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Kuhn's Pennsylvania salvage collection

Patience and persistence required
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One of the more solid cars in the collection is this 1966 Plymouth
Belvedere II hardtop. It’s missing some external cosmetic
components, but otherwise ranks as a prime parts donor or
ambitious restoration project.

Two hours prior to my arrival there, I didn’t even know Roger Kuhns’ collection of salvage vehicles existed. Once on the property housing the large collection and upon surveying the dormant inventory and jungle-like confines, I surmised that most old car hobbyists also have no clue that it exists, either. Unfortunately, many hobbyists who might want to see this scrambled collection of vintage iron that resides in the hills outside Penns Creek, Pa. — and is well on its way to being reclaimed by Mother Earth — will not get that chance.

To make sense of that last statement, I need to retrace my journey to this yard, and how it almost did not happen.

There are several early- to mid-1960s Chevrolet hardtops scattered
about the property, including this ’63 Impala that sports donor-
quality chrome pieces and interior items. Rust has invaded most
of the car’s sheet metal.

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While touring a more northern salvage yard in central Pennsylvania, the owner of that business, Earl, recalled an interesting story about what he had encountered eight years earlier, stemming from a call to retrieve scrap metal. Routine sounding, it turned out to be anything but that.

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The collection includes several two-door station wagons from
different manufacturers. One example is this rusty but complete
six-passenger 1955 Ford Custom Ranch Wagon with sliding glass
in the rear side window assembly.

At a time when scrap metal prices were stagnant, Earl said he and his crew retrieved $20,000 worth of accumulated washers and dryers from a wooded hilltop, and that was only a small part of the scrap that filled the acreage. In addition, Earl remembered that scattered between the piles of washing machines, I-beams and galvanized sheeting were old cars and trucks. Intact, many old cars and trucks, some going back to prewar vintage.

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Trees growing through and around long-parked salvage vehicles
is common. This 1961 Plymouth Suburban station wagon has been
parked long enough for the tree in the background to actually
encase the rear brake drum assembly before sprouting to the sky.
Some of the stacking of cars mentioned in the story is visible behind.

Hearing a story such as Earl’s always gets my “yard radar” pulsing. Asking if he could tell me how to get to this collection, Earl hesitated. He warned me that the collection didn’t seem to be run as a normal salvage yard with hours of operation and access to it by the public. He also cautioned that in the span of days he and his crew spent there clearing the washers and dryers, he only actually had contact with Roger Kuhns for a few minutes upon their arrival. From that point on, Kuhns was absent (or at least unseen).

Many of the cars in the collection are beyond restoration, but each
offers a range of donor-quality parts or is an interesting model.
Two examples are this (above) 1946 Chevrolet Fleetline Aerosedan
and (below) ’57 Mercury Monterey Phaeton Coupe (two-door
hardtop). Production totaled 57,932 and 42,199, respectively.

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Undaunted by these hurdles, Earl proceeded to direct me to the hilltop collection via a host of landmarks he remembered from his eight-years-prior scrap metal run.

My initial excitement was tempered by the fact that eight years had passed since Earl’s time among the collection. He had had no further contact with Roger Kuhns since that time, and was somewhat leery that the list of landmarks he mentioned was sufficient for me to locate the collection once I arrived at Penns Creek.

Knowing I struggle just to remember my own cell phone number, Earl’s directions were amazing in their being spot on. This aside from a gravel road that had, in the interim, been reconfigured and paved. Once I sorted out that change, it was only a matter of minutes until I located Kuhns’ property. That’s when my real problems started.

A triangular remnant of a beauty fence wedged into a tree and a
“Keep Out” sign haven’t worked to prevent vandals from entering
and smashing glass on some of the vehicles in the collection. The
car being “protected” is a 1950 Hudson sedan.

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Kuhns’ salvage collection is located on the north side of Hackenberg Road and the vehicles are not visible from the road. The owner lives on the opposite side. Because there are goats that roam freely on the homestead, the property is surrounded by a fence. That fence is quite a distance from the house. It’s also kept locked. Heeding Earl’s warning that the owner was hard to pin down, I exhausted every option short of trespassing to find a way to make contact with Kuhns.

Not willing to trespass, I aborted the plan and drove on down the road disappointed.

I can’t actually say why, but something made me stop and reconsider, at least to the point of going back and waiting an hour or so to see if Kuhns might actually make an appearance outside. In a case of dumb luck, as I returned, a care provider pulled up to the property and had access to Kuhns’ house. After introducing myself, she agreed to take me to the house and alert Kuhns I was there.

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Downed or smashed windows and popped-open hoods and decklids
haven’t done any favors to this 1970 Chevrolet Malibu (above).

The reason I mention all this detail is that anyone else wanting to tour this collection with the intent of salvaging parts or whole cars may have to jump through similar hoops to make it happen. My short conversation with Roger Kuhns will explain why.

Upon meeting Kuhns, he explained that he has a medical condition that prevents him from being hands-on with his salvage collection business. It’s a business, according to Kuhns, that was handed down to him from his father, John T. Kuhns.

“My dad’s been junking all of his life. It began as a hobby, but became a business.” He added, “He started the collection in the early 1950s.” Asked about the size of the collection, Kuhns joked, “If dad [could have] had 100 acres, he would have filled 100 acres.”

Not able to converse for long, Kuhns said he wants to sell the cars and parts in his collection to help pay medical bills, but those wanting to view what’s in inventory must adhere to the following rules:
Only one person on the property at any given time.

No tools are to be taken onto the property nor part(s) removed without first gaining Kuhns’ permission and a price agreed on and paid prior to the part(s) being removed.

Kuhns said he has no titles for the vehicles in the collection, nor any means of extracting vehicles from the property. He also has no list of what inventory exists nor what parts are available on each vehicle.

In my route through the property, I took the path of least resistance. It still was a sweat-soaked, several-hour adventure to tour the entire collection, this on a cool October afternoon. Since there has been no regular traffic through the collection, whatever aisles or lanes once existed have long grown over with deep grass. The property is also quite hilly in spots, and filled with large trees.

There is no structure as to how vehicles are staged on the property, so it’s what I’ll loosely describe as “pick-up sticks in a maze” layout. Add in random piles of scrap of every conceivable object made of metal and toss in the danger factor of cars stacked unevenly two and three high in places — and not always right side up — and it becomes evident that only serious parts hunters might want to consider this collection as a source for the parts they need.

The most significant drawback, as Kuhns mentioned in his rules, is that anyone interested in obtaining a whole vehicle from the collection must have his own means of extraction. How to get a towing rig to many of the vehicles wedged deep into the property is something that would leave even a physics expert scratching his head.

In truth, the majority of the vehicles in this collection are probably beyond restoration. That’s not a slight, but rather the reality of them lying on the wet ground and annually getting blanketed by wet falling leaves and/or crunched by falling tree limbs, which has done a lot of damage. Kuhns also said that vandals have invaded the property and have smashed much of the glass in the vehicles that was originally salvageable.

But many of the cars in the collection are rare models or body styles, and as parts donors they remain the real deal. Vintage convertibles still have their top bows, two-door station wagons still have their unique panels and trim and many of the vehicles still have complete engines and transmissions.

The bulk of the vehicles appear to be 1950s- and ’60s-era models. As previously mentioned, there is a minority representing other decades ranging from the 1920s to as modern as the 1990s. Interesting makes in the inventory include Hudson, many early Plymouths, many finned Mopar products, early Fords and a Willys station wagon.

Anyone wanting to view the collection should dress appropriately. A hat, long-sleeved shirt and heavy jeans are recommended. Thick-soled boots are essential for climbing over piled-up scrap objects and downed tree limbs, but mainly to avoid puncture wounds in case of stepping on something sharp hidden in the deep grass (and most likely rusty, too: If you get lockjaw, you can’t tell your buddies about the great parts you found!).

For anyone interested in searching for parts in this collection, the only contact information available is Roger Kuhns’ home address and phone number: Roger Kuhns, 706 Hackenberg Rd., Middleburg, PA 17842, 570-837-5430.

Editor’s Note: Please be respectful of Kuhns’ health issues and keep any phone calls brief and to the point. Also, the rules spelled out by Kuhns in the article are firm. No exceptions will be granted.

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