Combs isn't going anywhere. He says he once turned down a $70-million buyout offer: "There's a hungry world out there and I'm gonna feed it. I'm gonna go down with this ship."

Combs' recycling career began in 1963. On a family trip to Las Vegas his father stumbled across a large galvanized can where workers tossed food scraps outside the Thunderbird Hotel. To the elder Combs, it was a pot of gold.

At the family's San Diego-area pig farm, the Combses paid restaurants for surplus food. But in Las Vegas the leftovers were free to anyone who could haul them away. "This stuff had value and he knew it," Combs recalls. "But here it was waste, a nuisance."

His father mortgaged their San Diego home to buy a farm, placing in charge a reluctant son he called "Goof." Combs, then 22, ran with "fast cars and faster women."

"I thought, 'Why would I want to raise pigs?'" Combs says.

But with his father's home on the line, Combs got to work. Wearing a suit, he hit up hotels, offering to collect food scraps twice a day and return the silverware tossed by hustling kitchen staff. He began with five clients: the Golden Nugget, Fremont Hotel, El Cortez, Jerry's Nugget and the mess hall at Nellis Air Force Base.

With most clients, Combs hauls the culinary debris free, as long as restaurants throw in their used cooking grease, a vital element in his pig stew recipe. "Pigs like things deep fried," he says.

In 1991, Combs had been running his farm for decades when a crash almost killed him. He was in a truck driven by now-Commissioner Collins when the vehicle spun out of control and struck a parked semitrailer truck, smashing the farmer's skull. Janet, then an employee and best friend, winced as doctors said he'd probably never come out of the coma.

"One day, I held his hand and he squeezed it twice," she recalls. "That's when I knew Bob was back."

Today, Combs speaks with the often-muddy cadence of someone who's been drinking since noon. Even though he avoids alcohol, Janet Combs says, police have made Combs blow into more Breathalyzers than she cares to remember.

She calls Combs an old male chauvinist, joking that when the crash split his head, surgeons forgot to put all the brains back in. He lovingly rolls his eyes at her bossiness.

Out at the pig corral, Combs gazes out over the rows of pens and brags about his pigs like a proud father. What he says about pigs might be said of himself: "They're intelligent and determined. People get mad at them because they're stubborn, but they're conservationists."

He knows all his hogs must eventually go to market. "I don't dwell on the slaughter," he says. "We're all gonna die. These pigs lead short and sweet lives. And they go to a good cause: feeding people."

It's chow time at RC Farms.

Combs watches a worker atop a motorized cart move down a line of 22 pens, each holding 10 5-week-old piglets, pink-skinned in the morning light. He tosses the first load of gruel over the heads of the hungry hogs. While they run after that first diversionary shovelful, he quickly dumps three more loads into bowls just inside their enclosure.

The outfoxed pigs soon return to the bowls. Grunting and snorting, they snarl at one another, some stepping in the food they eat. Outside one trough, a sign reads "Mess Hall."

Nearby, a worker in a white uniform wears elbow-length gloves to reach into a muck of the latest casino castoffs and retrieve such unwanted ingredients as metal silverware, plates and huge bones. He grabs chunks of ham and slices them to piglet-mouthed size.

Sludge flying, he pushes the remains onto a conveyor belt that sends them into a processing plant that skims off the top layer of grease, which Combs sells to soap and cosmetics makers. "Most everything is reusable if you put some effort into it, some common sense," he says.

Sometimes, though, Combs tires of the whole affair — the neighborhood complaints and nagging county officials. He gets tired of pulling plastic bags and bottles, which he knows could harm his pigs, out of the food scraps. He looks up at the unforgiving desert sun and asks himself, "Why am I doing this?"

Moments later, after downing a glass of well water, he's back at work, reveling in the squeals that have become music to his ears.

john.glionna@latimes.com