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Kessler's Auto Salvage: Northern Wisconsin’s parts source for 30 years

Rice Lake yard still going strong
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A candidate for restoration, this 1954 Hudson Jet Liner
sedan is near complete and a car not often seen outside
of Hudson gatherings.

For anyone having spent time in northern Wisconsin, outdoor activities that most likely come to mind are hunting, fishing and, in the cold weather months, skiing and snowmobiling. While these pasttimes are highly promoted in tourism brochures, what may be overlooked is a hunting activity of a different sort — that being the search for old car parts.

One of the prime spots for this automotive activity is located in Earl, Wis. A small community located just off Highway 53 between Rice Lake and Superior, Earl is home to Kessler’s Auto Salvage. The 40-acre yard contains “several thousand vehicles,” according to Ernie Kessler who, along with his wife Wanda, operate the business, which they started in 1980.

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One of the more rare cars in the yard is this “sharknose”
1939 Graham Combination Coupe (top). It has no
drivetrain, but the steering wheel (bottom) includes a
“necker knob.”

“We brought every car in here,” Kessler told Old Cars Weekly. He said he was not sure about the total number of vehicles in the yard, but was confident the aformentioned several thousand was not hype. He also stressed that the mix of vintage vs. modern leaned toward older comprising a greater percentage of his inventory. Within the vintage category, the majority are 1940s to ’70s, but examples going back to the 1920s remain.

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In fact, one of the first cars to be seen upon entering the driveway leading into the yard is what remains, according to Kessler, of a 1927 Pontiac roadster. Missing some body panels, enough of the car exists to offer someone a challenging restoration project.

Parked out front of the main yard, this rusty tanker
truck acts as the “sign” that you’ve arrived at Kessler’s
Auto Salvage.

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Prior to spotting the Pontiac is a “landmark” on the road leading to the yard that acts as the business sign, only it’s a truck. A tanker truck to be exact. The dented and rusted tanker has “Kessler’s Salvage” painted on its doors to alert customers to the yard’s location.

Another landmark to let customers know they’ve arrived is the “boneyard” located across the street from Kessler’s Auto Salvage. Its name is the Earl Cemetery.

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Wanda and Ernie Kessler have operated Kessler’s Auto
Salvage in Earl, Wis., since 1980. The 1965 Ford
Thunderbird hardtop behind them is one of cars in
inventory that is for sale.

When Old Cars Weekly asked Kessler what prompted him to start a salvage yard, he responded, “I’ve been interested in cars all my life, so owning a salvage yard is a natural progression.”

He and Wanda have been married for 42 years, and she handles many of the administrative tasks of the business while Ernie makes sure there is plenty of inventory for old car enthusiasts to purchase or acquire parts from.

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Oldsmobile construction reached two-million in 1941,
and this four-door sedan was one of the 270,040 cars
built that model year. It’s missing some glass, but
otherwise is complete, including its unique grille.

“I’m a bloodhound for old cars,” Kessler explained to Old Cars Weekly, recalling several stories of locating and rescuing cars from the woods of northern Wisconsin. Among the vintage inventory brought to the yard are several noteworthy work trucks. One is a tall-cabbed 1925 International that may have been involved in the local logging industry. Another is a 1940s “Job Rated” Dodge H Model that, according to Kessler, who lifted the truck’s hood to prove his point, came factory equipped with dual carburetors.

Kessler also made mention of a 1952 Ford work truck that he still has, that was one of his original yard vehicles when he started in business in 1980.

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Rare and complete, this 1958 Dodge Sierra station
wagon has lots of potential as a restoration project as
a family hauler.

You make the call
Kessler stressed to Old Cars Weekly that it’s important for customers to call the yard first to make sure it will be staffed. He has two employees that will help customers with parts removal or retrieval of vehicles from the yard. He added that there is no parts removal from vintage vehicles allowed by customers.

Vintage vehicles are sold whole, but only on a bill of sale. Vehicles in inventory are mainly staged in rows throughout the yard, grouped somewhat by manufacturer, but exceptions abound. The yard is mainly divided into one section for vintage vehicles, with cars and trucks separate (again, with exceptions) and one section for modern vehicles. Kessler said he has the equipment needed to extract vehicles for loading onto customers’ trailers.

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Aside from this 1973 Chevrolet El Camino SS pickup,
the muscle car inventory has been depleted from Kessler’s
Auto Salvage over the past few years.

The terrain of the yard is mostly flat, divided into sections that are heavily wooded while other portions are open and treeless. Pathways and aisles exist throughout most of the yard, but there are areas where vehicles are parked tightly together with minimal clearance, or access is hampered by trees.

One of several unique aspects of Kessler’s Auto Salvage is the large number of complete or near complete vintage vehicles from which parts removal is prohibited. Another is the depth of independent-manufactured cars. Among the “indie” ranks found in the rows are AMC, Graham, Hudson, Kaiser, Nash, Packard, Studebaker and Willys. In addition, other uncommon finds included several vintage stock cars that raced at the bull rings of northern Wisconsin and a Cadillac/Miller funeral car that sports a distinct oval viewing window in its “cargo” area.

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While muscle cars are all but vanished from the yard,
this 1968 Dodge Coronet hardtop has the lines of a
performance car. It’s dinged up, but could be the right
project for an ambitious restorer.

Road trip to Earl
While Kessler’s Auto Salvage maintains regular business hours, Old Cars Weekly reminds potential customers to call first before making the trip to Earl to make sure the yard will be open. This also is the requirement for any car club wanting to make a group stop to tour the yard. Call first for an appointment.

To contact the yard, call 715-635-8048 or 715-416-0616, or use postal mailing address: Kessler’s Auto Salvage, W4451 Cty. Rd. E, Trego, WI 54888.

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Old vs. independent: The most veteran car in the yard
(top) is this 1927 Pontiac roadster that is currently a
jigsaw puzzle needing its pieces put back together.
(Bottom) A massive 1946 Hudson sedan is near complete
with a finish that resembles partially dried concrete.

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Independent vs. unique: A donor quality sun visor
protects the interior of this (top) 1951 Kaiser sedan
that’s missing most of its glass, but has solid body panels.
(Bottom) A Cadillac/Miller funeral car with a unique
oval viewing window is filled with scrap metal.

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