Junkyard Bonanza: A Tale of All-You-Can-Haul Hooliganism
As fellow automotive scribe Murilee Martin outlined the rules to me, I could only picture it one way: “That sounds like Black Friday meets a roller derby.”
All-you-can-haul days at the junkyard were outlawed in California for good reasons, he said. People kept hurting themselves hauling engines or whatever, and sued the junkyards.
People use hoods as makeshift wheelbarrows and haul hundreds of pounds of radios, he added.
“I have to see this,” I said.
The first all-you-can-haul day at U-Pull and Pay started with a surprise: the line was out of the front door. People had been here all morning picking old 1994 Ford Escorts clean and paying $59.99 per person for the privilege to do it.
Martin had baited me by saying there may be an old Alfa 164 at the lot I could wrench on, which turned out to be a fib of the first order. (I want an old Alfa more than I want my next meal, but that’s another story.)
Nonetheless, I arrived on the lot at 10 a.m. with my Husky “My First” wrench set in tow — complete with foam insert so the sockets don’t get scratched — and cargo short pockets stuffed with a hammer, screwdriver and crescent wrench. I had pulled a gas tank for a 1984 Ford Bronco once when I was in high school, but beyond that junkyards are more foreign to me than women. I brought some tools, but hell if I knew whether they’d help or not.
I knew I was a fish out of water. I even chuckled as I pulled up in an electric car that I had on loan that week because I’m an ironic millennial who thinks he’s cute in his Cheerios T-shirt.
I arrived, clicked through the front kiosk to see if anything Alfa was at the yard, and prepared myself to walk the yard with Martin and hear everything he knows about old cars (which there isn’t enough natural time for in the known universe).
I met Martin at the door. Niceties were exchanged. Hellos were heard. I quickly realized that Martin was on a mission — seats and relays — and humoring me wasn’t on his menu. I could tell quickly that I was on my own for entertainment.
No problem. I’ll find an oily, old Fiat valve cover that’ll look good on my wall (there were two Fiat 124s there) or a vintage Hillman badge that I could sell on Etsy for $1,200 or whatever.
“My back sucks, so I’ll make you a deal. You get a couple light things and carry my stuff and I’ll pay for your haul,” Martin said to me.
“Sure thing. Done deal,” I said. Flattering my Flab Power® goes a long way these days, after all.
Asunder from Martin, I roamed. The Fiats were in sorry shape; someone had taken an electric saw to the poor thing’s right butt cheek and forcefully removed its tail lamp. There were no interesting Italians, just weathered Saabs and unloved Subarus — this is Colorado, after all.
And then a forest-green 1997 Range Rover showed its hide. A majestic luxury ute in its day, it had been beaten to within an inch of its life and not survived an attempt at a recovery. (In reality, it had been lightly crashed and an all-to-eager insurance company and likely underwater owner gleefully parted ways with it.)
At its bow was a relatively untouched 4-liter V-8, compete with iron intake assembly and valve cover.
“I’ll have it,” I said.
I don’t own a Range Rover. I don’t plan on owning a Range Rover. I’ve never owned a Range Rover.
But if there’s one thing I’m more ashamed to admit than my relative inexperience with the fussy SUV, it’s this: My tools are clean enough to eat off of.
I wanted to wrench the hell out of that intake, curse at the throttle sensors and rip the engine’s pelt from its lightly sealed gasket and hang it on my wall. I don’t hunt, so this Rover was my five-point buck.
For 30 minutes, I fussed over hex screws longer than my hand, over-engineered hoses and intake sensors that were likely broken well before the car was junked. After all that, I joyfully jammed a pry bar up its nose and yanked the bastard free.
It was mine.
Now what am I going to do with it, again?
It whet my appetite, that’s what. I went crazy for crap I’ll never use. That old Volvo has a valve cover? It’s mine. Want to watch me pull a Mercedes grille? I have a tool for that so it’s a done deal.
Then I gazed upon my junkyard Rosebud: The spider legs and tangled mess of a Yamaha-built, Ford SHO engine’s intake. You know the one, when engines looked like engines and Ford screws were hand-tight.
With help, I removed 20 bolts and nothing moved. There were nuts and washers that held together more nuts and washers.
“It’d take a competent mechanic hours to pull that thing off,” Martin told me later.
I’m not a competent mechanic. But I wanted it.
In six pieces, the SHO manifold held fast to its block. The Ford section of the junkyard was by far the biggest section — a bursting testament to automaking malaise — and the SHO engine’s cover was like the polished Galaga machine in the corner. More competent men had gone before me and failed. I was not special.
Defeated, exhausted and wildly dehydrated I made my way back to Martin. His haul consisted of two red-and-black, launch-edition seats from a 1985 Toyota MR2. I did not see this coming. Our comrade, Rich, poached four headlights, a wiring harness of some sort, two calipers and a handful of switches, gauges, relays and senders to stuff in between the seats.
“You can carry all this, right?” Marin asked.
“Right,” I said.
If one person can haul it, one person has to pay. Sacrificing pain for monetary gain was something I mostly gave up in my 20s, but I wasn’t going let our side down. Plus, I wore a Superman shirt.
“Load ‘em up,” I said.
Tied together like a backpack, I walked the 20-foot “all-you-can-haul” walk to save $60 at the expense of a fully usable back in my later years. At least I got a free T-shirt.
In reality, I couldn’t hold a candle to the guy who, clad with nine wheels and tires, hobbled down the walk. There were the guys with seatbelts attached to hoods and wrapped around their shoulders like cigarette trays carrying salvage ECUs. Then there was the guy hauling a transmission.
Earlier in the day, I watched two guys start in on a military-spec K5 Blazer’s front and rear axles. To get the deep discount pricing, they’d have to walk the blast-proof units down the aisle.
“I gotta see this.”
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Aw man, I don't think I've ever seen any event like this over here. They have 50% off days, and in the summer, some places have 25% off if its over 105ºF.
I wish you had a picture of the rules, couldn't you bring a hand truck or wheelbarrow in?