Passion Drives Classic Salvage Yards



Recycled auto parts are more accessible now than ever before. There are millions of late-model parts available at thousands of auto recycling facilities across the United States. Call one of these facilities and if it doesn’t have the part, it can find it and have it to the customer in days. Classic and restoration parts are a completely different matter. Classic yards, those that specialize in classic parts, are a different animal from late-model yards.

“One of the biggest differences is obviously the age of the inventory,” explained Trent Browne, owner of Browne & Sons Auto & Truck Salvage, a classic specialist facility in Sunset, Texas. “A classic yard is also much more interesting. There is so much history there, with a late-model yard it is just common everyday stuff."

“Anybody with good business skills can succeed in late-model salvage but in classic salvage, you almost need to grow up in it,” said Dan Stafford, owner of Dan’s Garage in Kennewick, Wash. (www.dansgarage.net).

Browne also said the passion has to be there to save these classic vehicles. “The parts are continually going up in value and getting harder to find as more are falling into the hands of the ‘wrong’ kind of yards. I find that most that run late-model yards don’t really seem to be car people, they are just in the business because it’s good money.”

Late-model facilities track parts differently, store them differently and acquire inventory differently than a classic specialist. A late-model facility relies on salvage auctions for inventory, but classic specialists need to do a little more detective work. Stafford relies on estate sales, divorces, property cleanups for code enforcements, repossessions and bankruptcies to find vehicles.

“My inventory is acquired in all sorts of ways. Some of it was acquired years ago when it was cheaper to get. Now with the price of steel up, no one lets anything go for cheap anymore,” said Browne. “Because I deal in the old stuff I tend to hear about lots of deals everywhere. I also try to attend old car auctions, scan Craigslist and I am steadily trying to save these vehicles from the scrap metal yards.”

Both Browne and Stafford said they don’t use a computerized inventory for their yards. “Everything is in my head. I know every car in the yard,” said Browne. Most modern, computerized inventory systems only deal with vehicles from 1965 to newer anyway so many classics don’t fit those parameters. But another reason is because, unlike a late-model facility, many classic parts aren’t removed, or dismantled, from the vehicle.

Dan’s Garage sits on close to three acres. There is not enough space to warehouse parts. So many vehicles are brought in as hulks, with only a few salvageable parts. Browne & Sons Auto & Truck Salvage does store loose parts, but Browne prefers to keep the vehicles in-tact. “I will store parts if something has to come off when something else is pulled. But I don’t just pull parts, just to pull them because I believe they need to stay with the vehicle they belong to until they are sold,” added Browne.

That means if a customer needs a classic part, it’s best to call or visit the facility. Both facilities rely on local customers and word-of-mouth advertising, along with advertising in The Locator. Customers include enthusiasts, body shops and restorers. “I also have an automated parts request service that comes through my email,” added Browne. “My name has been posted on lots of different old car forums over the years from many of my customers. I don’t really have a store front here where my place is, but everyone local knows where I am. I do pretty good I must say.”

Both Browne and Stafford stand by their parts. If they say the part will fit, they will guarantee it, or replace it. But, that’s it. “It’s really hard to warranty a 50-year-old part,” explained Stafford.

It may be more of a challenge to run a classic auto recycling facility, but both Browne and Stafford said they wouldn’t have it any different.

“I decided that I wanted to run a classic yard years ago when I was very young,” said Browne. “I have always had a great passion for the old cars and trucks and just generally love being around it all. I feel so proud when something fresh comes into the yard. It’s just one more classic vehicle to call my own, no matter what the condition.”

“I grew up around my dad’s antique car hobby projects,” explained Stafford. Apparently, it was meant to be. “The caption under my high school graduation picture reads, ‘Plans to own a junkyard.’”

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