By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
While Joe Senior worked a day shift in the coal mines outside Boulder, Junior's mother raised the children, rented the cabins and pumped the gas, "which is how she had her nervous breakdown," Junior says. "And she never did recover 100 percent." But the male Svigels were tougher. After three years in the hospitality field, they closed down the cabins and committed themselves to the car-parts-and-repair business. It was a good move.
By the late Thirties the Svigels were thriving, and George Murray learned plenty from them--enough to open his own car repair and junkyard, with their blessing, when he was eighteen. But George was drafted into the Army the next year, and he stayed in the service until after the war. "When he got back," Junior recalls, "the city tells him, `You can't operate that business, because it never was a wrecking yard when you left, and you can't call it one now.' Even then, they said it was an eyesore. Well, my dad went down to court with him and told the judge who George Murray was and what he'd been doing, and George was back in business, all because of Dad."
That was the start of a long string of communal court appearances. Over the next five decades, even though they were competitors, the Svigels and George Murray traded parts and advice and fought city hall together. Both George and Junior contested every tax increase that came their way.
Plenty of zoning officials came their way, too. "Everyone thinks a junkyard looks like the devil," says Junior, "and they always want something more sophisticated and beautiful--but let me tell you, we didn't have oodles and gobs of money, and a wrecking yard is not a beautiful place."
"To this day, whenever I go into the Littleton courthouse, I start sweating," says Bob. "My father hated authority. He'd stomp in there and start yelling. And he was a big, big man, a former boxer, and he didn't go for the bureaucratic bullshit. It got so when they saw him coming, they'd warn each other."
By 1960 the first in a wave of Santa Fe widenings had forced the Svigel yard eight blocks south, where it continued to flourish as Svigel's Auto Parts. Today it is still Svigel-owned and -operated, with no fewer than eight family members, spread out over four generations, happily running the place.
George Murray's yard didn't have such a happy ending. As soon as his sons left high school, they both abandoned the junk business. "Old George had a terrific amount of money trouble," Junior remembers, "especially after his second wife's last illness. And he didn't make that much money. He would help you morning, noon or night, whether you could pay him or not. Anything he had to offer, he would give you. I went there all the time--for parts, advice, anything. He really was like a dad to me."
Even though George was only three years older? "Yes," says Junior, "he was like a dad."
"I first saw George Murray in 1953, and I was twelve years old," recalls Tom Hall, a lifelong Littleton resident who now runs a mobile mechanic service. "I was walking home from school, and I seen him working a speed bag. He was a very, very good boxer. His son Sammy asked did I want to meet him? And I said yes."
George had been a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth, and he still trained regularly. He loved to show boys how to box--and Tom loved the attention, since his own father was an alcoholic. Tom remembers Murray's as a boy's paradise, filled with old cars and wildlife that came down to the creek. And George.
"It got to when I was sixteen, I had piled up my car, and George let me put it back together from the parts he had," Tom says. "And we'd still box. Boy, I got a lesson. I took a swing at him one time, and the next thing I know, I'm looking up through the trees. I don't recall him boxing with his boys, though. With them, he was awful strict. It was like he loved them but he didn't want them to know that."
Tom went into the Marines and then on to gunsmithing school. Upon returning home, the first place he went was Murray's junkyard, where he presented George with a refurbished .410 bold-action shotgun, "a slick little gun he liked to shoot 'coons with." Tom had never forgotten the long, adolescent discussions he'd had with George--around the tree in summer, around a home-welded stove in winter--and over the next two decades he kept coming down to the yard, sometimes to talk, sometimes just to watch George in action.
"The yard was a mess," Tom laughs. "Someone would say they wanted some strange part, and George would look in the air, roll his eyes, scratch his chin and take off shuffling those feet. His britches were down all the time--he was pretty heavy, and it was like he didn't have any hipline. Mostly you didn't go with him, because you never knew what would happen with all those dogs. In no time at all, he'd come back with the part. No one ever understood his system except Ray, and he thought the world and all of Ray."