I had some time to kill Wednesday afternoon (I was out of the office), so I decided to try to hunt for a Saturn taillight at our not-so-local pick & pull down in Jessup. I find junkyards in Baltimore rather depressing, quite honestly; there’s an air of desperation and mistrust at the local chain I frequent, starting with the uneven, haphazard, crowded parking lot (where squeezing into the wrong spot on the north side will guarantee one’s car joins the others inside the wire to be stripped) to the bunker-like entrance adorned with hand-lettered signs stating “The Customer isn’t right, WE Are” and “It’s OUR way or the HIGHWAY”. Once a dollar is offered, a name is scrawled on the entrance waiver, one is free to roam the wreck-littered field of stock, tools in hand, careful to avoid being run down by the giant wheel loaders roaming the lanes.

I always seem to visit right after a large rainstorm, so the fields are usually muddy and infested with mosquitos, who thrive among gaping, swamplike trunks and moldy upholstery. Wednesday was temperate and cloudy, which meant I wouldn’t be squinting to identify makes and sweating as I tried to remove frozen bolts with vise-grips (Rule #1: the object you need to remove will always be held in by a fastener for which you are left unprepared), but the usual lake-sized puddles surrounded whole rows of cars, making navigation treacherous. Helpfully, my predecessors usually create elaborate bridges out of tires, door panels, tailgates, and sheet metal, so it’s not so bad for the fleet of foot. Just don’t try retracing steps while carrying that engine block.


The first section visible after entering is all GM product, so I threaded my way through the rows to find a suitable Saturn donor. There were plenty of correct-vintage sedans and even a couple of recent models, but no coupes. I did find a mid 60’s Corvair 4-door in reasonably good shape for Maryland (no visible rust and a mostly intact engine), a cast-off Cadillac stretch limo of 90’s vintage (no bar set, no TV’s) and several late-model minivans that had suffered horrific accidents among the hundreds of carcasses. But there were no Saturns of the proper model to be found. (Rule #2: there’s a 25% chance the model you need will actually be present.)

Switching to plan B, I crossed the footbridge to the second field where SUVs are collected, and found a Cherokee with gas tailgate struts that matched our model; installing these ($6.60/ea) ensures the tailgate won’t land on Jen’s head again as she unloads the stroller from the Jeep. Strangely, it’s been hard to find a Cherokee of our vintage, while there’s at least one Grand Cherokee of every model year in each row awaiting the crusher. I passed delivery trucks, a mid-80’s customized van with its fiberglas shell top peeled off carefully like a sardine can, several Land Rovers brought low from their days as Starbucks delivery vehicles, and battered pickups of every shape and size.

Nash Rambler

Having fulfilled one of my two missions, I figured I’d spend some time browsing the rows for other interesting finds, and came upon an interesting survivor in the Chrysler rows: a 1955 Nash in reasonably good shape for its age. It took some sleuthing to figure out what it was at first; the instrument pod form the dash was already gone (drat!) while the combination badge/trunk release proclaimed “Rambler” in script. On the dashboard, in helpful black lettering, were the words “FASTEN SEAT BELTS PLEASE” centered over the ignition key; I think the promise of danger may have been wishful thinking, given the tire-screaming fury of an 82hp straight-six under the hood. It was the kind of car I wish I had a garage for, honestly—it’s odd enough that almost nobody has one, and it was in good enough shape that it might have been worth buying and dragging home to slowly clean up, given that most of the hard-to-find items were still intact. As it was, I took one shiny hubcap, emblazoned with a script “R” and left the rest behind to the vultures.

Fasten Seat belts

Beyond the SUVs was an entire wing of import vehicles, Japanese sedans mingled with German sport coupes and the odd Korean compact. Here and there, the empty carcass of a Civic peeked from behind models with no hope of street racing, including an inexplicably bright pink coupe that had been gutted to the floorboards. Off on the edges, diesel-belching Mercedes sedans pointed their hoods at the sky. Not currently owning any imports, I breezed through this section before crossing back over the bridge and checking out the Ford section to see if I could pull a pillar spotlight from an ex-police cruiser. It seems that the second thing enterprising salvagers yank from retired cop cars is the pillar light, right after they peel the “Police Interceptor” badge from the left side of the trunklid. I did find some interesting old Fords back in the weeds, including a mid 60’s Thunderbird dwarfed by a yacht-sized 70’s example; another stretch limo, an ex-taxicab with the plastic billboard cap intact on the roof, a cream-colored Pinto with the engine pulled (??!??!), entire fleets of ex police cruiser/taxicab/security vehicles, each wearing at least three coats of paint and the scars of multiple careers, discarded Lincoln limousines next to tiny stripped Focuses, and the odd clapped-out Probe, all glass smashed out, balanced delicately upon a pillar of tires for access to the transmission.

Thunderbird ass

Exiting the yard is always a great time. After placing parts on a metal tray, a surly fellow leans out a small window and consults an inscrutable pricing sheet, then comes up with a random number for whatever it is you’ve dragged out of the mud. My struts and hubcap cost a total of $24 ($6 each, go figure), while the five ignition wires the guys ahead of me took were in the mid-40’s. Meanwhile, two or three other surly dudes are eyeballing everyone to make sure we haven’t stuffed an air cleaner down our pants or a bench seat into our toolbox. I’m sure this type of place sees its fair share of shoplifting, but I think the guy who threatened to smash my camera last year took his job a little too seriously; it wasn’t until that moment that I noticed the “NO CAMERAS ALLOWED” signage posted among the eighty other signs inside the office. So now I smuggle a point and shoot in my pants so that I can quickly snap stuff; next time I’ll have to remember to reset the ISO down from 1600, which is why everything above is so grainy. As much as the junkyard is depressing, I like to visit, only if to find something out of the ordinary.

Date posted: November 2, 2009 | Filed under cars, life | 1 Comment »

One Response to Pick and Pull.

  1. Lorie PM says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Bill. I went to a few pick and pull lots with my dad as a child. Great photos!