At first glance, Dick’s U-Pull-It on Mountain Highway East in Spanaway looks like a graveyard for classic automobiles.
But the salvage yard is actually a place where classic car parts, and sometimes the cars themselves, have a chance at new life.
“I feel comfortable around junk, I guess,” said owner Dick Rollins, with a laugh.
Many people would argue that the vehicles available to pick apart on Rollins’ property are anything but junk.
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Customers pay $2 for admission, bring their own tools and browse rows of antique vehicles, from Ford Mustangs to Volkswagen Beetles.
Scavengers pull parts and haul them to the front office for purchase.
As many as 30 people — some who had already bought items earlier in the day — browsed an estimated 600 to 700 cars in the first couple hours of the grand opening Wednesday.
At least one man arrived more than two hours before the gates opened, even before the arrival of Jim Warner, Rollins’ longtime friend and colleague.
Warner figured the older man didn’t want to miss out on hard-to-find parts.
“They all get ravaged,” Warner said, adding that people travel far to snag what they need.
Kevin Barnett of Spanaway pushed a wheelbarrow filled with tools through the rows of cars well after he found the part he came for, a small corrugated patch panel for his 1973 Volkswagen bus.
“This is the perfect part,” he said of the small sheet of metal. The roughly $10 part from Dick’s U-Pull-It would have cost him about $70 from a shop in Longview, he added.
“You’ve got some great cars here,” Barnett told Rollins, raving about an old Plymouth Valiant he found tucked in back.
Rollins has his own personal stock of classic cars, but the salvage yard is a different kind of collection.
“This is kind of my toy box,” he said.
His family has been in the wreckage business for more than 80 years. Until it closed in 1995, the yard was a place where cars were crushed and sold as scrap metal, including hundreds of “parts cars” from the LeMay Family Collection.
“We were crushing up to 10,000 cars a year,” Rollins said.
But he couldn’t stand letting that fate befall some of his favorite classics.
Over time, he rescued cars he fell in love with. That’s how his collection started growing and eventually ended up in the salvage yard.
His family loved them, too.
“We seem to have this running through our blood,” Rollins said.
He said his salvage yard stands out because of its inventory and prices.
And he has “some weird stuff out here,” too — oddball cars that aren’t commonly restored.
He pointed to a compact, rusted 1972 Honda that’s fittingly nicknamed a “Football.” It was the Japanese-based company’s first car to make its way to the U.S, complete with a motorcycle engine.
“There’s probably not many of them left on the planet,” Rollins said.
Sue Meacham stood behind a counter ringing up parts Wednesday. Although she avoided taking credit for launching the business, Rollins said she’s the driving force.
The Parkland resident said that anyone looking to get rid of derelict cars should think of Dick’s U-Pull-It first.
“This would be a good home for them,” she said. “At least here (a car) has a second chance.”
Beyond his nostalgic attachment to the cars, Rollins had another sentimental reason for Wednesday’s grand opening.
It was intentionally scheduled on the birthday of his longtime girlfriend, Kris Star, who died last year after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Rollins said his car fever was contagious, and Star, his high school sweetheart and partner for 37 years, quickly took to it “like a fish to water.”
And if she were here to see what the salvage yard has to offer?
“I think she’d say, ‘Right on.’”