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Firm Would Part Ways With Image Wrecking Yard Along I-90 Hums, Handling 1,500 Vehicles A Year

People who drive by Spalding’s wrecking yard along Interstate 90 may think of it as a graveyard for dead cars.

John Amman, who dismantles junkers there, thinks of it as an auto organ bank.

“I see what’s salvageable,” said Amman, who keeps track of truck parts in the sprawling 37-acre operation. “Things get recycled quickly.”

“A good share of this stuff will sell. It is constantly moving out of here,” he said.

Amman is one of 90 Spalding employees who make a living finding what’s reusable from wrecks.

After parts are removed and sold, the remainder is shipped out for scrap. Little goes to waste. The auto wrecking yard is one of the most efficient recycling businesses there is, the owners said.

Spalding’s Auto Parts has been in operation for 56 years, and has grown into the largest salvage yard of its kind in the Inland Northwest. Nearly 1,500 vehicles are handled by the company each year. They are seeking to expand their yard by 11 acres.

“Most people in the Spokane area don’t think of us as a parts dealer,” said Russ Spalding, the third generation of his family to work at the business.

“It’s kind of a misconception you have to get past,” he said.

Still, thousands of people go to Spalding’s every year to save money. Some are commercial mechanics or body rebuilders. Others are do-ityourselfers.

Generally, used parts are half the price of new, and if they are in good shape, they might be the best choice because they are original equipment. Some parts are available only on the used market.

Never mind that most of these wrecks represent someone else’s misfortune.

Amman tries not to focus on the apparent carnage in some of the cars. “You see an impression in a windshield, you know what hit it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened,” he said.

“If people would slow down we probably wouldn’t have as many cars out here,” Amman said.

Fellow employee Art Schneider started work at Spalding’s seven years ago because he needed a steady paycheck. He had worked in construction for years and was tired of the on-again, off-again nature of that industry.

Unlike construction, the wrecking yard operates on a fairly consistent level of supply and demand.

Schneider said the atmosphere is to his liking, too. Nobody jumps down his throat about working harder. “I’m left alone. Nobody looks over my shoulder,” he said.

For that, he repays his employer with a steady pace.

Earlier this week, Schneider tore apart a decrepit 1978 Freightliner diesel truck with some 500,000 miles on it.

Schneider removed the engine, transmission, differential and other components. He tore into the dash-board to recover motors and switches, all of which are reusable.

He said more than half of the truck would be salvaged and resold, despite the fact the engine’s rusty cylinder walls indicated it hadn’t run for years.

Spalding’s employees examine and test every part they sell. If a unit like a transmission is in good working condition, it is sold as is. If not, it can be torn apart and the gears and pieces are stocked for sale.

Russ Spalding said the business’ success depends in part on the guarantee it offers: Every part that’s sold can be exchanged within six months for any reason.

Spalding’s doesn’t hang onto wrecks for long. The idea is to move merchandise as quickly as possible.

Keeping track of thousands of parts requires computers.

Spalding’s is linked to two computer networks that help locate parts just about anywhere in the country.

With overnight air delivery, parts can be delivered within a day or so.

“If you can’t find it, you can’t sell it,” Spalding said.

When Spalding’s moved to its current home in the Spokane Valley, its nearest neighbor was a refuse dump. The freeway, and its thousands of daily motorists, are the newcomers.

Because the yard is so visible, the company has tried over the years to make it as inoffensive as possible. For example, cars are lined in northsouth rows because that hides some of the hulks from passers-by. Unneeded parts aren’t left lying on the ground.

Weeds are controlled. However, weedkiller applied by a contractor earlier this year damaged poplar trees planted along the freeway to block the view of the yard.

“I am biased,” Spalding said, “but to me this yard looks good.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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