Proud To Be 4th Generation
PHOTO BY: WWW.PIERRESTEPHENSON.COM
It was a picturesque lake and plenty of family memories that sold Jody and Zara Harper on Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Not only did they enjoy visiting there, the couple decided it was ideal for the newest location of their family business, Harper’s Salvage, Sales & Service. Now they’re firmly entrenched in a successful enterprise that’s in a neighboring state from the original location.
You might say that Jody was raised on salvage. It certainly was his playground growing up. “My ma passed away when I was 9 months old,” he said, “and my grandparents raised me. I grew up in the salvage yard, playing around in the cars. When I was old enough to help out, I worked there too, around school.”
But it wasn’t predestined that Jody would join the business. At age 22, he was exploring other careers, and began driving a truck professionally. That’s when his world changed. “My grandma passed away and I went home to help them out,” he explained. “And the rest is history.”
The Fourth Generation
Jody and his wife Zara are now the fourth generation in this business begun by his great grandfather Clarence Harper. C.E., as he was known, started in scrap but moved into auto recycling. He was ultimately joined in the business by his son Don, Sr. and grandson, Don, Jr. By the time Jody, Don Jr.’s son, was ready to take the helm, he wanted to branch out. He was looking for a place and found it in scenic Wisconsin Dells, a favorite destination.
“My grandparents had a cabin up here and Zara’s parents liked to camp in Wisconsin Dells,” said Jody. “We would come up to visit once a month and we just fell in love with the state. We would canoe and relax by the lake. My grandparents sold their cabin before we were ready to relocate but we ended up buying one across the lake.”
Once they decided on Wisconsin Dells, the challenge was to find an auto recycler willing to sell. “Everything just fell into place as if it were meant to be,” explained Zara Harper. “I called 411 and asked for a salvage yard in Wisconsin Dells. When I got them on the phone, I simply asked if they would like to sell the business. They did, and we’ve been here since February 2007.”
Harper’s Salvage, Sales & Service has two locations in Wisconsin Dells. The first is at 3066 State Highway 13, and features 25 acres. The second is a more secluded location about a mile down the road at 3196 State Highway 13, and features 26 acres. “We filled up the first yard and so it made sense to have a second location,” said Jody.
Harper’s Salvage, Sales & Service offers vehicles starting in the 1930s and up. “The vintage vehicles have a real following,” said Jody. “We had a guy looking for a chrome steering wheel for a ’47 Fleetwood. Another guy came up from Arkansas to buy the aluminum drums off of a ’62 Buick Riviera. They don’t make that stuff anymore the way they used to.”
Customers come from all over, according to Jody, mostly from the surrounding states. But if they’re passing through to visit some of Wisconsin’s tourist attractions, such as the area water parks, they’ll stop and take a look.
Jody credits their success to “fair prices and having the parts on demand that customers want. You can’t have the clientele if you don’t have the part.” Toward that end Jody calls over daily to his dad’s yard in Illinois to source parts, and vice versa.
While it’s helpful to keep it all in the family, the business also finds parts elsewhere if needed. “These days everyone works together in the salvage business,” said Zara. “Being computerized is the best thing ever. It used to be old school; we’d send someone into the yard to look for the part. Now all yards are interlinked and we can look parts up on the computer.”
Since their arrival in Wisconsin Dells, Jody and Zara have also worked hard to be part of the community. They regularly sponsor Little League, football and wrestling teams, and Lions Club Car shows. They donate cars to the fire department for trainings. They work with the local sheriff department and the state patrol to furnish the vehicles and the location for training dogs to search for drugs, bombs or cadavers. “Our community supports our business, and it’s the least that we can do to support them,” said Jody.
Jody also works long hours to ensure the business’ success, arriving at 7:30 a.m., going home to eat dinner at 6 p.m., and then heading back to work. It’s a labor of love for him that eventually he’ll pass along to the next generation, already on the horizon. Currently, Jody’s daughter, Chelsea, manages their eBay store and Jody’s son, Zorn, helps out when he’s not at military school. There also are two grandkids. But Jody is not ready to retire just yet.
“You figure you’ll retire at some point but when you’ve been doing this your whole life, you can’t just walk away,” said Jody. “I understand now why my gramps at age 86 was still cleaning alternators and smashing cans. You have to have something to do or you get sluggish.”
“Truthfully, I never planned on the business blowing up to be this big,” added Jody. “But I’m glad that all the hard work is paying off. You don’t see too many fourth generation salvage yards; so it’s important to keep it going.”