A Family Legacy
Friendliness Drives Business at Erie Auto Salvage
Steve Miller, Joshua Miller, Shawna Miller, Ken Miller and Jim Shapard.
PHOTO BY: WWW.JOEKELLYPHOTOGRAPHY.COM
When the local high school needs a car as a prop for their school musical, they go to Erie Auto Salvage. When the local fire department needs a car to practice on, they head to Erie Auto. And when customers all over want a friendly face and a warm reception, they, too, turn to Erie Auto. This Colorado yard is known for its friendliness, community spirit and, importantly, having the right part.
“We are extremely friendly people,” said Ken Miller, president of Erie Auto Salvage, Inc. “In fact, friendliness is probably our greatest asset. I’ll go out of my way to sit and talk to people. If they have a problem on the highway, I’ll help them out. A lot of our return customers tell us that we were so nice the last time that they had to come back to see if we have the part.”
Ken enjoys cars almost as much as people, and at one time used to race. A former construction worker, he was out one night putting in a couple of motors at a local recycling yard. He looked around and thought it was a great place to raise four kids. He purchased the place, ultimately building a family legacy at Erie Auto Salvage.
He has been at the helm of the business for nearly 44 years now. Originally, it was located in Erie, Colorado, and it kept its name even when the zoning bumped it over to nearby Dacono. Twelve years ago, the 48-acre yard also lost an acre when the government decided to widen the highway, I-25, which runs along the front of the business. Through all of the changes, Ken has persevered. At age 80, he’s still active in the business every day.
It continues to be a family affair with Ken’s son Steve as the head of the yard, and most recently his grandson, Joshua joining the business following his recent college graduation. “Joshua is very smart,” Ken said proudly. “He redid our website. He’s helping out wherever he can. Recently, he delivered a 1931 Buick body to a guy in California.”
Joshua grew up in the business, just as his father Steve before him. “The kids worked here from the time they were old enough to help out,” noted Ken. “When they were learning to drive, they would bring their friends here to practice. I used to tell them that if they hit anything, they’d owe me $5. They turned out to be great drivers.”
The yard at Erie Auto Salvage is filled with parts and vehicles as you might imagine. But it’s also got horses and sheep in the summertime. “They eat the vegetation,” explained Ken. “I have a fun time taking people down to see them. I grew up on a ranch and so I like to have them around.”
Parts For All Vehicles
Erie Auto Salvage carries parts for cars, trucks and even motor homes. The latter was an “accident,” according to Ken. “One of my customers needed to get rid of some stuff,” he said. “I thought it was exciting. It turned out that tearing them down is very expensive. You’d be amazed how much I sell. People are building their own camper trailers and want windows and doors.”
In addition to motor homes, the yard carries more traditional parts and vehicles. The inventory starts at about 10 years old and continue back into the late 1930’s. Its classic parts are especially in demand because they’re hard to come by. “One of the things that is a commodity right now seems to be the tailgate of old pickups,” he said. “People take them and make benches out of them. I once sold the front end of an old Volkswagen bug to be installed against a café wall for decoration.”
The business sells all over the country, and sometimes overseas. “There was a customer in Germany who had a hood blow up on his ’52 Chevy,” remembered Ken. “He couldn’t find any place in Europe that had it, so we boxed it up and shipped it over to him.”
The business’ reputation has earned it generations of customers. “People will say my grandfather used to come here,” said Ken. “Or my dad used to come here. Now they’re the one coming here, and we have to work to earn their business so they’ll continue to buy parts from us.”
Of course, Erie Auto Salvage doesn’t just stop with its customers. It’s important to Ken and the family to give back to the community. “We do a lot of props for school plays,” he said. “Sometimes it’s old wheels; recently, we pulled out an engine and provided a fiberglass car for Grease. We also worked with the fire department to provide a car for a group of special needs children who wanted to ride in a parade. You should have seen the eyes — the size of saucers — on those kids when they saw that car. It makes it all worthwhile.”
A couple of years ago, Ken was approached by a group shooting a program to air on the Weather Channel. “They were going to make a jeep run on wood smoke, and asked if they could use our property,” said Ken, who gave them permission. “It was a lot of fun. I remember it being very cold that day, maybe zero or below. But we got some business when the show aired, because they showed our sign.”
As for the future, Ken is looking forward to continuing the family legacy with his grandson ultimately at the helm. In the meantime though, he’s looking forward to teaching Joshua how to build his first hot rod. “We build cars all the time here,” he said, “but that will be something special.”