Family-run Colorado yard is the place for complete cars
Story and photos by Ron Kowalke
Taking the road less traveled often leads to great discoveries. While that sounds like a phrase found in a fortune cookie, it sums up a recent road trip to Colorado where I discovered Ernest and Sons Auto Wrecking, after a meandering drive on unpaved State Highway 15. Based at the tip of the eastern shadows of the Rocky Mountains near the small town of Capulin, this salvage yard offers one of the largest collections of complete, rust-free vintage cars and trucks I’ve come across in all my years of yard tours. According to the yard’s owner, Ernie Quintana, it’s also the largest salvage yard in Colorado.
Quintana, along with his brothers Chris and Mike, operate the yard, which was originally established by their father, Ernest.
“Dad started the yard in 1958, about two miles from this [current] location,” Quintana said. “He started with half an acre and outgrew that, so he bought this property in 1974.”
Ernest passed away in 2008, but while working with his sons in the yard as they grew up, he instilled in them a drive to work hard to get ahead, as well as a passion for preserving vintage iron. The sons’ business education at the hands of their father has allowed them to expand the yard into a 40-acre, 4,000-vehicle collection of mostly complete cars and trucks. One of the yard’s added benefits, according to Quintana, is that “most of our vehicles have titles. We also embalm their engines with transmission fluid to make sure they run after they get parked.”
Quintana said he has two uncles who also operate salvage yards in Colorado, adding, “If we don’t have it, we know someone who does.”
Ernest Quintana clearly made a positive and lasting impression on each of his sons. Their reverence toward their father came out in several stories about his life.
“Dad was always into cars,” Ernie reminisced. “He liked the drag races, and he drove a 1957 Imperial, which I still have.” Another interesting car in Quintana’s vehicular inheritance from his father is the ’49 Ford formerly owned by Jim Nabors of “Gomer Pyle” TV series fame and longtime singer of “Back Home Again in Indiana” prior to each year’s running of the Indianapolis 500.
In addition to maintaining his father’s beloved Imperial, Quintana learned some important lessons on how to successfully operate a yard business through good times and bad. To supplement income during slow periods, Quintana said, “Dad was a truck driver for a while. He would see (old cars and trucks) from up in the cab and he’d bring them back to the yard.”
The brothers also marveled at their father’s ingenuity to make due with equipment on hand.
“Dad had a 1965 Ford tandem flatbed to haul and crush cars,” Quintana said. “He constructed an A-frame, and used a weight anchored to the truck bed [that looped over the top bar of the A-frame]. He’d park a car under the A-frame, put the truck in neutral and the weight would fall and flatten the car.” While this clever device worked both inexpensively and well, Quintana winced as he recalled many of the cars his father crushed were from the 1930s through ’50s.
Working both sides of the road
Ernest and Sons Auto Wrecking is actually two salvage yards in one location. The 40 acres that comprise the business are split into north and south yards bisected by State Highway 15. Old Cars Weekly toured only the south yard, the inventory of which spans the 1930s through ’70s, with emphasis on cars and pickups of the ’50s and ’60s. Another category that had surprising depth within the south yard was vintage buses. The north yard houses vehicles from the 1970s and newer.
Among the interesting and complete or near-complete cars parked in the south yard were rarities such as a 1960 Chrysler New Yorker station wagon, ’57 Ford Courier sedan delivery, ’57 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer hardtop equipped with a Hemi V-8, ’41 Ford “shorty” school bus, ’68 Dodge Charger, ’56 Mercury Monterey “woodie” station wagon and ’67 AMC Rambler Rogue hardtop.
The terrain of the south yard is level with wide aisles and a dirt base that is punctuated by scrub and brush growing around many of the vehicles. There are pockets of similarly grouped manufacturers. However, there are enough random gatherings of brands and decades to offer constant “wow” moments.
Whole or parts
The majority of the vintage vehicles in the yard have been preserved in as complete a state as possible, and Quintana stressed that this is how they are sold, with no exceptions.
Whole vehicles, many still retaining titles and many that ran when parked, require customers to “buy it all” or admire it and walk away. However, parts hunters need not be discouraged, as Quintana added, “We have lots of loose parts available,” and what’s available is well known among the brothers. While currently no computerized inventory of cars or parts exists, Quintana said he and his brothers will photograph asked-for items and e-mail images to anyone requesting them.
Customers entering either section of the yard will be supervised at all times. Tool boxes are allowed into the yard, but parts removal will only be allowed with the help of a yard employee. During Old Cars Weekly’s visit, Mike acted as tour guide.
When and Where
Ernest and Sons Auto Wrecking is open year-round. Summer hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Winter hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., also Monday through Friday. Saturday hours year round are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Yard tours by clubs or groups are available, and can be scheduled by appointment.
To contact the yard, use postal mailing address: Ernest and Sons Auto Wrecking, 6262 State Hwy. 15, Capulin, CO 81124, or phone 719-274-5224 or FAX 719-274-5235.
Quintana’s four daughters are too young to know whether or not they share their father’s and grandfather’s passion for older vehicles. But the time may come when the business’ name has to be expanded to Ernest and Sons and Granddaughters Auto Wrecking. It would only be proper to keep it in the family.
More "scenery" for you to enjoy...
Another finned looker from the 1950s, this '59 Plymouth Belvedere hardtop is also a prime candidate for restoration.
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