Diversity: Little Valley Auto Ranch much more than a salvage yard
Story and photos by Ron Kowalke
In personal finances and in business, diversity is often critical for success. Having only one core product or focus invites failure in lean times. This pursuit of diversity has served Dan Barkley and his wife, Dee, well for 30 years as the operators of Little Valley Auto Ranch (LVAR) in Belton, Texas.
The 10-acre property houses 500 vintage salvage vehicles, but also encompasses a restoration shop and a thriving collector car sales outlet. Three times annually (April, July and November), the Barkleys also open the property to vendors and host swap meets on the grounds. Diversity also plays a part in these meets, as Dan Barkley said, “We get a little bit of everything from Model T’s to street rods.”
Since the economy tanked several years ago, the multiple facets of business within LVAR meant the company didn’t need to rely solely on the salvage operation to remain profitable.
“The [salvage] business has slacked off the past two to three years. [Because of that], we redefined our operation,” Barkley noted. He said the salvage lot once contained 800 vehicles, but approximately 300 vehicles Barkley described as “low-dollar stuff” were culled out.
“In the old days,there were lots of cars in backyards.” That’s no longer the case. “The salvage business is different today.”
No matter how much the salvage business has changed over time, location is still important. It seems that Barkley nailed that part. LVAR’s acreage is adjacent to Belton’s major thoroughfare, Highway 190, so the collector vehicles for sale and staged in rows out front get plenty of eyeballs every day from passersby.
“I bought this place 30 years ago,” Barkley said, “and started from scratch. Geographically, it’s perfect. It’s in the center of Texas, [no more than] two hours from every major city.”
Barkley has titles for most of the vehicles for sale out front, but if one doesn’t exist, it’s not a problem. Continuing the diversification theme, he added, “I have a title company, so I can [always] get a title.”
Weaning from the salvage business the past few years, Barkley’s restoration shop has become the focus going forward. “We specialize in 1950s Chevrolet restorations,” Barkley said of the business he operates under the banner of American Hot Rodz. “I [also] do a few street rods.”
To feed the need for parts to restore all of those ’50s Chevys, LVAR’s salvage lot has a depth of those cars, primarily four-door Tri-Chevys. The lot also has plenty of 1950s and ’60s General Motors cars (especially Buicks), and quite a few ’50s Willys Jeep station wagons. Most of these vehicles are rust free and offer restoration-quality body panels. Throughout the salvage lot and out front, there are also many piles and stacks of rust-free body panels such as doors, fenders and hoods.
Customers are allowed in the salvage lot, but they must stay on the aisles that run between the rows of vehicles. The lot is flat and vehicles are staged randomly, rather than by any particular make or model. Vehicles are sometimes partially obscured by scrub brush, but overall accessibility is good. LVAR has five employees, according to Barkley, who stressed, “We pull all parts.” He added that shipping parts is also available by appointment.
Car clubs are welcome to tour LVAR with a prior appointment. The business is open year-round, and hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
To view what collector vehicles are currently for sale at LVAR, visit their website at www.americanhotrodz.com. (Additional images also are included below.)
Barkley also admits to having a passion for the variety collector vehicle hobby offers. “I love all old cars,” he said. “I’ve been in [this] business for 40 years and pretty much know everything.”
(postal mailing address)
Little Valley Auto Ranch
1151 Wheat Rd.
Belton, TX 76513
More scenes from the salvage yard: