Josh Nelson, 20, of Hawkins, woke up extra early Saturday with his father and brother to fight for parking, inhale dirt and wipe grimy motor oil on their jeans.
As the new day dawned, the trio was among hundreds of sweating, anxious mechanics standing outside Locos Gringos Pick-n-Pull auto recycling yard outside Tyler. They awaited the start of the occasional “All You Can Carry” sale.
For one day only, customers pay just $75 for all the salvaged parts they can carry and independently manhandle to the checkout counter.
To the casual observer, the semi-sometimes clearance sale seems as much a public spectacle in brute strength as an occasional purge of inventory.
For guys such as Nelson, who need a transmission for a 2004 Dodge Neon, the experience is a chance to mine for greasy gold, for a fraction of retail price.
“I love Neons,” Nelson said with a grin, sweat streaming down his face. “I’m down to two now, but I used to have five. I come to every one of these (sales) … I don’t even miss their half-off sales. It’s really cheap and I can get what I want.”
The “All You Can Carry” sale seems to enjoy almost legendary status among local professional and shade tree mechanics, who recognize value in discounted parts such as $20 alternators and $200 engines.
An ever-changing inventory means fresh vehicles arrive daily at the recycling yard, ready and ripe for picking.
“There’s pent-up demand,” said Rick Sage, 49, a co-owner of the company. “It’s been several months since we’ve had one of these sales. ... Men love what we do.”
Locos Gringos, 10310 County Road 383 off U.S. Highway 271, offers a variety of options, from dusty half-ton work trucks to mommy mini vans with pink ballerina window decals.
Unwanted automobiles housed in the 14-acre salvage yard stay only a limited time before they are crushed, pink stickers and all.
Interest in snagging discounted parts runs high on sale day, so off-duty law enforcement officers help with security and traffic control, while wreckers ferry customers from off-site parking to the front door.
There’s a $2 fee to rummage and a waiting line of hopeful people - mostly men and their tools - snaking around the parking lot.
Customer Roy Nelson, 46, isn’t a Dodge Neon fan like his son, but he supports the collecting bug.
“We’ve been doing this for years,” he said. “It’s time for us, and now I’ve got youngest son, Dylan, into it. This is something we all enjoy.”
Locos Gringos repeat customer Jesse Duarte, of Ben Wheeler, is working to outfit his granddaughter’s 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier.
He does the picking, his son does the hauling.
“I’ve had him carry a transmission, an axle, a hood and a couple of other things,” the elder Duarte said. “He’s good at it.”
Micah Duarte, at 6 feet 4, said he doesn’t mind being the heavy.
To the unfamiliar, he offers a bit of advice: “You better look quick, pull your parts quick and hope you can get it to the finish line.”
Bargain hunter Jack Slack of Overton rolled out of bed at 5 a.m. to see his wife off to a craft fair and head out for a little tinkering of his own.
He recently purchased a 2000 Dodge van for her business and showed up looking for a running board.
“I got everything I need in my backpack, easy to handle,” he said. “I got some water in a cooler. I even brought a change of clothing. It’s going to be hot and wet.”
OFF TO THE RACES
When the sale doors open, the real action begins as dozens of car guys surge into a sea of mangled machinery in search of automotive treasure.
“It gets a little crazy,” Sage said. “We try to make it a fun event. We have about 900 cars at all times so there’s a good selection. They have to bring their own tools.”
Wheelbarrows and logistical maps are provided.
Harvesting the goods seems to test the endurance of some people, who dash into the depths of the vehicle scrap yard, only to realize it’s a long walk back to the cashier.
For added interest, customers must single-handedly carry their picks at least 20 feet to get the special pricing.
Last year, one determined buyer staggered to the payment table balancing an entire truck bed on his back.
“The first time I saw this particular sale, I was laughing the whole time,” said Rhonda Sage, who pitched in Saturday to help her husband. “It’s like a Black Friday sale. It’s sort of like men are finally figuring out sales are worth it … who doesn’t need a bargain?”
A perspiring Donald Davis, of Winona, showed up with a decent set of tools and a strong sense of optimism.
He was observed lugging two doors for a 2005 Ford Taurus. Buying new is not an option, he said, pausing at the counter to catch his breath.
“These are for my wife’s car,” he said. “If I would have bought them next week, the price would have been $190. Today, it’s $75. So yeah, it’s definitely worth it.”
In the salvage areas, there are sections for imports, Chevrolets and Fords, to name a few. Most vehicles are a few years old, with some dating back to the mid-1990s.
Locos Gringos maintains an inventory on vehicles, but not parts, so it’s up to buyers to visit in person and check for availability.
“Our customers are really educated on what they are doing,” Sage said. “It’s real affordable, but you do all the work. The prices are so cheap, it helps people out.”
EVERY OWNER, A STORY
Busy dad Martin Brown, 50, of Tyler, found working under the hood of a 1999 Crown Victoria, learned how to fix cars from his late father, Lowell, an entrepreneur with 13 children and a strong work ethic.
Brown just built a 1985 Chevrolet truck from the ground up, using knowledge from his father and parts from salvaged autos at Locos Gringos.
He’s passing that mechanical knowledge onto his son, who owns a Crown Vic and needs parts, but could not attend the start of the sale.
“I just love to put things together,” Brown said. “I love to come out and fellowship with all the guys. It’s just a good time out here. I always enjoy it.”
Richard and Renee Jones, both of Tyler, always tag team their picks. They showed up with tools and small blow torches.
“I’m the cheerleader,” she teased. “I pass out the water.”
They wanted a transmission and windows for a 1990 Chevrolet pickup, all of which could retail for upward of $1,300.
“You get this adrenalin thing,” Jones said, who spent the morning sprawled in the dirt under a vehicle. “It’s exciting. I’ve been doing this for about 40 years. We’re going to get in there and get right to it.”
Jones said he adores mechanics and can’t resist helping stranded motorists and friends, all for the thrill of fixing things.
“It’s a challenge to me,” he said. “It is work, but it’s something I like doing.”
Mark Wood, of Winona, showed up early to grab accessories for his beloved “Four Eyes,” a 2003 Dodge truck that was a gift from his sister.
“It’s a retired state trooper’s truck,” he said. “It’s got extra headlights, heavy duty suspension … it’ll run 100 mph quicker than you can blink. I love it, I would never sell it. It’s an emotional thing.”
He paid $32.75 for two side steps for the Dodge and a fan for another vehicle, compared to about $185 retail for all.
“This is like my Hobby Lobby,” he said. “I love it.”
The real key to the success of the “All You Can Carry” sale is centered on a constantly changing inventory.
Locos Gringos buys and parts company with about 300 to 400 unwanted cars a month to ensure an infusion of fresh inventory.
Little goes to waste.
All fluids are removed. Gasoline is siphoned into a storage vat, recycled and reused in company wreckers.
Some new arrivals are wrecked, while others are simply too old or costly to repair, but everything in the yard has a limited shelf life.
“Our cars are here for 90 days, that’s it,” Sage said. “After that, they are crushed.”
Before a vehicle heads to its final disposition, special machines perform a last-minute scavenge operation to remove just about anything with resale value ‑ wiring, wheels, engines, etc. ‑ leaving primarily the exterior hull.
From there, a forklift puts the vehicle body into the crusher.
The pressure is so extreme a Dodge Ram truck is reduced in seconds to a metal pancake.
The metallic moaning and groaning of the truck’s demise sounds similar to rolling aluminum foil into a tight ball, only amplified.
The crushed scrap metal, once someone’s shiny pride and joy, is then sold, melted and recast as something new.
“I just love recycling,” said Gerald Scott, Sage’s business partner. “Essentially, we are taking a car that’s dead and making another car out of it.”
He’s been working in auto salvage since the 1970s and prefers dealing with “end of use” cars as opposed to wrecked ones.
He said some people are emotionally attached to their rides and have a difficult time saying good-bye.
“We once had a funeral for a car,” Scott said. “That was a little different.”
ITEMS LEFT BEHIND
Every auto seems to have a story, as evidenced by the objects their owners leave behind.
“Holy cow, you wouldn’t believe what people leave in their vehicles,” Scott said. “We struggle with it all the time. People leave their whole lives in their cars … checkbooks, stuff with personal information. The most interesting thing I’ve ever found was an urn with someone’s ashes in it.”
The container and ashes were returned to the family, but most found objects are not.
A box of live kittens found in a sedan went home with employees and customers.
Another vehicle discovery, a statue of a yellow Labrador with a missing front paw, sits near the crusher. Apparently no one had the heart to mash the art piece, so they made it a mascot.
The official company representative is a spoiled three-legged cat that appeared one day and never left. The former stray is now a respected rat hunter with two names, Tripod and Skippy, depending on who you ask.
A large rolling cart sits in the middle of the processing area to collect unwanted personal property. It’s piled high with a half-day’s collection of abandoned property: clothing, pillows, medications, license plates, diapers, pacifiers, phones and even a microwave.
Most items are discarded, but extra steps may be taken with sensitive information, and that costs money.
Scott said given the sheer volume of unwanted personal property that winds up there, the best disposal solution may be to pile it in a car and send it to the crusher.
“It’s a one-way ride,” he said with a grin.
At mid-morning, as the summer heat sets in, there is slowdown in the action as sweat-soaked, exhausted early bird shoppers head back to the roost with their goodies.
Out in the yard, some junked vehicles appear to be stripped clean of valuable components. Mangled grills, bumpers, wiring, oily rags and water bottles are scattered throughout.
Everything goes into the crusher next week and the recycling process begins all over again.
“There’s always a mess after one of these sales,” Sage said. “For people who’ve never been to one, it’s a heck of a sight to see.”