Spending time in salvage yards is one of my passions. It never occurred to me in all my previous visits to yards that I might one day have a hard time emotionally touring a yard. But it happened.
While many of the hundreds of vintage vehicles in C.R.’s salvage
yard have had parts removed, what remains is generally rust free
and straight, like this 1960 Ford F100 Custom Cab Styleside pickup.
After covering a collector vehicle auction in Branson, Mo., I wanted to drive back through central Kansas to try to make contact with a salvage yard owner about doing a story on his business. That didn’t work out due to time constraints.
Instead, I detoured to a salvage yard closer to Branson, in Baxter Springs, Kan., which is in the southeast corner of the state. Arriving unannounced on a Monday morning, I knew nothing about C.R.’s Trucking & Wrecker Service, and hoped that a decade’s-old description of the yard’s inventory remained accurate, in that it was skewed towards older cars.
The description was correct. C.R.’s is filled with hundreds of mostly rust-free vintage vehicles, ranging from the 1940s to modern, including big rigs and military vehicles. But what the description couldn’t describe is the current struggle owner Debbie Cole is facing to keep her salvage and towing operation viable past the end of May.
A ’57 Chevrolet Two-Ten sedan offers donor-quality sheet metal.
Having never met Cole prior to my visit, it was evident she was putting on a brave face to explain the history of the yard and how she came to run the business. Once I came to understand her plight, it was at this point that I knew the tone of this column would be different from the other yard stories I’ve done in the past. I’m going to ask readers to invest themselves into helping Cole, simply because she, in addition to operating a salvage yard, is foremost a passionate old car hobbyist and supporter of vehicle preservation. Due to circumstances that would make most of us curl up in a ball and cower, she’s been forced to make some drastic decisions concerning C.R.’s inventory. Her struggle involves preserving inventory versus paying bills. There is no easy answer, and this column is devoted to finding a solution. And quickly.
Cole is not looking for sympathy. She’s a fighter who has endured the harrowing chemotherapy regimen from a breast cancer diagnosis a few years ago, and is now a cancer survivor. Since then, she’s lost her husband, Clay, who died unexpectedly last June. Not only did she lose her life partner and best friend, but she was then forced to shoulder the entire responsibility of working full-time for the local school district, and keeping the yard operation going and its employees working in a depressed economy. All this while grieving the loss of Clay and staying focused on being not a cancer patient, but a cancer survivor. That’s more than a human’s load of mental anguish and stress to deal with, but Cole is determined to generate income to meet her financial obligations by May 31.
The yard’s foundation
Proudly showing Old Cars Weekly vintage photos of Clay in his 1940 Ford convertible street rod, Cole countered with pictures of her 1962 Chevy II Nova street rod that lovingly fueled the Blue Oval vs. Bowtie rivalry between the two. Cole explained that Clay lost his father when he was a child, and hung on to his memory through a car. “Clay collected 1940 Fords because that’s what his dad drove.”
Eventually, according to Cole, Clay “fell into” the old car buying business and he and his mother began the yard 35 years ago when people showed up looking to buy parts.
In that time, Clay amassed a collection of 32 different ’40 Fords. These range from a hearse to coupes to panel deliveries. Some are restored, but many are part of the yard’s current 500-vehicle inventory spread over 30 acres. Cole would like to keep a handful of the restored Fords to honor Clay’s memory, but needs to sell the remainder. In fact, she would like to see all of the approximately 300-vintage-vehicles inventory get sold because she’s working on a deal with a local recycler to cash out and crush what remains after May 31 to pay down debt.
Walking the well-aligned, wide-aisled rows of vehicles staged on mainly flat terrain, the number of complete or near-complete cars and trucks that sport solid metal stand out. The vehicles that have had parts removed still maintain donor-quality parts, mainly in the way of fender panels and chrome pieces. One of more unique pieces in inventory is a Diamond T pickup cab and chassis. There is a row devoted to “Tri-Chevys” (no ’56s) that includes two-door sedans, four-door sedans and station wagons. There is a handful of tow trucks with complete booms, as well as a few dozen big-rig tractors ranging from the 1930s on up, including several blunt-nose Fords that served as haulers for a Joplin, Mo., traveling carnival.
The majority of vintage iron in inventory runs from the early 1940s (heavily weighted towards the aforementioned ’40 Ford collection) up to the early ’70s, represented by a handful of Chevelles and first-generation Chevy Monte Carlos. Army olive drab coats the panels of a few vehicles, including a doorless Dodge Power Wagon and a Chevrolet deuce-and-a-half missing its cargo box. Pickups spotted were mainly from the 1950s and ’60s, several offering rust-free stepside or fleetside boxes.
A 1939 Ford sedan delivery (left). The other 30 range in condition from parts cars to restored and operational. Most, but not all of these Fords, are for sale.
Cole said customers are welcome to walk into the yard (no vehicles allowed) and pick parts with prior permission. She added that she has titles for many of the vintage vehicles in inventory, and others can be sold on a bill of sale.
While she does not maintain a computerized inventory list, Cole said she has a good memory for what exists in the way of loose vintage parts such as engines, transmissions, rear end assemblies, sheet metal and other major components. Parts shipping is offered as long as the shipment meets size and weight restrictions.
Hours of operation at the yard are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday by appointment. To contact the yard, call 620-856-3368 or FAX 620-856-2105.
In addition to selling the yard’s vintage inventory, Cole told Old Cars Weekly that she and Clay had built up a sizable collection of pedal cars that are also for sale.
As I drove away from the yard, I mentally wrote and revised how I would approach telling Debbie Cole’s story several times. In the end, it just simply comes down to asking that hobbyists who have the financial means and storage capacity to contact Cole about buying from her inventory. Keep in mind that she has until May 31 to sell vehicles before the recycler will begin crushing what remains.
The old car hobby needs the support of businesses such as C.R.’s, but more importantly, the hobby needs to show Debbie Cole that we care and take care of our own.
The yard contains several examples of first-generation 1970-’72 Chevrolet Monte Carlo hardtops (left) with solid sheet metal. Thin paint is the worst of the cosmetic issues on this near-complete and solid 1955 Plymouth Belvedere sedan (right).
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