Story and photos by Ron Kowalke
A handwritten sign hangs on the gate leading into Hauf Auto Supply that reads simply: Closed. Thank you for 50 years of patronage.” The sign is salvage yard owners Gene and Jo Hauf’s heartfelt way of letting people know that after a half century in business, the yard has ceased operation.
The yard’s closing comes as a severe blow for both the residents of Stillwater, Okla., the location of the salvage yard, and for old car hobbyists who have come to rely on this veteran source for old car parts to complete their restoration projects. But the sign on the gate is also a sign of the times. That became evident when Old Cars Weekly spoke with Gene Hauf as he was preparing for the upcoming auction that will see the land and buildings that comprised his yard sold for commercial development. The property is located in a fast-growing area of south-central Stillwater that, up until a few years ago, was nothing but open land.
“We hope to be out by [the end of] July,” Hauf told Old Cars Weekly, of the demise of his salvage yard.
Not the same
The salvage yard now known as Hauf Auto Supply was, according to Hauf, actually started by his grandfather in 1946. Hauf said he and his wife took over the operation from his grandfather and father in 1960. Among its 68 acres, at its peak inventory, Hauf estimated the yard contained 6,000 vehicles. At one time, Gene and Jo had 20 employees working at the business, but in recent years, it has tapered down to just the pair trying to do it all.
As with everything else that’s gone into survival mode due to the economic downturn, Hauf admitted that he either had to get bigger or get out of the salvage business. He felt the latter was the best option at this point in he and Jo’s lives.
“I’ll miss the people,” Hauf reasoned, “but the business has just gotten to be too much [to handle].”
He mentioned the largest hurdle to operating a successful salvage yard in today’s business climate is the increasing level of regulation being handed down from both the government and the insurance companies that underwrite policies covering yards. It means slogging through a mountain of administrative paperwork to comply with DMV, EPA and IRS rules. Due to the ever-tightening insurance regulations, it’s gotten to the point that customers are no longer allowed on yard property. This essentially defeats the purpose of having collector-era vehicles and their parts for sale as old car parts are definitely a see-and-touch-before-purchase commodity. And, even though a half-century of hard work in the yard has kept him fit, Hauf said being outside all the time in the hot summers and cold winters “has taken its toll on me.”
Having Hauf Auto Supply go out of business represents more than just a salvage yard ceasing operation. Before there were the countless aftermarket companies that, today, allow an old car hobbyist to literally buy an entire collector vehicle’s components new off the shelf, there was a generation of men such as Hauf, and his grandfather and father before him, who were practically the single-source suppliers to those old car enthusiasts, early hot rodders and racers who needed factory parts to restore or rebuild a car. This generation of yard owner has almost entirely either retired or died off. And, most of the important yards that supplied the old car hobby with cars and parts in those early days have vanished along with their owners.
When asked what memories he will take from his five decades of yard operation, Hauf thought a while and his answer spanned those 50 years. Early on, he recalled that when his grandfather and father had the yard, the inventory included fabled nameplates such as Stars and Moons. He is also proud that his yard donated 20 cars to Oklahoma State University’s Engineering Department back in the 1960s for work that involved advanced shock absorber design. More recent, he marveled that his Oklahoma yard could attract customers from as far away as Chile and Holland and how wonderful it is that the old car hobby has become a worldwide phenomenom.
“I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s time to move on,” Hauf emphasized. As for his future plans, he joked, “I don’t care if I dig ditches now — anything but cars.”
For anyone wanting a last-ditch effort to rescue a vehicle from Hauf Auto Supply before they all go to the crusher, or just to thank Gene and Jo Hauf for 50 years of dedicated service to the old car hobby, call 405-372-1585, use e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org or postal mailing address: Hauf Auto Supply, P.O. Box 547, Stillwater, OK 74076.