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Salvage Yard Crawl - Junk, Man
Maybe Fred Sanford had the right idea; and maybe you can capitalize on it
It's Friday and you are cloistered up in your office. You have the door shut, (you'd lock it if you could) lights down low, and you're trolling the internet for... parts. Of course, you may also be doing this at your palatial estate, squeezing every last bit of goodie out of your PC, sniping bids on eBay--and not winning. Frustrating, huh?
Well, buddy, we have a little secret. It's called "the real world," and somewhere out there in it there are parts for your cars. If you're lucky enough to live in areas that sport a couple of salvage yards, you could find a boon of parts. But you'll have to keep an open mind about what you find. Sometimes you'll go seeking one thing and walk out with something else.
While traditional salvage yards with their gruff and grumpy owners, and dogs that can kill you just by looking at you, are dying out or are falling prey to a cleaner, greener America and high insurance premiums, you can still find yards out in the hinterlands. You can also, if you live in a larger metro area, find the you-pull-it type yards where, oddly enough, some cool stuff will often lope onto the gravel. This is particularly true when scrap hits something more than $10 per hundred pounds, making an old, "I'm gonna do something with that" car suddenly a down payment on a new recliner.
Oddly there are places that you can jet to on your PC and get the job done. From whole cars to small parts, you can now do everything on the Net. One place that we've ventured into is All American Classics (www.allamericanclassics.com) in Vancouver, Washington. All American has a neatly set up site that lets you shop by year, make, and model. The photo selection isn't the best, but it covers so many makes it would be hard to detail every one. We imagine a call could net some nice stuff.
There is also The Desert Car Kings, or more properly known as Desert Valley Auto Parts (www.dvap.com), a yard that's the subject of a reality TV show on the Discovery Channel. It does have some pictures of cars and a few Fords, but the site isn't super complete.
For these places, all you need to do is make a phone call and they will take care of the rest. Of course, "taking care of the rest" is going to cost you a bit more than doing it yourself.
The Old Republic
There was once a place that you could go, and many of the old timers will know the place I'm talking about. "The yard" had an irascible old man running it, often with three days' growth of beard and a cruddy baseball cap. He sat in a un-air conditioned building waiting to tell you where to go--and the choice of where that was often depended on his mood and your attitude. But the old man had "the stuff:" Fairlanes, Falcons, and Mustangs, oh my. Hours could be spent running the rows looking for things to fix up that old Ford.
But according to Russell Temple of Temple Auto Salvage [(803) 359-9063] in Batesburg, South Carolina, those kinds of yards and their days are numbered.
"Insurance is eating us alive. Most yards won't let you go into them and pull your own parts anymore," said Russell. And we don't even want to go into the whole "cleaner, greener America" thing that is changing salvage yard spelunking forever. While some yards are letting you go in and pull parts (like the you-pull-it places that have sprouted up around the U.S.) older, more established yards like Temple's are dying off--for many, it's just too expensive to keep it going.
So Temple's is a throwback, and we mean that in a good way. Russell, at least for the time being, will let you walk the rows and look for your own stuff. And though the yard is getting a bit long in the tooth, there are a few gems in the sand there.
We ventured the 25 miles from our home base and asked Russell if we could go into the yard and see what we could find for some theoretical cars. Luckily, he said yes. A lot of the yards won't let you into the place with camera gear. As if to drive that point home, we were declined the chance to prowl a local chain you-pull-it with our camera gear. Perversely, you can bring your mobile phone in, though, and not suffer the ire of the owners. Nicely, Russell didn't hassle us. We like Russell.
You Pull Its
All that being said about the old line, places like the new crop of you-pull-itûstyle yards (our local Augusta, Georgia, used parts place is called Pull-A-Part) can yield surprises--but mostly you go shopping here for "found items" and stuff to modify your ride. These yards are often clean, with the cars set up on old rims welded together. The good side is the prices are set, the bad side (of course, that's "bad" like finding two sacks of $10 bills instead of one sack of $20s) is that you have to keep a regular schedule of visits up to find what you want--and typically the older stuff is pretty rare. But if you want to put buckets in your bench Fairlane, or a 5.0 in your Falcon, then you need to pay the places a visit.
Like we said, you won't find the goods in the city. You-pull-it yards, maybe; but places that have the kind of stuff you're looking for are usually out in the hinterlands. We drive 25 miles one way to get to Temple's. Most of these places are where they are to dodge higher city taxes and insurance premiums.
How do you find them? One way is to get on the forums and start asking. If you have a rare model, say a '66 Comet Cyclone, hit those fan clubs. Also, go to the local cruise nights and chat up the owners of the vintage cars, particularly the street rodders with Rat Rods. And don't be surprised if you have to go 40 miles out to get to it. Those are usually the yards that net you the best results.
There is a basic junkyard kit. It should involve a portable, neatly organized box like the one shown here. The neatly organized part helps when you're buttoning up to leave. We say this because Murphy will usually cause you to drag out almost every tool in your arsenal in pursuit of the part you need. If all the slots for sockets, wrenches, and screwdrivers aren't filled at the end of your quest, you know that you haven't completed your task. Your stuff is lurking in the car--somewhere. That being said, don't use your expensive Snap-on or Matco tools for junkyard expeditions.
The bag of tricks we're showing is an optional, but vital part, of any kit-out. All of your specialty tools, like a BFH (Big Freaking Hammer), extra wrenches, utility knife, mechanic's gloves, and even a few quirky items like Eastwood's sheetmetal nibblers, can be the difference between success and going home empty handed.
- Complete standard tool set (it's a good idea to have metric tools too; we'll explain later) with 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2-inch-drive ratchets
- 1/4 to 1/2-drive sockets in sizes 1/4 to 1-inch
- Ninety percent of what you'll do can be handled with this basic set; some chassis and A/C stuff gets bigger than that, but that's about it
- At least three different lengths of extensions for the drivers
- Hand wrenches 1/4 to 7/8-inch
- Tape measure--better to know than to guess at a size
- Small 1/4-inch socket set box--sometimes you only need a trim piece out of the car you've found, rather than lug the whole box, just grab the mini-me set
- Lineman's scissors--they cut unwanted wires like "budda" and can chew through most any headliner or weatherstrip
Assortment of Allen wrenches--again, metric and standard. Some Fords use Allen heads for the door pulls and the window cranks. Some humans used them just to make you have a bad day at the yard--well, not really, but when its 90-plus degrees outside and 130 in the old hulk, it sure seems that way.
"The bag" holds all the tools that you think you might need. Mostly "the bag" is the place for specialty stuff like flashlights, cordless drills, utility knives, the BFH (for when things go really pear shaped), and other "needful things."
Our typical load out is as follows:
Bugs Bug Me
Bug spray With West Nile virus and whatnot floating around these days and junkyards a breeding ground for mosquitoes, it's a good idea to use a sports spray to repel the little vermin. Ticks too can be a huge problem in some areas. So make sure you prepare and then check yourself when you get home.
Flying-insect killer While we're friends with nature and enjoy a walk in the park like anyone else, wasps are, well they're like the Joker to our Batman, Lex Luthor to our Superman, axis to our allies--OK, you get the idea. We're not saying that you should wipe out every colony in the yard; just kill the little buggers that are trying to make you leave.
Have a basic first aid kit. Nothing fancy, just some antiseptic, bandages, and Neosporin will do. Anything more injurious than that and you're bound for the hospital. Ours is a bit of overkill and bought at a surplus store, but it literally has everything you'd need for injuries.
Speaking of basic first aid, are you allergic to wasps or bees? If so, it might be a stellar idea to have a bee-sting kit handy in the toolbox. We wouldn't want to see you swell up like a Graf zeppelin.
There is such a thing as yard etiquette and below are the things that you should and should not do. Most of it's common sense; some of it is stuff we've learned over the course of the last few years. In any case, it's all good to know.
Always talk to the owner before taking off on your expedition. The owner will want to know what you're after. Be specific. Oddly enough, there may be cars in the yard that he doesn't want parts pulled off of. If he says, "there's a red Galaxie two-door down there on the fence line, don't touch it," he means it. It's OK to look, but paws off. And don't think that he'll never know. He will. Also, talking to him will clue him into what you want to get. He may have new fodder out there and can direct you right to it.
Never break things to get to what you want. We've seen this more times than we care to mention. It's infuriating to get to a car and see that some yahoo has broken the dash panel to get at the A/C control or has bent a glovebox to gain better access to the dashpad nuts.
If someone is working on a car, ask before you start poking around on it. Believe it or not, there are squatter's rights on a car. You might get a "Sure, it's OK," or you might not, but always ask. This is particularly true on well-optioned older cars.
Haggling can be good and it can be dangerous. It's best to ask what the price for your part will be before you go out. It's not like Mr. Junk hasn't seen that part before. If the part is more than you're willing to pay, tell him you don't think you want it. He may come off the price.
Watch your time and get out about 30 minutes before the yard closes. This is as much for you as it is for the owner. He really doesn't care if you're still working on that car. For you, it's a passion. For him, it's quitting time and you just might find yourself looking for a way to thwart a junkyard dog and concertina wire.
See the owner before you leave even if you're empty handed. This lets him know you're gone and also lets him see that you're gone without carrying off a truck-load of ill-gotten booty.
Hey People, Have Some Fun
Enjoy yourself. The journey can often be as much fun as the parts groping. Bring a friend who has a passing interest in what you're doing. Some of the best experiences we've had in salvage yards have been when a friend joined in on the hunt. And those experiences have often lead to the best tales in our arsenal of bench racing. Like the time we went to a Pick-and-Pull on Christmas Eve in 30-degree weather--and it started snowing--in Houston, Texas; boy that was stupid. Funny now, stupid then.