By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Bob went on to get four two-year degrees--among them, library science and hospital management. His father, who'd never finished high school, called him "`an educated fool,' and he may have been right," says Bob, "because I never did use any of it." Instead, twenty years ago he moved to Idaho, converted to Mormonism and became a factory manager, visiting his father at first sporadically, then more frequently in the last ten years of George's life. By then George had built two small houses on the junkyard property, and the living was easier--on the material plane, anyway. "He had depression," Bob says. "He told me, `I've practiced putting this shotgun in my mouth a hundred times.' I couldn't stop him even if I tried."
As the oldest son, Bob gave the eulogy at his father's funeral. He was stunned, he says, when nearly 600 people showed up for the service. Who were they, and how could they have known George Murray so well? It was an open-casket funeral, and everyone kept complaining that George looked all wrong in his dark business suit. He should have been wearing his old jeans and denim jacket, they said.
"And then when I gave my talk, I mentioned all the boys he befriended," Bob says, "but when I was done, here came all these women. And they said, `What about us? He helped us out, too.' My dad was a chauvinist in every sense of the word, but it turns out he had a lot of women friends that he helped, and here they were."
The sun has drawn away from the creek, and the chill of the shadows reminds Bob that it's time to go back to work. Since his father died, he's been dividing his energies between his wife and children in northern Idaho and this junkyard, where he systematically hauls off cars and sells them. Roads that once were visible only to George and Ray have now been cleared of weeds and metal scraps. Murray's regulars are stunned at this creeping tide of neatness and organization. It has even been whispered, in a not entirely friendly way, that Murray's is being "Bob-ma-tized."
"Ray and I have moved hundreds of cars in the past year," Bob says. "And there used to be thousands. My brother and I used to go from Santa Fe to the river bank, jumping on car roofs as we went and never touching ground."
But now, real estate agents are nosing around. This is valuable property, and with the cars removed, the trees cut down and the land brought level with Santa Fe Drive, it could be worth hundreds of thousands more, one would-be developer told Bob. "But I don't know," he muses. "Maybe I should never sell it. Maybe I'll turn it into a storage lot. Or an RV park. Ray and I were just talking about how it would make a great RV lot, weren't we, Ray?"
Ray nods, noncommitally. He is busy hooking a massive chain around the midsection of an auto body stripped so bare that no identifying marks remain other than a lone tail fin. Bob runs over and begins cranking the body into the air with a homemade winch mounted on the back of an ancient truck. The carcass swings in the air between the trees and lands on the back of a homemade flatbed. Over the next 45 minutes the two men stack another three car hulks on top of the first one. As a spectator event, it is oddly thrilling. At least, several men who have come to forage in the yard seem to think so. The four car corpses will end up at a recycling plant later today, where they will be cashed in by weight like so many aluminum cans.
As Bob and Ray scrape away layer after layer of old cars, they unearth truly historic strata. Today the back end of an ice-delivery truck from the early Twenties is suddenly visible, and every month or so they strike a rich vein of Model A's.
"As I get low on money," Bob says, "I just pull 'em up."
"Whenever it's time to collect money, you come back home, don't you know that?" scolds Joe Svigel Jr. "When you can come back and recoup what someone else has made, why not? Of course, I don't know young Bob real, real personally. He's probably okay."
Junior knew George Murray much, much better. As junkyard owners working within five blocks of each other for more than forty years, they led almost parallel lives.
"And George worked for us in the very early years, before he even started his own yard," Junior recalls. "He was a terrific hard worker and a wonderful person. And even before that, his mother and father sold us eggs from the little farm they had, and they were wonderful people--minded their own business and not a bit snooty."
Junior's father, Joe Svigel Sr., was an automotive pioneer on this particular strip of road, opening a "cottage camp" at 3539 South Santa Fe around 1930.
"For the first three years we had a grocery store, two gas pumps and a six-cottage camp for motorists," Junior recalls. "I was in on it from the very beginning, although I was rather young in the early days." (In fact, he was five years old.) "Things were different then. They didn't have this fancy thing where you go into the Dunes and stay in a castle. All the fancy motels were downtown, so we always had to stay open till ten, eleven, twelve at night so we could draw the last of the fantastic trade that couldn't afford to pay over 75 cents a night."