[Paleopsych] NYT: A New Fin for a '59 Cadillac? It's Online

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Fri Jan 28 16:09:28 UTC 2005

A New Fin for a '59 Cadillac? It's Online
January 28, 2005


    YOU still see them from time to time on the streets, these diners on
    wheels: Skylarks, Meteors, Fairlanes and Falcons with their gleaming
    chrome and their vinyl interiors. If there is one thing to know about
    the owners of these vintage cars, it is that they are people of faith
    faith that truck drivers will give those side mirrors a wide berth,
    that messengers will slip their bicycles past those precious
    taillights with care, that window-smashing vandals will let out an
    appreciative whistle and walk on.

    The owners must have faith, because finding replacement parts can be
    murder. Hours of trawling a salvage yard can turn up nothing, and
    ordering parts sight-unseen through an ad is a gamble: chrome hood
    ornaments can turn out to be heavily pitted, interior lamp bezels

    But now the guesswork is being taken out of parts-hunting, thanks to
    the greatest salvage yard of all: the Internet. Junkyards across the
    country are putting together photographic databases of their wrecks,
    making it easy to find all kinds of arcane auto parts.

    All American Classics in Vancouver, Wash., runs one such virtual
    junkyard. It has begun photographing its 3,000 cars for its site,
    [1]allamericanclassics.com. "Although we have had the most success
    through [2]car-part.com, a search engine that allows buyers to scan
    our inventory for parts, putting up pictures of our cars has attracted
    buyers, for sure," said Todd Toedtli, the manager of All American.

    Other well-known junkyards like Desert Valley Auto Parts in Phoenix
    (azclassics .com) and CTC's Autoranch (ctcautoranch .com) in Denton,
    Tex., also have limited virtual tours of their wrecks.

    And Anna McCormick, the manager of Classic Ford ([3]classicford.com)
    in East Dixfield, Me., said that her salvage yard had an even more
    ambitious plan. "We sent about 800 cars to the crusher this fall, and
    we are now in the process of photographing the millions of parts that
    we'd stripped," she said. "We'll have our entire stock available on
    our Web site by June."

    Perhaps the most absorbing of the salvage Web sites belongs to Sunman
    Classic Ford ([4]sunmanford.net) in Seminole, Okla. Sunman's
    individual portraits of wrecked 50's, 60's and 70's cars sitting in a
    barren landscape are not just useful; they can be mesmerizing. A 1965
    Ford Ranch Wagon, for example, with a good-size tree growing through
    the engine block. A 1964 Mercury Monterey, ready for its close-up, its
    headlights painted jungle red. A 1960 Dodge Pioneer, brown with
    surface rust, being admired by a herd of brown cows. A 1963 Cadillac
    Fleetwood sitting in high prairie grass capable of inspiring a Walker

    The archivist and founder of Sunman Ford is Sam Arrington, a salvage
    lifer who named his yard after an imaginary personage from his
    boyhood. "The Sunman was a guardian figure that appeared in my
    childhood dreams," he said. "And I feel that he's still either keeping
    me out of trouble or retrieving me from it."

    Though Mr. Arrington opened his 40-acre lot only five years ago, he
    had been stockpiling old cars for years. "I started buying up cars
    during scavenging trips," he said. "They were considered nothing but
    crush meal. I knew the area from being a fender and bumper man in
    Buffalo. This had involved driving out to Oklahoma, New Mexico and
    Texas in my International Harvester and buying up rust-free bumpers,
    fenders and gas tanks for $5 to $10 and reselling them back in Buffalo
    for $150."

    MR. ARRINGTON set up his business in rural south-central Oklahoma.
    "When I arrived in this part of the country," he said, "the oil fields
    had collapsed, and Seminole was a ghost town. It still is like the
    Twilight Zone around here."

    The drawback to starting a business in a ghost town is that there is
    not exactly a lot of drive-through traffic. (The nearest town is
    Bowlegs, Okla., population 372.) So Mr. Arrington, who now runs the
    business with his wife, Cynthia, turned to the Web. "Even back in the
    1980's when I started buying up Fords, I dreamed of the Internet, or
    at least something like a satellite connection that'd make a
    specialized business like mine possible."

    What began as a modest yard now has an international reach. Requests
    for parts come from as far away as Sweden and Australia, thanks to a
    link on the Ford Galaxie Club of Australia's Web site.

    "The Swedes are stateside now, driving around, collecting Mercury
    parts," Mr. Arrington said. "They're into Park Lanes pretty heavily.
    Pretty soon you'll have to go to Sweden for Mercury parts."

    Mr. Arrington confirmed what other salvage yards with Web sites also
    say they are experiencing: the great expansion of a business that was
    once fairly localized.

    "All of our cars are Arizona cars," said Shea Larimer at Desert
    Valley, "but our customers are nearly all out-of-state, often from
    places like Minnesota, where they use a lot of salt in the winter.
    Only place I can think of we haven't had any calls from yet is Iraq."

    Mr. Toedtli of All American said: "We get collectors all the time from
    far-off places who otherwise would never have heard of us. We just
    sold a '63 S.S. Impala 409 to a buyer in Scandinavia who found us on
    the Web. He sent someone over to pick it up. This guy was driving
    across the country, collecting salvage cars and shipping them back to
    Europe. When he got here and was standing in our office, we had
    another call from over there, and it turned out the two knew each
    other. It's either a small world, or old American cars are big in
    northern Europe."

    Another auto restorer who found Mr. Toedtli's yard through the Web is
    Michael Golter of Scotland, S.D. "You know the Johnny Cash song `One
    Piece at a Time'?" Mr. Golter said. "That's the story of my life. I
    had picked up a '51 Cadillac Coupe de Ville shell at a local junkyard,
    and the grille, bumpers and hood ornament in St. Paul. This is a rare
    car, and you have to get the parts when you can. I searched the Web,
    and within a day found out that All American had the fender skirt,
    rear window glass and deck lid I needed."

    After All American sent Mr. Golter multiple close-up photos of the
    Caddy parts, "it made my week," he said. "It's a little like creating
    Frankenstein's monster finding a part here, a part there but I have to
    say that there is nothing like taking a dead thing and bringing it
    back to life."

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