oklahoma Ave. in Milwaukee – along with the monthly catalog and ever-changing Web site –have stuff you’ve never seen before and may never see again. Some of it is Made in Chicago.

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