If you’ve ever needed a part for your car or truck, you’ve more than likely called or gone to Nordstrom’s Auto Recyclers of rural Garretson, S.D. It’s a mechanical Mecca, the Holy Grail for the car enthusiast. There’s buildings and buildings full of auto parts and acres of cars and trucks for parts. Door handles, motors, transmissions, oh my, something for every make and model.
It’s hard to imagine, but not so long ago this was acres of corn – not cars – and the barn was filled with Holsteins – not leather seats. This brainchild was derived from somewhere back in my father, Art Nordstrom’s brain. Way back in the Creative Farmer part that fixes fences, changed duals on the Allis and invented ways for the planter to perform better, came from what was necessity and turned it into a huge business.
Back when I was growing up on the farm, Dad would drag home a wreck of a Ford, a pile of GMC and transform a couple of them a year into a treasure. He would hide away in the old garage and work on his treasure between chores and milking cows by the heat of a Nipco or late into the summer night.
I used to love to watch what he was doing. The sparks from the welder would draw us kids in like a big ole’ moth to a bug zapper. Then just about when we were entranced by the sparks, Dad would yell, “Quit looking at the welder. Your eyelashes will fall off! You’ll go blind.” Well, I sure didn’t want to go blind and I’d quick do an eyelash check just to make sure they were still there.
Eventually out of the darkness would come one of Dad’s trucks. They were bought up as fast as he could make them. Everybody liked his color combos like Dr. Pepper, two-tone greens and other exotic colors and lots of chrome! Dad realized that he should sell these babies wrecked and tell people how to fix them and make a little money in the process. Wa-lah! Hence was the start of Nordstrom’s.
Dad used to incorporate the help of his little tribe. No rest for the Nordstrom kids. Dad wanted to make sure we knew how to work. He wanted to make sure that if we were dropped in the middle of a desert we were going to not only come out alive, but built a way of transportation out.
His motto was “ Are you driving the bus or riding the bus?” I heard that bus story a lot. He taught us girls that we can do almost anything a guy can do if we put our head to it. We used to wax all those wrecked cars and trucks. Oh yes, there was the right way and then there was Art’s way. I remember waxing this one car 10 times before I got the green light to quit. For a sassy teenage girl, that can be enough to go over the edge!
Us kids were quite the dismantlers, removing parts for customers and helping guys out back in the trees for parts. And we were little salesmen, too. Oh yes, we learned from the best, my father. Arty Nordstrom loved to barter and could wheel a deal to rival any Arab trader. He would tell stories and listen to his customers and then figure out an angle to benefit them both, of course, mostly him.
I think most people came out for just the B.S. and to see if they could pull one over on Dad. It was fun to listen to him go on with customers. It was its own side-show. He always tried to please his customers and make it fun to buy parts. But one time he bartered a bit too much.
I was used to Dad asking customers if they thought his daughter should take his pickup to town, or do chores, but I wasn’t ready for this one. Oh yeah, never a dull moment at the Nordstroms. I had George Meyer from Meyer’s Salvage, Aberdeen, S.D., in his snake boots, say he didn’t think I should take Dad’s truck to town and sure enough, I didn’t go to town that night! He said it built character and he was apparently always trying to “build character” with us kids. But one spring came the doozey of a barter, even for Dad.
In high school, the prom is the dream of most girls. We think about our dress, if we got an early tan and most of all, who was going to be our date – if we would have a date! It can be nerve-wracking even for a tomboy like me! One week it was a busy day at the yard, and my father came out of the shop for lunch and said that I was going to be going to the Dells St. Mary’s Prom Saturday night.
Oh Really, what was this man talking about?
Well apparently, a good ole’ boy from Dell Rapids, S.D., came out for parts for his truck. Not only did he need an alternator for his truck, but proclaimed to my father that he needed a date for his senior prom. Well la-dee-dah. Not only did he get an alternator for his truck, but he bartered and got a prom date!
That’s right. My father, working to fulfill all his customers' needs, traded off his oldest daughter for an alternator. Horror went through me. I didn’t know this guy, what did he look like, how dare my Dad! And a prom! Dad laughed and said, “He’ll pick you up at 7 p.m.” and went in the house!
Now Dells had a nice crop of young men and I loved to sneak down to the barn when they were judging the cows for FFA and just casually scoop hay into the bunks or feed the cats. Just enough to say “hi” and flirt. But this guy, I had no clue. Well, 7 p.m. came and a car pulled up. What was behind door #1 I wondered?
I got in the passenger side and shook hands. So far so good – well as good as expected. We went to the prom and I knew some other guys and gals there. I talked to them and had to explain I bet 100 times that my dad had bartered me off for an alternator. It was fun and finally the night came to an end. I shook hands with my date, jumped out of the car and ran into the house before that good night kiss move. I flew in the door glared at Dad, who wondered if I had a good time.
Dad didn’t trade me off again, but it wasn’t the last of his “character building lessons.”
Last year I was doing an auction in Colton, S.D., and a young man came up and said, “Hey Yvette, can I get that good night kiss I didn’t get at Prom?” I spun around and sure enough was that alternator trading-prom date guy from Dells. We both laughed and couldn’t believe Dad traded me for parts.
He was nice guy and I sure hope that if the next time he, or anyone else for that matter, comes out to Nordstrom’s Auto Recyclers they’ll get the parts they need. And oh yes, my dad is still roaming around wheeling and dealing, but don’t expect to get a prom date along with your alternator.
The Lil’ Nordstrom’s Gal