During a large portion of the 1980s I entered the domain of the wrecking yard.
Known to some as a salvage yard or the high-falutin’ Recycling & Salvage Facility and to others as merely a junk yard the main goal was usually the same; obtain cars and trucks not cost-effective to be rebuilt or repaired and sell parts off them to be used to repair vehicles still worthy of spending money upon.
The repairable car may have been recently wrecked and is being worked on by a professional body shop or for-profit repair facility or by somebody working at home or a hundred other scenarios.
Our “yard” in the east bay area of the much larger San Francisco (SF) Bay area delivered a lot of parts to area repair shops of all types. From vehicle dealerships to one-man small garages and the whole gamut in-between.
We also delivered throughout the entire SF Bay area from San Jose to small towns 30 miles to the north; reserving the longer treks to large expensive components such as an entire front or rear half of a car to repair a really new car an insurance company had decided not to “total.”
Generally, most of our sales included suspension pieces and/or a few sheet-metal parts such as a door and a fender or perhaps a bumper and a grill.
Basic parts were typically sold within a few miles of the yard due to their low cost and often ready availability at so many other of the multitude of wrecking yards slathered across the Bay area.
There was also a constant influx of outgo of vehicles.
“Keeper cars” were vehicles that tended to sell a lot of parts so we usually kept them around awhile. Toyota pick-ups, Camrys, Celicas and Corollas tended to sell ample parts, as long as they were not too ancient (pre-1974 or so) as did Hondas.
USA built cars and trucks were still big sellers in that period though the “foreign” makes were coming on strong.
This era was before the horde of “foreign” cars being assembled within USA-located factories, folks. This is not the place to cover the multitude of details regarding the many changes occurring over the USA during that period and still writhing akin to a headless snake today what with the multitude of changes regarding the auto/truck industry since back then and today with developments ongoing.
In many ways the 1980s were still the “old days” to a certain extent in the salvage industry though computers had commenced their huge influence in newer more modern yards and the days of the “Well, look over yonder around that thar’ third tree and you might be able to find that steerin’ knuckle thereabouts, y’all” days.
Our yard was a relatively early adopter of a computerized parts interchange used to determine what parts from various models fit on other model cars.
Here is but one of a humongous horde of examples.
The Toyota 24R engine was with a few relatively minor exceptions the same engine found in the Celica and Corona: 1975-1978.
Oh, sure, perhaps a carburetor and its linkage may be different but just use to one off your existing vehicle and you’re good to go. Wheeeeee!!!
GMC cars… many models shared the same suspension components, brakes, a BIG bunch of stuff.
A rather complicated mix and match with non-computerized yards using HUGE books of printed interchange information.
Our computer also included an inventory system for parts that had entered the yard along with parts saved and stored for future sales.
Egads! I could spend days, weeks, eons trying to explain it all.
But I am not going to even attempt that.
I will tell y’all about one lovely spring morning.
The birds were chirping and the parts salespeople were selling and the parts-pullers were pulling parts and I was doing whatever needed doing as the resident nut willing to perform the inventory control job.
I also assisted in selling parts in person and over the phone. Along with making some deliveries; especially the long-distance deliveries since I was known to return at the end of the day… eventually. Unlike some of the others who tended to become lost for various reasons.
Before I can continue the tale I must include a factoid.
At times space was scarce. Incoming cars would exceed the outgo that consisted of vehicles being all to partially stripped down of saleable parts then crushed then piled atop a flatbed truck for transport to the firm alongside the San Francisco Bay where the vehicles were processed further then really squashed flat for shipping to the orient where the metal was recycled and turned into toasters and other goodies destined for a retailer near you.
That’s right! Grandpa’s old Buick may be in that toaster sitting upon the shelf in your friendly local S-Mart.
Until room was freed up in the confines of the yard incoming cars would rest in peace in the front parking lot, upon the dead-end street in front of the yard or anywhere else we could pile incoming stuff.
The best cars that we paid for at auto auctions, etc. usually went right to the back for maximum protection from thieves.
Common vehicles. “Throw away” cars we usually hauled off for free removing, at most, perhaps an engine or transmission IF it was in decent shape and would sell within a few months at most, often would sit out front for days, maybe even weeks.
Mid-sized GMC, Ford and Dodge/Plymouth vehicles were often so common with our yard already holding a large stockpile of disassembled suspension components, engines/transmissions, brakes, radiators, etc. that it was not unusual to haul one of those cars off and the only profit came from its value in the weight of scrap metal it held.
From the ground to our smashing as flat as we could, piling it on top of the flatbed truck then off to the city/port 20-plus miles away.
The old guy entered. “I need an alternator for my Oldsmobile.”
The boss, also an “old guy,” followed the routine he had followed for so many years; to the point he had the interchange memorized for many parts. Especially for USA cars built the prior 30-or-so years.
“’83, 350, black-plug style.”
The customer knew what he was doing, also.
Looking out the front window the Boss said to nobody in particular, “That Buick over there should have the right alternator. I’ll have one of the pasts pullers grab it for you.”
One was handy having just brought up a requested part and having heard the Boss scampered over, quickly removed the alternator and brought it back to the office where the Boss sold it for $35 with a three-month verbal warranty and off went the customer.
Another happy customer.
Sure unlike folks who so often have to fork over hundreds of dollars for today’s new-fangled parts.
And life went on.
The telephone constantly ringing.
Sales people looking into our inventory and attempting to meet local demands for hard-to-find rare parts by using one nifty aspect of our computer and communication links… looking inside the inventories of other yards scattered across the USA.
At times we shipped rare parts across the USA, even the world as we did from other distant yards to meet local needs.
Sure, the buyer paid but some folks were willing to pay the price, especially if restoring a rare car.
Anyway, the hours passed when a rather disgruntled broad-shouldered fellow stomped in growling, “Some low-life SOB stole my alternator!!!”
“You don’t say,” the Boss replied. That is low.”
Yeah!!!! If I caught the guy who did that…..”
The Boss asked what car was his and he pointed at the Buick across the street and grumbled the parking lot at the dairy next door was full and he had to park out there and that’s what he got for his firm being to cheap to provide enough parking for its workers (it was a distribution center that delivered products to local grocery stores).
“That is a damn shame,” the Boss agreed and called for a parts puller via the microphone that relayed t\his amplified voice out into the yard.
The same parts-puller who had grabbed the alternator from what the Boss thought was one of our cars across the street; the one now needing one to replace the one present earlier, appeared and the Boss, back turned to the disgruntled chap, raised his eyebrows as he told the puller to find one in our yard that would do the job,
“Sure, boss” and out the side door he flew.
In a few minutes he returned… “Here’s a purdy’ one, Boss. Looks almost new!!!”
“Well, jump over there and help this fellow out. Heck, he’s a neighbor. Works right next door to us!!!”
The rather surprised “customer” followed and returned once discovering the part fit and appeared to work as it should.
Returning he asked what he owed us.
“Oh heck, you’re a neighbor. No charge. Glad we could help out,” the Boss declared.
The guy gushed his “Thanks” and off he went, motoring happily away.
After he left the Boss looked at all present, all aware of what had transpired that day and said;
“I think we just made a new friend.”
Just another day in the oft-times boring, sometimes exciting, life of a “junkyard dog.”