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Hayes Auto Salvage: Scavenging in a Kansas quarry full of cars

Kansas quarry a perfect host for vintage cars
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Refering to this car as the “hash Nash” would seem appropriate.
At first glance, based on the grille’s side extensions, it appears
to be a 1947 600 Brougham coupe. But it has ’41 headlight
surrounds and ’42 bodywork around the grille (minus the parking
lamps introduced in ’46 and carried over to ’48). It has also been
stripped of its decorative side and hood trim pieces. The Nash is
a complete car and solid all around.

This is a column two years in the making. I first heard about Joe Hayes’ and his salvage yard in a rock quarry in the summer of 2008 while checking on a yard in Wichita, Kan. While that yard had just a minimal amount of vintage iron, the owner said he had a relative who kept old cars in a former rock quarry near Florence, Kan. His advice to me was: ‘If you can get in there, you’ll have one great story to tell.’

Like a dog gnawing on a meaty bone, even though I was unable to travel to Florence after getting that substantial tip, I just couldn’t let go of my vision of what this yard would offer: A rock quarry filled with rare old cars; the stone fortress having only one way in, one way out. Know the secret password to gain entrance to a most amazing collection of rare vehicles or, failing that, have a mob of snarling guard dogs unleashed to chase me away, never able to reveal the contents of the quarry.

Okay, my vision might have been overly dramatic. I’ll blame it on drinking too many caffienated soft drinks. A failed visit to Florence in the summer of 2009 — finding the yard not open for business that day — only fueled my determination to gain entrance to discover what was kept inside those stone walls.

Enter 2010. My follow-up attempt to enter Hayes Auto Salvage began badly. The cable strung across the entryway fence was taken down, but a “closed” sign was propped up against the fence. Knowing it had come down to now or never, I drove into the yard and parked near the house on the grounds.

Driveway diner

It should be noted up front that Hayes Auto Salvage is located east of Florence on Highway 50. While there is no visible signage to mark its location, the best way to know you’ve arrived is look for the Valentine diner erected adjacent to the driveway.

The rusty former eaterie is one of many pre-fab Valentine buildings created in Wichita that were part of the American landscape in the 1930s through ’60s. Their compact size allowed for 8 to 10 patrons to be served at a time. How one of these downsized diners ended up fronting Hayes Auto Salvage is a tale best spun by Joe Hayes, but he did tell Old Cars Weekly he’s had several offers to buy the building.

Timed perfectly

Upon exiting my car, Joe Hayes came out of his home and greeted me in the driveway. After explaining who I was and why I came, Hayes was cordial and invited me to tour the yard. He said it was lucky I caught him in the yard that day, as he was working in his garden planting tomatoes. After all my worry about being sent packing, his hospitality was a welcome relief.

After speaking with him for a while, Hayes admitted that he had recently turned 70 and wants to “slow down” so he and wife can travel more to visit grandchildren in Colorado and South Carolina. Allowing me in the yard to do a story and promote the business will help move out inventory, allowing Hayes to wind down and decrease the possibility of eventually having to crush vintage vehicles. Long story short, the planets aligned that day: I arrived when he was there, got a great story and never had to utter the password!

How it began

“I was raised working on old cars,” Hayes said. “My dad Elmer always worked on cars and trucks. He’d buy one at a time, for $10 or $20, and fix it up to sell. Dad fixed lots of blown engines.”

Hayes actually began his working career as an assembler in a Wichita boat factory. After being laid off from that job, he said he reverted back to what he learned from his dad and began salvaging cars. Hayes’ older brother Marvin was operating a salvage yard in Wichita at the time, so Hayes opened another yard next door. He operated his salvage business from that location for the next dozen years. Both yards are still in operation today, under different ownership. Marvin’s former yard, in fact, is where I spoke with the aforementioned relative of Hayes, and learned of the quarry collection in Florence.

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Sporting unique cone-shaped taillamps to accommodate a rear-opening door, the interior of the 1961 Pontiac Memphian professional car retains much of its original medical-related components. There is rust along the bottom edges, but the Pontiac is otherwise restorable.

After a dispute with Wichita city officials, Hayes decided to relocate his salvage operation to another Kansas location in 1979. At that time, the owner of the yard in Florence was looking at getting out of the salvage business. His yard was small. It only utilized the grounds adjacent to Highway 50, with the quarry remaining empty, as it had since it ceased operation, according to Hayes, in either 1947 or ’48. The original owner of the Florence yard also crushed his entire inventory when he decided to call it quits, forcing a new owner to start from scratch.

Hayes became that new owner in 1980. He began with only the proper salvage licensing already in place and a vision of how to incorporate the unused quarry into his yard operation.

“I went to auctions around Florence and started buying old cars, trucks and tractors,” Hayes explained of his fresh start in the quarry. “I used to attend farm sales and buy old cars for next to nothing, but those days are gone.”

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The paint is faded, but this 1956 Cadillac Series 62 sedan appears
to be a candidate to display in the survivor category at a car show.
Like the Nash above, it’s parked in an area of the yard where parts
removal is not allowed.

After some time, Hayes populated the 25-acre quarry property with approximately 1,100 vehicles, the majority of which are pre-1980 and go back in age to the Model T Ford.

Walking among the rows within the quarry’s walls, spotted were a healthy supply of first-generation Ford Mustang hardtops, Pontiac Fiero coupes, early Plymouth Barracudas (most with their rear “greenhouse” glass intact), tri-Chevys (many body styles), 1950s-’60s pickups, vintage tractors and several old stock cars. (Joe Hayes was a terror on east-central Kansas dirt tracks back in the day.)

Rare offerings seen included early examples of Packard, LaSalle, Studebaker and Republic truck. There’s also a (Lincoln) Continental Mark II body shell and chassis restoration project that is partially finished in its conversion from hardtop to convertible. Another car known for allowing in sunshine is a 1954 Ford Crestline Skyliner that’s missing its see-through roof insert and engine, but remains restorable. There are also several examples of 1930s five-window coupes, ’50s two-door station wagons, ’40s fastback sedans and sedan delivery cars and panel trucks.

Rules to follow

Hayes stressed to Old Cars Weekly that customers need to call first before showing up at the yard. (My aforementioned unannounced arrivals are a testament to his request). Hayes added that he will make every effort to be at the yard to accommodate potential customers who are traveling through Kansas on a tight schedule and who call first.

No customers are allowed in the yard unless accompanied by Hayes. Car clubs are welcome to make an appointment to tour the yard, but will also be chaperoned.

Hayes has no computerized inventory, but has thorough knowledge of what’s in inventory, including random parts in the several outbuildings on the property. He added that he does not crush vintage vehicles unless they are too far gone to donate parts.

To contact the yard, call 620-878-4620, or use postal mailing address: Hayes Auto Salvage, Highway 50, Florence, KS 66851.

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