Under The Hood

Deliver me from evil: A salvage experience

Last weekend, I offered to help retired OCW staffer Kenny Buttolph remove roof supports for his pole building now that the snow is melting. The work didn’t take long with the help of another friend, Josh, and before long, I found myself in the backseat of a baby-blue 1978 Olds 98 on a road trip across central Wisconsin in search of a salvage yard.

With Kenny piloting, we criss-crossed little-traveled roads in the center of the state. We took so many turns, Kenny might as well have been blindfolded me and spun me around. After a few hours, we finally found an old salvage yard Kenny once frequented.

Time had not been kind to the yard, or its owner. It was early afternoon when we arrived, but Josh took a chance and knocked the door of the abandoned-looking house just off the road that fronted the yard. Lo and behold, a man matching a description of the house answered the door, complete with crooked and broken glasses and drool from Copenhagen running down his chin. After Josh told the owner he was looking for truck parts, we were allowed to walk in the yard. However, the owner was adamant that we didn’t enter a trailer filled with his “personal belongings.”

Kenny remained in his car, and I was glad he did. Upon opening the gate after Josh crossed in, I nearly stepped on a freshly severed cow leg lying on the ground. A few feet later, I found another cow leg, complete with hoof. A new fear took me over and I wondered what, or who, was hiding in the mysterious trailers we were warned not to enter. But I proceeded knowing Kenny stayed behind in case the next severed limbs lying on the ground were mine. Besides, the thought of entering a hidden yard was worth any horror movie script I might soon find myself living.

Soon after we entered, it became clear many of the cars had been crushed, but there were an abundance of old trucks. Sedan delivery, panel truck and half-ton truck carcasses abounded (as did the carcasses of two recently slaughtered cows lying on car hoods).

Josh and I began scouting the yard for parts, and eventually, the owner joined us. He turned out to be a harmless gentleman, and appeared happy to have someone to talk to. He even helped Josh and I hunt down 1946-‘47 Chevrolet truck parts for Josh’s project at home.

While Josh was searching out truck parts, I scouted out the rest of the inventory. A 1959 Edsel sedan here, a 1967 Impala sedan there. I also spotted 1937 Chevrolet and 1946 Hudson two-door sedans, as well as a 1971 Buick Skylark and 1967 Mustang two-door hardtops. There were also signs of cool but long-gone cars with: three 1957 Chevrolet hoods scattered about; piles of 1940s through ‘60s hubcaps heaped throughout the yard like hiking path markers; and stray front clips and other sheet metal strewn everywhere else.

I found a 1961-’62 Cadillac fender skirt lying in a pile of parts, but it was too rusty to drag home. The greatest find of the day (in my opinion) came from a lone 1941 Willys hubcap Josh pulled out of a pile of wheel covers. I was certainly more interested in it than Josh was, so it became my prize.

By dark, we left the yard with a good lesson: It’s worth knocking on the scary doors every once in a while to find some parts, even if it looks as though you might need to say a prayer before entering. But always leave someone behind in a running car in case you need to make a quick escape.

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