Today ”junk yards” or “wrecking yards” are referred to as “auto recyclers.” This change wasn’t made to be politically correct. “Recycler” better describes what the proprietors of these businesses do. I also believe that calling the parts and pieces that fill these establishments “recyclables” acknowledges that they have value. We know as car guys that this stuff isn’t “junk” just because it was scavenged from a wrecked vehicle.
I love wrecking yards and I always have. To me they are magical places filled with history as well as possibilities for the future. I have a very early memory of visiting my uncle Gene when he worked for Schnitzer Steel. From an elevated office I remember watching the crane with the enormous magnet pick up scrap and drop it in the gigantic compactor. You know, the one that transforms the assorted bits into a perfect cube? Wow! How cool was that? I was perhaps four or five years old and I will take that memory to the grave!
In high school I quit my job bussing tables to work for a wrecking yard in San Jose, CA called VW Used Parts Center. I spent my days completely dismantling Beetles with another kid named “Gary”. We learned how to use air tools like impacts and chisels but the cutting torch was by far our tool of choice. (It was supposed to be our last resort but we were always making excuses for using it.) We were two teenagers virtually unsupervised, being paid a couple bucks an hour to PLAY WITH FIRE! Gawd, it was fun! Once we got to assemble an engine and start it on the garage floor. It ran…but not for long. Working for the wrecking yard was all fun and games until I got a mouthful of gasoline while learning how to siphon. Seriously, I’m surprised that neither Gary nor I were ever injured… I guess when you’re a teenager you don’t think about it. I caught the pant leg of my overalls on fire once. Suddenly I felt the heat on my calf! I simply patted it out and kept on cutting.
My senior year in college I bought a ’51 Studebaker Champion. It was a complete running car with cosmetic needs so it was back to the wrecking yards. My girlfriend and I spent weekends seeking replacement parts in any yard where someone had made a “Bullet-nose” sighting. Sometimes the cars ended up being Fords of the same vintage but usually we’d sniff out a Stude. And typically the donor car had something I wanted; an unblemished emblem or a taillight lens. The treasure hunt aspect of the journey made it great fun for my girlfriend and I. Though I was a little older by this time, I was still pretty fearless (reckless?) when I think about it. Eventually the Stude became my daily driver. I drove it all over the bay area without a worry about breakdown and it never did leave us stranded anywhere.
These days my sister is restoring an early edition ’55 Chevy Pickup and her quest for parts and pieces has taken her to all those familiar places. She discovered a wonderful wrecking yard just east of Eugene, OR called: Springfield Auto Recyclers. The place was established in 1949 and specializes in 1930’s to 1970’s vintage car and truck parts. Most of their business is conducted online via an eBay store.
Exploring the grounds (which owner “Chuck” made us feel welcome to do) immediately took me back to my roots. If you are a fan of American Pickers (Rock the Rust!), the sights at this venue will transport you to a lost episode – Magically you will find yourself trudging along behind Mike and Frank!
In addition to multiple acres of donor cars and trucks, the building which houses the parts counter is loaded with automobilia. Sadly these items (excepting the old manuals) are for display only. Chuck explained that like the vehicles themselves, much of the inventory which clutters the office was donated.
“I don’t remember where it came from,” he admits with a shrug. “People didn’t give it to me to sell. They would be disappointed if they came back in and it wasn’t here.” Okay, so it’s like viewing somebody’s collection or going to a museum. Either way, it is a worthwhile visit- it certainly made me feel nostalgic.
It made me want to pull on my overalls and tear into one of those old hulks lounging in the yard…
“Gary! Get the torch!’