As seen in the March 1, 2018 Old Cars Weekly issue
The Randall Watts Collection
Story and photos by Leroy Drittler
A lead pointed me to a salvage yard filled with rusty old cars and trucks parked near a shop in northeast Arkansas. Sure enough, I spotted those vehicles as I reached the intersection of State Highways 90 and 93, but there was no sign to indicate it was a commercial business. I did find a bearded man in a red wool “toboggan” and overalls who was working on a vintage tractor near the fence. I pulled to the shoulder of the road, got out, walked over and introduced myself. The man was friendly enough and after explaining that I’d like to photograph his old vehicles for a salvage yard article in Old Cars Weekly, he invited me to enter.
I circled around to the entrance where the wire gate was open. Randall Watts explained that he was raised a little ways up the road and when he was a kid, he would walk to the country grocery store that was once at this location. He would pick up glass pop bottles that people had thrown along the road, bring them to the store and collect the deposit for them. At that time, he never dreamed he would someday own the place. Watts is now using the grocery store building as a shop and for parts storage.
Watts still lives on that road, in a nearby house with a fenced-in yard decorated by three or four old metal pedal cars in the front yard. Watts said those collectable pedal cars aren’t just for decoration.
“My kids played with those pedal cars, and now my grand kids are playing with them,” he said.
Watts is a natural story teller and says he was born turning wrenches. When something broke, he’d help his dad fix it. It wasn’t long before he was fixing broken items and his dad was watching.
By the age of seven, Watts was already driving a tractor. He loved cars and trucks and was driving them by the age of 10.
“I had a $50 horse, and traded it for a $50 truck,” he said. “That was my first truck, a ’55 Ford.”
The Ford truck was followed by many other items, not just vehicles. He said he began collecting when he was very young and is a self-described hoarder. He is also a drag racer, and his mechanical skills have helped him win some races. Those skills continue to help him win races a couple times a year with a 1955 Chevy wagon.
Watts’ wife quickly became accustomed to his automotive lifestyle. On the day they met, she told him, “You wear the same cologne as my dad.” Watts replied, “I’m sorry, but I don’t wear cologne. What does it smell like?” She replied, “Well, it smells like oil, gasoline and diesel fuel.”
Not long after she and Watts were married, he took her with him to pick up a vehicle he had bought at auction. After seeing the vehicle, she asked him, “How much did you pay for that piece of junk?” He proudly replied, “Five bucks!” She told him, “I’ll give you ten bucks to leave it here.”
A few years later, Watts and his wife had a large payment coming up and Watts could see that his wife was concerned about how they were going to make the payment.
“I told her not to worry, I would take care of it.” Watts gathered up a big truckload of aluminum, copper and other metals and took them to the local recycler. He got the money to make the payment and had money left over for his wife to buy Christmas presents. At that point, Watts’ hobby was easier to justify to his significant other.
Watts accompanied me as I photographed the vehicles in his yard and told me the history of many of them. The yard is also home to various farm animals including sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, cows and a bull, some of which also accompanied us.
“I don’t think that bull will bother you as long as we are together,” Watts said with a twinkle in his eye. It was a different story with the geese, however. The birds would stiffen their necks and squawk loudly when we got near them, and as soon as we walked by, they would lunge at the back of our legs.
If the animals let you pass, Watts says nearly all of the vehicles are for sale as a unit, and parts can be removed from many of them. If it’s a small part you need and it will fit in a U.S. Post Office mailer, he will ship it. Otherwise, you need to pick it up.
Watts doesn’t keep regular business hours. When he’s there, he’ll be working in the shop or on vehicles in the yard. You can call him, but he doesn’t answer the phone during daylight hours. Leave a message and he’ll call you back, or call after dark. You can also e-mail Watts if you see something you need.
Randall Watts Collection
11143 Highway 90 West
Pocahontas, AR 72455