-Well buddy when I die,
body in the back,
and drive me to the junkyard
in my Cadillac."
Colo. - Three phones are ringing in the office of the J-Y Ranch. A
woman follows me in the door. "Have you got a window motor for a
Jeep Cherokee?" she's already asking. "What year?" the proprietor
shoots back. "What side?" He seems to know where to find it, but
that makes sense: Alan Morris has been running the J-Y for 20
Shelves of parts dominate his office, all
labeled: carburetors for "76 Accords, taillights for GMC pickups,
even the windshield wiper switch I needed 10 years ago for a 1977
Chevy Malibu. The J-Y - for Junk Yard - Ranch is aptly named since
old cars rest where cows once flopped; vehicles are slouched in
rows or piled in stacks of rusted metal at the mouth of Cattle
Creek. If Bruce Springsteen were to call this junkyard a Cadillac
ranch, then Alan Morris would be head wrangler.
Morris, 53, looks like a beefy Mickey Rooney. After four phone
calls, he has time for a walk to the car-crusher. Meanwhile, a
crane equipped with a magnet is noisily loading trucks with iron
from his scrap mill as workers pack old cars with appliances and
other mixed metals. Morris sends stuffed and crushed cars for
recycling to a "minimill" (see accompanying
One week last spring, Morris shipped a
truckload of nine stuffed cars weighing a groaning 37,000 pounds.
Each year the ranch sends 2,500 tons of scrap metal for recycling,
accounting for half Morris' profits. The other half comes from
selling car parts, mostly stored in a cavernous, corrugated metal
warehouse. Each axle, differential or steering column is tagged
with a reference number filed in the office. No computers. "I get
pissed off when I go in a store and see a guy hiding behind a
computer," Morris rails. "They're a terrible crutch."
As a kid, Morris hung out at Charlie Hopkins'
Junkyard in nearby Glenwood Springs. Morris and his buddies would
sneak up the draw behind the junkyard, steal a tire, then sell it
back. "We'd get ice cream for three guys with one tire," Morris
says. As the boys grew older, they began buying parts from Hopkins.
"He used to tell me: "You should get in the junk business, you
should get in the junk business." "''''Hopkins died in 1974; in
March of the same year Morris got into the junk
Back then, Morris says, he was also a
welder. "But the cars just grew up out of the dirt. I lived in town
and every day I'd come to work in the morning and there'd be eight
or 10 cars in front. I decided to stop welding and crush the cars
that kept appearing." By May 1974, the price of scrap metal had
gone up 500 percent, and Morris paid off half his debt. The price
of scrap hasn't been that high since.
the shop, which is also corrugated metal and shaped like an
airplane hangar. It makes me think of a coroner's lab, where car
autopsies offer up catalytic converters instead of kidneys. For
heat, the shop furnace runs on waste oil from cars, some 3,000
gallons a year. A fan keeps the hot air moving and is his only
I notice a smashed Chevy on
blocks, half-full of scrap metal. "They were already stuffing the
car when a guy tried the ignition and it started up. So we're gonna
snag the engine," Morris says.
He shows off a
tin baler outside his shop that looks like Rube Goldberg built it:
If the Tin Man walked into it, he'd come out shaped like a box. I
ask how he put it together. "Just out of a bunch of stuff," he
says. As he was building it, he made promises to people who needed
tin sheet scraps baled, but got backlogged before he had finished
the machine. Then he had to abandon construction and buy one. A tin
baler might be hard for most people to find, but Morris has a
mental inventory of Colorado junk. "I remembered this yard in Fort
Collins where I'd seen another one about 10 years before. So I
leased it and ended up buying it."
On the way
back to the office, Morris picks up a tool buried in the dirt. He
can't resist: It's junk but usable. Back in the office, he says,
"I've had some luck, but I've also made luck. I've always worked
hard. And I believe my workers should be a good team. I never ask
my guys to do anything I wouldn't do myself."
Morris' walkie-talkie squawks: "Anybody called me?" a voice
"You don't want to know
what he called you!" Morris yells into the receiver, grinning. The
static continues, but there's no time for conversation anyway; a
man just walked in in search of a hood for a bashed-up Ford.
Auden Schendler is a former
HCN intern and English teacher who works as an outdoor educator in