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Wyn’s Auto Supply: Depression Era Los Angeles Wrecking Yard

1932 was one of the toughest years of the Great Depression. New automobile sales had slowed to a mere trickle of the yearly sales figures established in the late-1920s. At the same time, a glut of leftover used cars from the same period threatened the sale of new models.

At the same time, there was money to be made by smart businesspeople with a large enough capital reserve, in the auto salvage and wrecking yard business. The greater Los Angeles area was an exuberant and free-wheeling metropolis during the “Roaring Twenties” leading up to “Black Tuesday,” the day the Stock Market crashed on Oct. 24, 1929. Left behind in the wake of years of booming economic prosperity was an overly large supply of used cars and “junkers.”

model t ford being scraped

  • Note the progress a worker with a torch has made cutting a Model “T” Ford roadster pickup apart when compared with the lead photo.

When new car sales faltered, dealers and sales organizations eventually banded together around the country to ease the used car glut by scrapping as many of them as possible. “Junkies” would also scavenge the city looking for unwanted or abandoned cars, and the desperate, who had to sell their car to raise some cash.

This series of images was taken in 1932 at Wyn’s Auto Supply, located at 640 East Slauson Ave. in an industrial section of Los Angeles. The pictures show some of the operations practiced in the auto salvage business at the time. Whole automobiles and trucks were subjected to the cutting torch, in the same way as a butcher uses a knife to reduce the vehicles into salable components and metal scrap.

Share with us what you find of interest in the photographs courtesy of the USC Libraries.

dealer junking plan 1          dealer junking plan 2          dealer junking plan 3          dealers junking plan 4

  • National Automobile Chamber of Commerce approves a Cleveland, OH scrap materials organization’s plan to get rid of “junkers” that are part of the used car problem. “Automotive Industries” Aug. 23, 1930. 

auto scrap yard 1932

  • Two views (above and below) of the metal shear used to reduce wheels and other components into pieces. Note the conveyor belt used for loading scrap into trucks and trailers.

Los Angeles auto wrecking yard 1932

man salvaging auto glass 1932

  • A worker grinding the edges of recycled glass into panes used for replacement wind-wings visible on the left. Note the crude shop-made glass grinder with adjustable wooden shaft bearings.

32 responses to “Wyn’s Auto Supply: Depression Era Los Angeles Wrecking Yard

    • Very well put I would say. Virtually all passenger cars back then though looked very much alike which is probably the main reason why the average car of that era doesn’t fetch a whole lot. Imagine a junkyard however from around 1950. I’ll bet that you could find some real valuable looking gems sitting among the other old heaps which would soon be meeting their fate in the jaws of the big crusher.

  1. History repeats itself. When President Obama was in Office, the Clunker Bill went into play. Many good used cars were scrapped and destroyed hoping to help boost sales of new cars.

    • Hoping to boost sales of new cars that gave better fuel mileage with less pollution. This was the reason for passing the bill.

    • I don’t know how many “good cars” were sent to the program, but I have one friend who stripped out his Cavalier to the point he drove in on a bucket seat. A real pickle bucket. He traded it on a new Cruze.

      I highly doubt any Supras, SS Chevelles, or Mustangs made that one way trip

      • Many did. Cash for clunkers even got a running 87 Buick GMC and many many more rust free running driving classics. And every vehicle that came in on cash for clunkers had a sludge added to the fuel that caused the engines to seize in a matter of a few minutes so they could not be used.

  2. Hope no would try to recycle glass as is being done in the last expandable photograph. It looks like a sure way to ruin one’s eye sight !!

  3. Total disregard for safety. I’m sure the metal shear took a couple fingers, and grinding glass with no eye protection? Since it’s L.A., we can assume all these vehicles are here for mechanical reasons. And who are the guys with the suits? Owners maybe that appear to be doing quite well for the depression era. Also, 2nd last pic, there is a convertible car made into a tow truck, very common for the time. Not sure what the “C” cab truck is, an AB Mack, maybe?

    • The “C” cab truck is a Federal. The eight portholes in the front is the clue. The car/tow truck is a Cadillac.

  4. Yikes ! An OSHA nightmare for sure ! Arm lopping shears and glass particles in the eyes and lungs not to mention a plethora of other dangerous things ! Sort of like the one armed Municipal worker who was dragged into the tree shredder a month before his retirement in a Monterey Bay area town in the last few years ( true story, sad, sad, sad !) No wonder so many of my Grandfather’s associates had missing fingers !

  5. Five window coupe right of the wheel shear 3rd & 4th pictures looks early 30s . Much newer than the other cars there. Could it be an insurance write-off?

  6. Cool set up on the grinder.I imagine that is a tapered shaft set in the hub on one side of the wheel.End play is adjusted with the pinch bolt on the upright fork-am I right?.And what kind of wood makes good bearing material?

    • Lignum Vitae (commonly found in old lawn bowling balls) makes the best wood bearings. At one time all the propeller shafts in boats/ships used this wood. Very expensive to purchase, that is where my “cheap source” suggestion comes from.
      Though really any hardwood, regularly oiled, would do for a low speed wood bearing.

  7. I have loved old junkyards since I was a little kid in the 1940’s! These are great pics. I was hoping the ’32 5 window belonged to the suit looking at the rims.

    What do I see here? A lot of hot rod material!

  8. Okay, a lot of old timers (or young guys who sound like old timers) gripe that all modern cars all look alike.
    But for my money, today’s cars have nothing on cars from the 20s to early 30s (when radiators really began to differ…like the ’32 Ford compared to the “A”…and the bolt-on “A” style fenders were replaced by more integrated units…like the Airflow).

    look at the first photo…they really do look alike.
    If course many bodies were built by the same firms like Budd, but the low and mid price segments do look alike.

    • At one time I made a LOT of money buying lawn bowling ball sets at estate auctions, and the like, having a customer who stopped by about every 6 months, or so, to buy all I could find. The wood itself is from protected trees, very expensive, and scarce now. New lawn bowling balls are mostly made from plastic.
      Lawn bowling looks hoky, and kind if is, but those involved take it seriously, and balls used in tournaments all have to be sent away and checked/certified. There are only one, or two spots in N. America who can certify the balls and they are stamped upon certification.

  9. Notice, in the first image above, the fellow is working on a ’26/’27 Ford T roadster pickup. The body is still on the chassis. In the next, enlargeable image, the body is off the chassis and laying on its side alongside the chassis. Otherwise, it would look like the same image, close up and cropped.
    However, what caught my eye, is the four-door sedan between the working fellow and the Dodge four-door sedan. The one with the pile of wood wheels in front of its bumper, appears to be a Jewett, probably a ’25 or ’26.

    Oh, so many wonderful parts and cars I see!

    Regardless, THANK YOU David G for the look into dreamland.

  10. Wow! Wouldn’t I love to have a day to wander around that yard! How much would those large wire wheels cost today?

  11. I’d like to know the reasoning of cutting a wheel rim into three or four pieces. That ’32 Ford Coupe almost looks like it has a chopped top. Bob

    • Density. Scrap steel is sold on 2 properties, chemistry and density. It needs to be reasonably free of contaminants and dense enough that transport is economically feasible and dense enough to charge a furnace with few charging buckets required.

    • It was done so the parts could not be resold. It appears that manufacturers at the time paid their dealers a bounty on cars the dealer obtained on trade-in and subsequently destroyed. But they had to be destroyed in the presence of a factory rep. So the dealers had to maintain their own yards and stockpile cars until the rep swung by. This was done to promote the sale of new cars and maintain the price of parts.

      The advantage to the Cleveland process was that the manufacturers would accept a certificate of demolition from Cleveland as proof for the dealer bounty and relieved the dealers of having their own wrecking yard. I learned this all from that article. It’s really worth a read. There a lot more interesting stuff in there.

  12. Wyn’s was located on Slauson Ave. which I remember only from a Johnny Carson parody of sleazy TV ads advising shoppers to “take the Slauson cutoff.”

    • Carson’s next line inevitably was…
      “Get out of your cae, cut off your Slauson…”

      Back in the old days when TV comics tried to be funny, not give political lectures.

  13. Love the scene of the car on it’s side with a guy inside of it using a torch! Also the guy wearing a tie while using the grinding wheel, hope it doesn’t get caught in the wheel. No safety regs in those days, but they sure knew how to dress for the occasion .

  14. By the third decade of mass auto production, the need for volume scrap metal recycling came into being. Years of high sales in the 1920’s resulted in the glut of worn-out used cars exacerbated by the plummet in demand as the Depression took hold. Cars had become more than mere transportation wherein style currency was also important. Regardless of how high quality of old cars was, if it was perceived as out of style, it was only worth its scrap value. Only the basic intrinsic utility such as seen in the ’20’s Cadillac touring converted to a tow truck could hold a vehicle back from the scraper’s torch. Scrapyard owners focused primarily on the commodity value to be derived, had little option or motivation set aside any car that was rare or high-quality.

    In today’s view, the junkyards then were an environmental disaster, petroleum drained on the ground, cars burned to remove the soft trim and wood structure. Puddles of melted aluminum and body lead were the result as well. It was hard, dirty, tiring work.

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