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American Auto Parts Wrecking Yard Images

This set of images of the American Auto Parts Wrecking Yard located in Grand Rapids, Michigan was taken on March 29, 1948, by the Robinson Studio for the “Grand Rapids Herald-Review” newspaper.

The lead image is a view of an employee using an oxygen-acetylene torch to cut a vehicle into manageable-sized pieces. The facility then used a metal bailer to compact the steel body of a car or truck into cubes. The bulky parts of a vehicle consisting of the frame, axles, springs, wheels, engine, and transmission were placed into a mixed ferrous metals scrap pile.

The more valuable steel cubes and the mixed scrap were then sold to a metal buyer or a steel mill and transported by truck or rail. Radiators and other copper and brass scrap and aluminum was sold to a non-ferrous metal buyer.

Share with us what you find of interest in the photographs courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

  • Wrecking yard employee uses a Chevrolet tow truck to bring in a 1935 or ’36 Ford Tudor sedan into the facility.

  • A Ford Flathead V-8 block being carried past a 1933 or ’34 Ford sedan.

  • Most vehicles were set on fire to burn out any wooden body framework, upholstery, cardboard and rubber so the scrap could be sold for a higher price per pound.

  • An employee overhauling a Ford transmission in the workshop. 


20 responses to “American Auto Parts Wrecking Yard Images

  1. 35 ford on the wrecker. Not sure of the body in the background of the first picture or the car on its side being burned.

  2. Reminds me of that cold Christmas eve night I stood beside an oil drum fire with two yard Dobermans while the repairman fixed my electrical problem for 22 bucks,Chiefland,Fla. 1992

  3. Great photos: pro-shot, sharp, in focus, properly exposed. Wonder what they were originally used for. An article on early recycling?

    • I thought so too, as I looked thru them. The frameing of the shot of the men with the engine block looks especially up to date for that long ago and the lighting in the final “gearbox” shot is terrific even if the photographer did leave his light intrude a bit at the right. The battery on the bench is – what – being recharged by that rig up on the wall? Always a pleasure to see someone took such care even when photographing something as mundane as this.

  4. Pic number one gives me goosebumps. My father was killed 3 months before I was born while cutting up a car in a scrap yard he owned with my material grandfather. He was killed when the fumes in the gas tank exploded. He was very badly burned but lived 3 day and was written up in the medical journals at the time.

  5. I often wonder were the first auto wrecking yard was, and did anyone take photos? I’ve seen shots from the 1920’s with touring car tops stretched with pools of rain water, the slow start of the car rotting away. Photos of the Classics in Caruso’s Long Island yard are heartbreaking to look at today. Bob

  6. I recall many regular wrecking yard adventures, early 1960’s. My friends and my favorite was Zastrow’s Auto Wrecking just north of Wausau Wisc. I vividly recall buying a complete, undamaged passenger door for my newly acquired ($50) 1952 Ford. I mean complete, all knobs, latches, glass and inner door panel. The wrecking yard was better than Christmas. In those days it was all ‘self serve’ also. Too much fun!

  7. Ah, yes, the ol’ “heat wrench”. Very handy. The scrap yard was the last stop for goods from a modern society. We look at this in disbelief, but the truth is, we were inundated with junk, and still are. The 2nd photo is of interest to me. The “tow truck” seems to be an old pickup with probably the simplest tow rig I’ve seen, gives the “hook” it’s name and the car doesn’t look too bad either, but again, at the time, just a junk car nobody wanted. And burning car bodies? A modern environmentalists nightmare, matter of fact, we’re probably still cleaning up the waste these yards generated.

    • I remember being in a junkyard in the early Seventies. A gentleman drove up in a very clean 1954 Plymouth Belvedere sedan that he was junking. I asked him why didn’t he sell the car. He said, nobody wants it. It”s too old. Alot of decent cars went to the scrap that way.

  8. It can’t be helped that all the “gear heads” looking at this feel pangs of grief knowing that many of the scrapped cars would be great for a modern restoration or hot rod creation. At the same time old cars were just that after WWII and most were well used and outdated. Their value was little to nothing, with repair costs to keep them on the road easily being more than what the car was worth. In the late 50’s my dad gave away a complete model A to the ice cream man who frequented our neighborhood on his Cushman 3 wheeler. At the time that A was not worth anything to him and he felt getting rid of it for free was a good deal, plus it made my mother happy that it was gone.

  9. Bob mentioned the first wreaking yards. In rural MS, back in the mid 1920’s there were places where people simply abandoned Model T’s and junk yards grew. No one “owned” the junk yard, they simply were there. Other people would, back then, repair one from the many donor cars available and drive it out. A family, for two generations, owned an auto repair shop starting by doing this “recycling of Model T’s. Local mothers would say to their children “you’re dirty as Homer Harvey.”

    • In the early 70’s at about the age of 12 I was wandering around with a friend in a field northwest of Grand Rapids. It was springtime, and wet. In a low area we noticed oil floating atop the puddles. Thinking maybe we had discovered oil, we asked around. Word came back that it was one of those old informal Model T junkyards where the owner eventually bulldozed everything into a hole.

  10. People forget after decades what unmitigated messes junkyards were back then. Burning car bodies to rid them of soft trim and glass was a nasty cloud that stunk up of the whole vicinity. Worse was when they touched off the tire pile to reclaim the steel wheel rims. Gas tank and crankcases were drained on the ground that left greasy, oily barren patches strewn with broken glass for years after. Its still a nasty business but at least we don’t have acrid, black clouds and contaminated ground water like we had.

    The man in the first picture reminded me of the time when men wore leather jackets for work jackets, not fashion statements. Most all of the mechanics, truck drivers, laborers my dad knew work brown leather work jackets and uniform work wear. How times change in subtle ways.

  11. In the early 1970s when I used to attend the AACA annual meeting at the Belveue Stratford hotel with Austin Clark , there was a fantastic film shown at one of the meeting rooms of a junk yard in NJ in the pre WWII era. It showed cars being driven into the junk yard , the driver getting out, gasoline being drained and then a lit match being tossed into the interior via an open rear window ( all windows being busted out with a hammer first) and the car burned to rid it of the interior and wood framework as mentioned here. Reaction to seeing this by those present was a collective “Aw geez, really”
    It was the days when each year at the AACA meeting Austin would team up with George Norton and they would give ‘the truck seminar’ and I was in charge of running the slide projector ( yes it was that long ago) . Austin was happy to be able to make it an X rated truck seminar with assorted images of old trucks and undraped females. It was standing room only and over 100 people would be at that particular seminar.

  12. In college some teachers would pull that nude photo trick to wake up a sleepy afternoon class with a quick flash and then the prop would abruptly apologize for the mistake. Word would get out and class attendance would climb. And it was all liberal minded people! What happened to all the fun in life. We will see at this 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

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