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Stumpy’s Station – “The Junkyard” Part Two

May 6th, 2013 · No Comments

Last time we learned what cars of the twenties through early sixties looked like as manufactured. This time, we’ll step through the gate of a small junkyard typical of the early sixties. Being a “Car Guy” of that era, I was a denizen of the junkyards of the day while looking for parts to restore old cars, build hot rods, or keep Stock Cars running. About ten years ago, I built a small O scale junk yard for a modular club I was in.
Most yards were known as “Mom & Pop” operations. They were far smaller and less business–like than today’s yards! Today’s salvage yard operators will not let you into the yard at all, but you go to a building and ask for parts like a common auto parts store. And you pay a high price for that as well.
Not so in the sixties. In fact if you wanted a part, “Pa” (often in scruffy overalls or blue jeans and dirty t-shirt, would tell you where cars were that had such parts. Sometimes he had a similarly dressed “helper” with fewer functioning brain cells. You carried your own toolbox into the yard and took the parts off yourself! Back at the gate, you’d haggle over a price with “Pa,” and then pay “Ma” at the shack at the gate. Sometimes she would even give you a receipt!
Most yards were surrounded by either a high board or corrugated steel fence with tall weeds growing along it. There was always a gate with a small building of some kind, and not far from it was a garage building, shed, or lean-to, where car stripping was done, bumpers, body parts, and tires stacked, or yard equipment was kept. This structure was generally built like a pole building using the same material as the fence, but sometimes an old barn or other permanent building had been taken over.
Usually, there was a set of cutting torches, a big work bench, and a wall with tools hanging on it. Various jacks and large wood blocks (bits of railroad ties were VERY popular) were nearby to lift and hold up cars.
Junkyard machinery was usually an old farm tractor, a pick up truck at least ten years old, and a “Pole Truck.” The “Pole Truck” (in this era was generally a WWII military surplus “six by”) truck with the bed gone and a tripod of steel pipe welded on. A winch behind the cab supplied a cable that went up over the top of the tripod and ended in a hook. It was a home built “wrecker” to drag and lift cars.
Pavement was virtually non-existent inside the gate. Often, there would be slag or gravel around the gate and building, but otherwise the grounds were just hard packed dirt.
Cars that had been there a long time and were pretty well “picked clean” had tall weeds around them and were generally solid rust in color, their paint long stripped by years exposed to sun, wind, rain, and so on. Often they were missing the hood, which was probably the first thing to go so that the engine could be more easily reached. The interiors were had long rotted away because the windows and doors were open or gone.
More “active” cars would generally be surrounded by trampled, dusty ground. They’d be missing wheels or blocked up with those wheels, concrete blocks, or old railroad ties. The hood would be ajar, up, or gone, as would doors, trunk, and windows. Headlights were prized as were taillight lenses, so the fenders had blank holes where those parts had been.
Cars were usually stripped randomly, depending on what parts were needed. Mechanical parts were the most common thing to go first, but front fenders and hoods would sometimes sell quickly as well because most auto accidents damage the front end. Sometimes the entire “front clip” would be gone; hood, fenders, bumper, and radiator support. The rest of the car would be there, with chassis and engine exposed!
Cars could be found on their sides so that chassis parts, transmissions, gas tanks, rear axles, and so on, could be more easily removed. Once in a while, there might even be one upside down! Cars stacked on top of one another was usually done in bigger yards and those cars had been well stripped before they “went on the pile.”
Glass was also a hot item. Old safety glass would turn milky or bubbles would appear between the layers of the glass as it aged. And, of course in the days before seat belts, victims would strike or go through windshields and other windows even in minor accidents. Good glass was always in demand.
Wandering a junkyard was a great lesson in automotive engineering, history, and how cars crumpled in accidents. It could be a real education while you got parts cheap.

Stumpy Stone

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