Okay, I’ll come clean right up front. I didn’t visit Roswell, N.M., to tour salvage yards. That a great yard, A-1 Auto Salvage, exists there was a value add-on to my Roswell stop, but the main reason for my visit to this tabloid-fodder town was to tour its UFO Museum. Hey, sometimes being a dork can be fun.
Bob Jenkins has operated A-1 Auto Salvage in Roswell, N.M., for 40 years. He estimates in that time he has gone through more than 10,000 cars.
Some of Old Cars Weekly’s long-time readers may recall seeing A-1 Auto Salvage chronicled in these pages many years ago by our original salvage yard storyteller Phil Skinner, a.k.a.: “Doc Boneyard.” Since so many years have passed since that report was published, I felt revisiting the yard to allow newer readers in on its offerings by a fresh set of eyes was justified. In tribute to Mr. Skinner’s initial legwork, just call me “Dork Boneyard.”
In truth, after touring the UFO Museum I’m still on the fence about whether or not an alien spaceship crashed in the desert near Roswell in 1947. A little more hard evidence and less reliance on speculation would have helped seal the deal. No such doubt exists about A-1. After my visit to the yard I can confirm it’s the real deal.
Among the many coupes (above) in the yard is this 1936
Lafayette three-window model that offers a complete shell to
an ambitious restorer. More complete (below) is this 1955
Mercury Montclair hardtop that is solid all around.
Studebaker is one of several well-represented marques in A-1
Auto Salvage. This 1953 Champion coupe has some rust, but
offers many donor parts.
Promoting A-1 in such a lofty manner, in my estimation, is earned because this yard has all the correct ingredients: A long-term owner that knows his inventory and has interesting stories to tell about the vehicles in his yard; a large inventory of vintage cars and trucks, many with solid metal and not all picked over; rare vehicles included in the inventory; and a well laid out yard with logical groupings of vehicles. Earning bonus points, A-1 Auto Salvage also puts a unique spin on both its guard animal and its storied location.
A-1 owner Bob Jenkins was working out front when I arrived unannounced at the yard. After introductions, he gave me a quick tour of the yard and then allowed me to roam on my own in more detail.
In our initial conversation, Jenkins told me that he is 70 years old and had been at A-1 “only 40 years.” The “only” part of Jenkins’ four decades of ownership was in reference to the yard actually being started in 1924. At some point, that original yard went out of business, and the property was cleared and resold. Later, the original yard owner re-acquired the property, and it is from he that Jenkins purchased the land on which A-1 is situated today.
“There was nothing here when I started,” explained Jenkins. He added that he had always had an interest in owning a salvage yard, and started buying and selling cars at age 14 in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. “I moved to New Mexico for the weather,” Jenkins said of his early Tennessee uprooting.
Jenkins prides himself on working hard, but he emphasized to Old Cars Weekly that anyone wanting to visit A-1 needs to call first and make an appointment.
“Before I turned 70, I was here from dawn to dusk,” Jenkins recalled. “[Now], any excuse to spend time away from here I’ll do it.”
Jenkins’ desire to slow down a bit is understandable, as the yard is spread across 20 acres and contained 3,000 vehicles at peak inventory. He estimates that he’s gone through “well over 10,000 cars” in the 40 years of A-1’s existence.
Jenkins said that in recent years he’s sold approximately 500 vehicles to make room in the yard. Noteworthy among these sales are entire inventories of first-generation Chevy Camaros and Ford Mustangs, and many early Cadillacs and tri-Chevy hardtops and convertibles. “I [also] sold lots of cars to Sweden and all my Porsches to Japan 10 years ago.”
Jenkins also recalled selling several Austin-Healeys from the yard years ago to a lady in England. “I let them go for $1,000 to $1,300 apiece. Look what they’re worth now,” Jenkins lamented of their current value hovering around the mid-to-high five figures.
In most yards, that level of house-cleaning would pretty much have cleared out the bulk of desirable cars, but that’s not the case in A-1. As I walked among the rows of cars, many with vehicles stacked two high, I marveled at the desirability, and often rarity, of what I saw.
Jenkins mentioned at one point having one each, a 1939, ’40 and ’41, of the in-demand Willys coupes in inventory before they were sold. With the coupe — both three- and five-window versions — being my favorite body style, I found many of the curvaceous wonders parked among the rows of different manufacturers. Jenkins admitted that the many Ford coupes still in inventory were his personal favorites. He stated, though, that to pry any of them loose from the yard, a customer must be willing to make a serious offer or the car stays put.
One of biggest reasons for A-1 having such depth of desirable and/or rare cars through the years is the yard’s close proximity to the former Walker Air Force Base. Cars owned by service personnel were often sports or muscle cars that were used and left behind when the airmen transferred from the base. The base, according to Jenkins, known for having the longest runways in America, was closed in 1967. It’s still owned by the government, and is maintained by the city of Roswell if its future military use is necessary.
In addition to all the great cars and trucks in the yard that Jenkins emphasized he will only sell whole and not as parts donors, A-1 does contain lots of available parts, both lying next to vehicles in the yard and stored in outbuildings on the grounds.
Jenkins said he has a good handle on what parts exist in the yard and a phone call can answer any questions Old Cars Weekly readers may have concerning parts inventory.
The main rule that customers must follow to enter A-1 Auto Salvage is that Jenkins will chaperone those he does not know. Also, no toolboxes are allowed in the yard. Parts shipping is offered, but it’s negotiated on an individual basis.
Overall, my trip to Roswell was a unique experience — on several levels. Unlike those who gripe about having nothing to show for a vacation other than some crummy T-shirt, my “I have relatives in Roswell” shirt that I purchased at the UFO Museum gift shop is something I wear with pride.
And, just when I thought my years of touring yards had shown me all there is to see regarding the salvage industry, as my journey through A-1 was winding down I came upon “Jack.” I’ve met plenty of guard dogs (from a distance), but “Jack” is the first guard burro I’ve encountered.
“He’s good for weed control, fox control and snake control,” Jenkins explained of his meek-looking burro. But looks are deceiving as “Jack’s” kick is a pain that will linger. He’s also good at leaving droppings all over the yard, so looking before you leap will save shoe-scraping later.
I spoke with Jenkins for a long time about his yard, the salvage industry and the old car hobby, but the time came when I had to ramp up my courage and ask the dreaded question: So, Mr. Jenkins do you believe in space aliens? I thought either he would throw me out of his yard or have “Jack” kick me upside my skull, but instead he chuckled and gave a quite unexpected response:
“My house [since relocated] was formerly the hospital where the aliens were taken [after the claimed crash site was excavated in 1947].”
Jenkins is ably assisted at the yard by Sandy, and questions about cars or parts inventory will reach her by phone at 575-622-2489, or use postal mailing address: A-1 Auto Salvage, 204 N. Brown Rd., Roswell, NM 88202.