My short but intense visit to Turner’s Auto Wrecking in Fresno, California to pick up the transmission for my truck confirmed the fact that people—the right people anyway—are infinitely more interesting and compelling than cars. Even if it’s 100 acres of cars, a substantial percentage of them vintage cars dating back to 1928.
This reality influenced my coverage of the yard, as it’s not nearly as comprehensive as I thought it was going to be. Sorry. Why? I much preferred hanging out with Jerry than with his cars and parts. He’s a truly amazing fount of knowledge and stories, and his warm demeanor, treating every visitor and caller with sincere attention and consideration, are qualities that even the most fascinating car out back can’t hope to compete with . I would have loved to spend even more time with him, but he’s a very busy guy, fielding a constant stream of calls and telling his guys over the radio just exactly where a certain car or part is on the vast property. And yes, he’ll be 93 in a few weeks. And no, he has no plans to retire.
I arrived at Turner’s Auto Wrecking at 10pm on Sunday night, and parked in front. I had about as good a night’s sleep as one can have some thirty yards away from a major train street crossing. I woke early, at about six, to the repeated blasting of another train’s horns. This time I got up, stepped out, and looked around a bit to see where I had landed. The red sun in the hazy sky was just rising over the 100 acres of cars beyond the fence.
The sign on the fence, painted on an old car door, sums it up.
There was quite a pile of items out front. I forgot to ask why. Freebies? Overflow? It’s all just part of the setting. Turner’s is obviously not at all like one of those big corporate wrecking yards.
I stepped back inside my van to make some breakfast. At about 6:40, I heard a vehicle pull in and park next to me. It was a slightly battered somewhat older white Chevy pickup. I stepped out at the same time the driver stepped out. Over the sound of another train rolling though the intersection, I said:
You must be Jerry Turner.
Yes I am. Welcome.
You always come to work this early?
Always. I have some things to do first, so we’ll get to your transmission at nine. Feel free to look around.
I went back in the van and finished my breakfast. When mother nature called, I went in the office and asked if I could use the bathroom. I have facilities to deal with that in the van, but if I can use a bathroom or outhouse (or a remote cat hole), I prefer that.
Jerry was hard at work looking over his piles of notes and requests and such. The bathroom’s back over there in the corner.
Somewhere on the other side of this mountain of parts.
There’s also a wall full of pictures and mementos. More on that later.
Having done my business I headed out back. As I said, this is not going to be a comprehensive look at everything. There simply wasn’t enough time, and it was just too overwhelming. It’s just so vast…
When I first saw this forest of sticks pointing skyward, I couldn’t figure out what they were. As I got a bit closer, it was obviously a vast collection of steering columns. This is a good preview of things to come, all in great multiples.
Transmissions? Did someone say transmissions?
Rows and rows of them.
And more rows.
And then there’s a whole building full of them. No wonder Jerry had a T-85 for me. And of course he knew that he did as soon as I called him. His memory is absolutely mind-boggling. I felt brain dead in his presence.
Need a radiator fan?
Drums and hubs; both outside and inside these two buildings, which look to be some old farm outbuildings.
Jerry’s family originally came to California for the Gold Rush in 1850 but found their gold in ranching and farming. I’m guessing that Jerry’s interest in cars and motorcycles was a lot bigger than in growing beans or picking fruit. So he started this wrecking yard in 1960 on part of the family ranch. It pretty well took over most of it, but he’s got a couple more that are dedicated to orchards and such. But he seems to spend all or most of his time here, Monday – Friday, and Saturday until noon.
For some reason, way too many of my shots turned out fuzzy. Looks like power brake boosters on one side and steering control arms on the other.
Transmission innards, I assume. I suppose Jerry knows what a lot of these are, or maybe this building is getting away even from him?
Lots more drums, discs, and hubs. There’s more in the distance.
Not done yet.
A pile of more recent plastic grilles that don’t deserve to be sorted and stored properly.
Rear axles. About an acre of them.
Rows and rows of windshields off in the distance.
That leads to the engines. Looks like a slant six there in front.
A mixture of the two.
Most of the engines are in this vast building.
Some of these shots are fuzzy. As was my head, from the combination of a short night and the sheer overwhelming aspect of it all. I didn’t really stop to look at stuff in detail, just walking and shooting randomly, mostly. There’s just no way to properly absorb it all, unless you want to spend a week or two. Or maybe hire on as a part picker.
How much of this will ever get sold and reused is a good question.
It’s mixture of vintage and more recent engines.
For some reason, this one caught my eye. And you can be sure that if someone called Jerry looking for a head for a 216 Chevy six, he’ll say yes and know just where it is. And what kind of shape it’s in. And what you’re going to want to do with it.
There’s more transmissions in here too.
Need a straight eight for your Buick? Jerry’s got it; almost certainly more than one. I saw a good number of very old flathead inline engines from the pre-war and early post-war era.
The exhaust manifold farm. They grow well here on these trellises.
Time to head out to where the actual cars are. Lots of other stuff too.
This VW 411 caught my eye.
Ford F-1 hoods, anyone?