By Yvette VanDerBrink
We’ve all heard the saying, “one man’s junk, is another man’s treasure.” That saying is never more relevant than in the collector car hobby.
There used to be a junkyard in every town, but now with expanding cities and changes of attitudes in some generations, these old junkyards are seen as more of an eye sore rather than diamonds in the rough. Recently, there have been articles about large yards crushed out due to, tired of dealing with the public, health, loss of interest, and of course, threats from counties to “clean them up, or else.” This just breaks my heart, as it does other collectors. I’ve been in conversations with people that just don’t understand the collector hobby and salvage business in general. They have talked about that place on the outside of town with all those old cars. They will say things like, “I’d love to build on that side of town, but will a wild raccoon come out of those cars and bite my kids?” "It is such an eyesore and I’m sure it will devalue my property if I build there.” As a broker, yes, there may be some truth about a fancy house near a salvage yard, but for the love of God, a raccoon has more to do than trying to bite kids while they are playing. I’ve played and worked with old cars all my life and never has a raccoon tried to bite me or attack me for that matter. They were just minding their own business'...eating interiors!
What some people don’t realize that this isn’t just about old cars, but history that is being crushed. Trust me, there is a point where cars need to be recycled, and it’s after they no longer have usefulness or effectiveness. It’s a hard truth. But these old yards hold many parts that restorers need to finish their projects. Not everything is reproduced, and many times the reproduction just doesn’t fit. Also, it is not cost effective to reproduce parts that only a few in the market are looking for, but at the same time, the supply of original parts is drying up. I know for a while the only way to get a center console for a 1965 Chevelle four-speed was to find an original. Luckily, there is now a reproduction on the market for a hobbyist to buy. With our 1941 Ford 2dr. Sedan, there still are a few pieces that we need and cannot buy aftermarket. This is after my husband, who I feel is a genius, made some body panels from an army barrel. Think of all those garnishes, cranks, and dash clusters, headlight bezels, radiator shells, butterfly hoods, and miles of trim that are being destroyed and lost. While we are losing all these parts, the industry is also losing patterns for reproductions too. Where are people going to find them? The only places to find these parts are at old salvage yards and private sales. I think of them like organ donors. They gave up their little automotive lives so that a collector-hobbyist could use their parts for their resurrected ride.
I had a collector several years ago that was being fined and pressured by Minnehaha County in South Dakota to clean up his old cars. I didn’t see a problem with them hidden off the road and away from any other people. But the county wanted it cleaned up and stated it was a breeding ground for rodents and an eyesore for travelers along HWY 42. I called and wrote to the county on behalf of the owner and stated that we need to save these Mopars and fabulous finned cars and would sell them and use some of the proceeds to clean up the yard. We had an auction with a time limit stipulation. We also contracted an excavation company to clean up after the auction. We saved some cars, got the seller out of the fines, cleaned up the property, and put some money in his pocket. I also made a lifelong car friend.
He wasn’t the only person that we helped, but several widows as well. Most of the time, it’s the women that outlive the men. We helped a window in North Dakota last year, with fabulous results. She had a problem with all of her husband’s cars. She needed to free up the buildings to sell them. An auction was a great solution. I just had a call this morning from Meryl. He was looking to buy out a yard from a lady whose husband was sick. It had several thousand cars with old inventory also. He was asking about the process and theory of selling out old yards. I was explaining what we do usually for the old cars, and my philosophies on the industry, and in the middle of the conversation, he said, “are you married? I could sure use a car gal like you.” Well, I explained I had a big Dutchman at home, but thanks for the offer. I’ll do a lot to save those old cars, but marriage I don’t believe is in that equation.
When I started in the auction business I sold a lot of older yards, and still do. I worked to save them instead of seeing the classics crushed. I had one of the crushers start to call me the "Salvage Princess," because I was saving so many old cars. So I guess if part of my pledge is to save parts of the old car kingdom, I’ll take that distinction. So remember as you are driving by some of those diamonds in the rough, they aren’t junkyards, but treasures waiting to be found.
If you know of a yard that may be in jeopardy or an older collection that needs to be resurrected, give us a call. We’re here to save history.
Yvette VanDerBrink- The Salvage Princess