Morris Auto Wrecking: There goes the neighborhood

H aving no prior knowledge of Morris Auto Wrecking before I stepped into the yard, I still knew something was not right. Located in Morgan Ridge, on the far outskirts of Fairmont, W.Va., I arrived without an appointment and found a sign stabbed into the yard’s office door with a screwdriver that read: “Be back soon.”

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The yard contains this pair of used-up workhorses, a Dodge Power Wagon and Chevrolet tanker.

    OK. It took me a good hour’s drive and three stops for directions just to find the place, so no way am I leaving without finding out what’s going on. Without trespassing (OK, I might have crossed that imaginary boundary where, if the yard was protected by dogs I might have gotten bit), I did a quick scan of what cars remained. My first impression – and later verified by yard owner Valldeen Morris – was that for all the land present, there sure was room for lots more cars.

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One of several 1957 Chevrolets in the yard, this One-Fifty two-door sedan is the most complete.

    What was more unsettling, though, was my drive on the road leading to Morris Auto Wrecking. According to Morris, he started the yard in 1955 in what can be imagined back then as the most rural and out-of-the-way piece of land in north -central West Virginia. Upon getting my third set of directions, I was told to “turn on the road by the church.” Thinking it might be some landmark century-old stone church with tall ornate stained-glass windows, it instead turned out to be a modern, unattractive, near windowless box. I guess when you’re in the soul-saving business nowadays, decor matters little.

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Yardgoers most likely do a double-take passing by this school bus wearing a Dodge Charger grille.

    Anyway, I thought the directions were wrong because on the road that supposedly led to the yard, there was nothing but “McMansions” being built on both sides of the lane. Two- and three-level homes with multi-car garages springing up everywhere, and giving the impression that this would be the last place you’d expect to find a salvage yard.

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A handful of prewar vehicles exist in Morris Auto Wrecking, and this row contains a 1941 Chevrolet sedan (left) and 1940 Ford Tudor (middle).

    But there it was. The yard had a little bit of land on each side to act as a buffer from the new homes, but the creep of residential dwellings was plain to see. Having been to other yards that have succumbed to urban sprawl, I had a pretty good idea of how the story of Morris Auto Wrecking was going to play out even before meeting its owner. Sadly, I was right.

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A few foreign cars are mixed in among the vintage iron in the yard, one example being this MG convertible with wire wheels.

    Once Morris did arrive, I introduced myself and explained how I wanted to give his yard some publicity and possibly drum up business, as Old Cars Weekly readers are always searching for parts for their collector cars. I could tell immediately it was going to be a tough sell.

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An original hubcap on the rear wheel might be all that’s salvageable from this 1937 Ford truck.

    Morris said he’d been burned in the past by someone posing as a writer, who came to the yard asking to do a story, but instead just took pictures of the cars, which he later sold on the Internet. Morris also cautioned that it was probably too late, anyway. In the yard’s heyday, it contained 2,200 vehicles, mostly vintage. On the day of my visit, there might have been 300 of what Morris described as “mostly picked over” cars and rows of vintage school buses loaded with parts.

It used to be free

    It was a vastly different time when Morris and his brother-in-law opened the yard in 1955. They bought cars and metal for scrap. “You could get it for free: cars, old stoves and such,” Morris explained. “We originally cut them up with an axe.”

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One of several rows of vintage school buses filled with parts.

    Jump ahead 50 years, and the salvage industry landscape has changed. Morris said the interest in his vintage inventory began to drop off markedly in recent years. “Years ago, I’d deal with 30 to 40 [old car parts requests] a week,” Morris said. “Now I get maybe one or two.”

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A child’s slide positioned over its convertible bows offers little protection from rain and snow getting into this 1962 Chevrolet Impala convertible.

    With little business and the price of scrap metal skyrocketing of late, Morris said he crushed most of his yard’s contents over the past two years. Both he and his wife are battling serious health ailments, and his breathing problems won’t allow him to work in the yard during the winter months.

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This rusty 1974 Chevrolet Vega GT Kammback station wagon still has its optional $53 roof rack.

    When asked what kinds of cars were in the yard before he reduced his inventory, Morris replied, “I crushed out lots of nice cars – hundreds of ’57 Chevys.” While many cars met their demise, Morris said he was able to save some, one that he vividly recalls being a 1947 Mercury convertible that he sold about five years ago.

The yard lives on in film

    What old cars did reside in the yard up until a few years ago will remain viewable on film. Morris explained that about 20 years ago, a movie titled “Appalachian Junkyard Mary” used Morris Auto Wrecking and other area salvage yards for shooting some of its key scenes.

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Only select parts remain usable from this gutted 1968 Dodge Charger hardtop.

    But there’ll be no Hollywood ending for Morris Auto Wrecking. Citing his health issues and inability to keep the yard open in the colder months, Morris said that the summer of 2008 will be the yard’s final business days. Even though the yard has operated for over 50 years in its present location, the surge of new homes being built literally on top of it also doesn’t bode well for someone to buy the business and keep it operating past next summer.

    With 50 years of hard work in the salvage business banked, and other pressing matters to deal with, Morris bluntly stated, “I’m ready to quit.”

    Before the yard shuts down for good, Morris is eager to sell its remaining inventory or it will be crushed. H e said he will sell whole cars, and has the titles to some of the vehicles currently in the yard. He added that he does not ship parts, nor is there a Web site for Morris Auto Wrecking.

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A few donor parts exist on this 1963 Ford Fairlane 500 hardtop.

    The only way to contact the yard is by phoning 304-363-1805, and ask for detailed directions on how to arrive. Morris said the best time to call is weekday mornings, after 9 a.m. (EST). Yard hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The mailing address is: Morris Auto Wrecking, Morgan Ridge, Fairmont, WV 26554.

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