I had heard the whispers from those in the Sumner community about the trove of automotive treasures in former Sunset Chevrolet owner Jerry Yoder’s garage.
Yoder’s collection has been profiled before in the pages of this very newspaper, but being a big fan of hot rods and muscle cars myself, I made it a point to clear a couple of hours in my schedule earlier this month to make the trip out to Yoder’s place — or should I say compound — on Lake Tapps.
I came away pretty amazed.
While it’s no big surprise that a guy who spent his entire career in the auto business brought his love of cars home with him, the cool thing I found about Yoder’s collection is that he has a neat story behind nearly every car or piece of memorabilia in the garage. The garage — which is more like a dealership showroom or a wing of the LeMay Museum — has been added onto six times over the years as the collection has grown. Twenty-one cars fit into it now, all neatly arranged — many looking like they just came off the showroom floor.
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“I’m a real purist,” he said.
Yoder also has an affinity for vintage neon lights, which add a cool nostalgic piece to the space. He even rescued the original Sunset Chevrolet sign that sat on the top of the dealership’s main building in 1951.
Yoder, who sold the dealership nearly three years ago, plucked some cars from trade-in transactions at the dealership (one guy unbelievably traded in his classic 1969 SS 396 Camaro on a Chevy Tahoe SUV) and deals on other cars came from tips or connections from longtime customers.
There is also a wide breadth of variety in the collection (but they are all Chevys; Yoder stays extremely loyal to his brand). Sure, there are a handful of cars that will spin the tires at one stab of the throttle, but there are also some, such as his Corvair Monza 4-door with 16,000 original miles, that aren’t necessarily going to outrun a Toyota Prius.
And then there is Yoder’s green 1952 Chevrolet, the same car he had when he attended Sumner High School.
“I just couldn’t sell it,” he said.
It has been impeccably restored and still brings back a lot of memories for a guy who has a long tie to the community. Yoder’s father graduated from Sumner High in 1931. He himself graduated in 1964, and both of his children are former Spartans as well.
When Yoder purchased Sunset Chevrolet many years ago, the previous owner told Yoder he needed to take care of the community. He took those words to heart. The 70-year-old has been a member of the Sumner Rotary for 45 years and has often put an afternoon barbecue at his showroom site on the auction block for a good cause. He’s also lent out use of his cars to those in the community for weddings, class reunions and special occasions — many have done laps around the stadium (which bears his former dealership’s name) on Friday nights over the years during Homecoming week.
There are more Chevys — some in various stages of restoration — in other “overflow” garages on the property. But Yoder is far from done collecting. He still has a couple on his wish list: a 1958 Corvette in yellow and white and a 1960 El Camino, and he’s just waiting for the right opportunity to snatch them up.
The former Spartan gets to routinely drive about 70 percent of his collection, and the summer months are all about getting them on the road and opening up the throttle. As a member of eight different car clubs, Yoder is never without a destination or road trip to occupy his weekend.
For those who do get the opportunity to visit the compound and talk shop with Yoder, one word of advise: Don’t ask him to pick his favorite ride.
“I hate that,” Yoder said with a laugh. “It’s like asking you to pick which child is your favorite.”