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Junkyard treasures in Kansas

The Junkyard Dog has been out roaming the country again. This time, The Dog, aka Ron Kowalke, turned up in the northwest corner of Kansas, where he found that Wagoner & Sons Colby Wrecking Yard has anchored the local business landscape for almost 70 years.

Old Cars Weekly Auction/Technical
Editor Ron Kowalke is our resident
'junkyard dog', with a nose for salvage
yard treasures. His hunt recently took
him to Kansas.

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Colby is one of the larger cities that anchors the northwest corner of Kansas. In that city, Wagoner & Sons Colby Wrecking Yard has anchored the local business landscape for almost 70 years.

A family-run operation since 1940, the salvage yard is currently owned by the three Wagoner brothers: Chuck, Dave and Paul. During my recent visit to the yard, Dave Wagoner was manning the office while his son-in-law Josh Schwarz was kind enough to give me a tour of the large yard via a pickup. That was much appreciated, as I needed the truck’s heater to continually “defrost” both my camera and my fingers as the early morning outside windchill temperature was only three degrees.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure sums up
this Cadillac. The 1957 four-door hardtop appears
almost good enough to drive away.

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I was able to piece together the history of the yard from bits of information I got from both Wagoner and Schwarz during varying points of my visit. Wagoner told me his late father Greg purchased a Colby scrap iron business one year prior to the outbreak of World War II. Once war was declared, according to Wagoner, the need for scrap metal to produce munitions was so urgent that his father was not drafted into military service so he could keep the salvage business operating for the war effort.

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Most likely the oldest vehicle in the yard is what
remains of this vintage Chevrolet. It appears to
have partially survived a run-in with a tornado.

Answering my question about what interesting cars might have been in the yard during those early years, Wagoner responded, “During the war, Dad cut up lots of 1932-’34 Fords.” He added that on one occasion during those early years, his father remembered a 1932 Cadillac V-16 being driven into the yard and that it also, due to the government’s mandate on munitions priority, got cut up for the wartime scrap drive.

“He was always interested in cars,” Wagoner said of his father. So it comes as no surprise that in the early days, when new customers called the business and asked how to get to the “junkyard,” the elder Wagoner gave detailed directions to the city landfill located quite a few miles from his business. When the irate customer would finally arrive at the yard, he would receive an education by Greg Wagoner on the difference between salvage cars and junk cars.

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Its V-8 is gone, but this rare 1955 Nash Ambassador
Custom sedan still sports exceptional chrome and the
potential to be returned to the road again.

Later in my visit while touring the yard, Schwarz added that the original scrap iron business that Greg Wagoner operated was located in what was then downtown Colby. Years later, according to Schwarz, the business was moved to a more remote location east of the city. Some time after that, the yard was moved once again, further east and adjacent to Highway 24. Over the years, the business grew to the point that it is currently situated on two parcels of land divided by Highway 24.

Dave Wagoner said that the business currently consists of 40 acres (both parcels) and inventory is comprised of approximately 5,000 vehicles. He estimated that 10 percent of the inventory was vintage, but while I toured the yard I’d have to debate that figure as being too conservative. My estimate after touring the north parcel of the yard would be closer to 20-25 percent vintage. And while I didn’t get into the south parcel, which is situated in a valley, a visual scan of the contents of that portion of the yard while standing on Highway 24 would place the vintage content at least equal to if not greater than that of the north parcel. No matter what the figure, the yard has a generous supply of vintage cars and trucks, and the best aspect of all this early iron is many are in complete or near complete form.
There’s a reason for the non-picked over status of the vehicles in Colby Wrecking Yard. Wagoner emphasized, “Tell your readers that we only sell whole cars. We do not sell parts [from vehicles in inventory].” Wagoner also stressed that he and his brothers do not crush any of the vintage vehicles in inventory, instead thinning the modern inventory when the yard gets too full or the price of scrap metal increases. They are content to sit on the vintage cars and trucks until the right buyer comes along, someone who wants an entire vehicle.

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One of the good number of prewar vehicles
in the yard is this mid-1930s International pickup.
It wears a license plate that was issued in 1948.

Wagoner said the business has no computerized inventory, so it’s best to contact the yard directly for what vintage vehicles are for sale. The other rule to which Wagoner said there are no exceptions is that customers are not allowed in the yard without an employee escort. This is both for insurance/safety reasons and to prevent parts from being taken off vehicles and degrading their value.
The yard’s layout is comprised of rows of same-make vehicles (with some exceptions) and spacious aisles. The terrain is mildly hilly, but overall access to the vehicles is good.

Wagoner said the bulk of vintage vehicles in inventory range from 1948 to ’54. I saw quite a few cars from the 1930s, and noted there were several coupes, both three- and five-window versions, from that decade. I also saw many cars from both the later 1950s, especially tri-Chevys, and the ’60s and ’70s.

Hours of operation at Colby Wrecking Yard are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday, 8 to 11:30 a.m. To contact the yard, call 785-462-7521 or use mailing address: Colby Wrecking Yard, P.O. Box 466, Colby, KS 67701.

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