When out exploring parts yards in Texas, I have learned to expect the unexpected.
Traveling on Highway 87 south of Shamrock, Texas — home of the famous restored art deco Conoco station on Historic Route 66 — we pulled into Wellington and found Owens Salvage Co. Inc. Greeting us was “Flat-top” Bob Owens, who basically grew up on this property. In 1964, two years before Bob was born, his father opened a combination automotive and light commercial repair station and parts yard. As a kid, Bob learned the ins and outs of the industry and really took a liking to all things mechanical. By the early 1990s, his father had spawned another successful business dealing with the sales and salvage of major industrial vehicles ranging from bulldozers and road graders to large pieces of farm equipment. As that end of the business grew, the day-to-day operation of the original yard was turned over to the son.
More than just a parts yard kid, Bob is a genuine enthusiast and on the side, he does a bit of building and some restoration work for which he has won nation-wide acclaim. He still loves vintage cars and enjoys meeting and talking with like-minded enthusiasts. After checking in and finding out the history of his business, Bob handed us the keys to the yard truck, a very tired but dependable Chevrolet Tahoe. We needed it. Spread out across 40 acres are about 1500 vehicles. Many of these cars and trucks were here when his father started the yard more than 55 years ago. Bob doesn’t believe in crushing cars, even when the price of scrap iron goes sky high, so there’s plenty of vintage iron.
“Back when the yard was just starting and into the 1970s, we did have a crusher come to the yard,” Bob said. “That is how that one car got parked out front, the blue-and-white ‘cube!’”
Bob explained that car had could not be fitted onto a load of other cars taken to the “mill,” so it has been kept around as a souvenir ever since. There are other memories from Bob’s past in the yard. We drove past a twisted and mangled wad of sheet metal and iron encased in the remains of an old oak tree. On my third pass of this wreck, I finally recognized a part: a 1958 Edsel dashboard! Getting out, I looked in amazement at how this heap of steel had gotten that way.
“The Edsel was parked in front of our house in 1969,” Bob explained. “Over the years, the oak tree kind of grew up next to the car and over the years it kind of expanded into the Edsel. I thought it was a work of nature’s art and was going to leave it like that until about 10 years ago when a tornado came to visit, hit the tree and took it and the Edsel with it! At that point I just loaded it all up and brought it to the yard where it will probably remain for decades to come.”
A few years back, Bob and his wife relocated to custom living quarters right at the parts yard. Behind the façade of junked cars they have a beautiful home, and his attached workshop is decorated and stocked with what Bob really loves: custom-built rods and a fantastic display of memorabilia. The best part for Bob is that his commute to work is just steps away.
The variety of vehicles at Owens Auto Salvage is pretty complete with a few 1940s, a good number of 1950s, plenty from the 1960s and a growing population from the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the cars come from the dry climates of the Texas Panhandle where surface rust is about the worst corrosion you might find. Over the years, many of the vehicles have been stripped clean, but as “Flat-top” Bob estimates, for every car in his yard, there are four to five others with parts from his yard that are still on the road. However, there are plenty of good parts still to be found and yes, our tools did come out of the box. And yes, we did buy a few parts for our own projects.
In addition to the cars in the field, there is rack upon rack filled with complete engines and transmissions and other sub-assemblies. “Flat-top” Bob has also acquired a large amount of NOS parts and you never know what treasures you might find here. We also checked the outdoor racks that held complete front clips (hoods, fenders, grilles, etc.) as well as complete vehicles destined for project cars.
Prices were reasonable, especially considering they are becoming harder to find, and Bob is fun to deal with. His customer base comes from around the world with daily shipments going all over the United States as well as to patrons in Europe and many of the Pacific Rim countries such as Australia, New Zealand and even Japan.
Now, about the unexpected. Sharing the field with the vintage cars are several head of cattle. At one point we spotted a mama cow making a lot of commotion. Her young calf had become entangled in a chain-link fence. My friend and I are city slickers and the only way we like our beef is medium rare. But knowing this little guy was in trouble, we set about freeing the calf. (He was a bit too rare for our taste.) Mama wasn’t too sure of our motives, but once her baby was free and able to join her, the two wandered off and we are sure she was scolding her baby about going into strange places.
Owens Salvage Co. Inc. is open six days a week. From Monday to Friday, the hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Central Time. On Saturday, “Flat-top” Bob likes to sleep in, so the doors are open from 9 a.m. and usually close around 1 p.m. He likes his evenings free so he can hang with some of his friends, a rather notorious group known in the Wellington area as the Road Rockets. This is kind of a throwback group that really loves their cars and loves driving them on Texas’ wide-open highways.
When he’s not enjoying time behind the wheel with his fellow Road Rockets, “Flat-top” Bob is active on Facebook and maintains the yard’s website at www.owenssalvage.com.
Owens Salvage Co. Inc.
3725 U.S. Hwy 83
Wellington, TX 79095
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