published in Volume 1, Issue 1 on January 15th, 1994
The phone rang twelve times before someone picked it up.
"B and F," said a graveled voice. "What can I do for ya?"
"Fan pulley for a 1971 Dodge 1/2 ton," I said. "318 V-8 with a top-loader four speed, no air. You got one?"
"Air? There weren't no fuckin' air on no `71 Dodge, what are you talkin' about? Pulleys? Hell yeah, we got a shit load of those."
B and F Auto Wrecking is a sprawling tar-pit of Detroit dinosaurs, a stinking super-fund candidate stacked yards deep in automotive refuse. This is not some well managed suburban "automotive recycling center." There are no clean-cut young men in blue cotton coveralls keying part numbers into computer terminals or saying "Good morning, may I help you?" on the telephone. The cars at B and F are not organized into neat rows by make and model, and there is no indoor display of plastic-wrapped hood ornaments and hubcaps.
B and F is one of the few yards that still clings to tradition, proudly advertising its purpose in hand-scrawled white letters painted on the rusted sheet metal fence: "AUTO WRECKING". Most of the cars at B and F come in behind a tow truck or are driven in by frustrated farmers or debt-ridden rednecks. The cars are quickly stripped of their useful parts, crushed into metal pancakes six inches high, loaded twelve at a time on a flatbed truck and taken away. Only the oldest and rarest vehicles - those with valuable sheet metal parts - are preserved for future generations. B and F is, for the most part, a self service wrecking yard. They will pull a part for you if the weather is good, but you had better be prepared to pay for the effort. At B and F, you bring your own tools or you bring extra cash.
I entered the yard and walked toward the office, a single-wide mobile home that looked like the past victim of a hurricane. There were old tires stacked three-high on the roof, like an elevated potato garden. The office was propped up by cinder blocks and used wheel rims, the aluminum siding so dented and torn so that the insulation was visible between the seams. I climbed two wooden steps to the front door, turned the knob and pushed. The door opened a few inches, then caught against the buckled floor and stuck. I pushed harder and the door crashed inward against an unseen barrier.
I stood in the doorway until my eyes became accustomed to the dark. I saw Fred, the "F" in "B and F", seated at the grimy black desk. He was lighting a cigarette. When he finished he blew smoke from the corner of his mouth and said:
"You again?" He grinned and showed his stained teeth. "What do you want?" he said. "We probably ain't got it."
I told him the same thing that I told him on the phone, minus the part about air conditioning. He pulled down the black microphone that hung from a coiled cord over his head.
"Hey, you lazy assholes!" he yelled. A scratchy soprano version of his voice squawked out over the P. A. "Somebody tell this sumbitch where the slant-sixes are..."
"It's a 318 V-8," I corrected him.
"They're the same," he shot back. He hadn't released the button of the mike, and his voice continued rasping out of the speaker mounted on the side of the trailer. "A fuckin' pulley is a fuckin' pulley."
The full-time staff of B & F consists of a pair of twins in their late twenties. Both of these brothers are named Steve, and I have never seen them together. I know there are two of them, though. When I explain to one of them what I want he always says, "Fuck yeah, over there by the fence," and waves his arm vaguely in whatever direction requires the most travel.
It never fails.
I'll climb over the rotting corpses of Desotos and Lincolns to where I think he has sent me, and when I get there his twin will appear out from behind a Chevy Bel-Air and ask, "What'n fuck are you lookin' over here for?"
There is a third employee, but I've only caught sight of him a few times, when the sun was at just the right angle. He is older than Steve and his brother. I'd have to estimate his age at somewhere between 35 and 90. It's difficult to know exactly, though, since the lines of his face are completely obscured by a decades-old layer of infused grime. His long hair could be blond, red, or completely gray, but the grease and dirt that coat him from head to toe give his hair the same uniform oil-blackness as the rest of his body.
In the dozens of times that I've been into B and F, I've never seen any activity aside from the occasional movements of Steve, Steve and their grease-covered coworker. There does seem to be a constant, gradual movement of inventory in this place, however. I am now convinced that the cars and trucks flow constantly, like glacial ice, toward some unseen final exit. I've sold six vehicles into the yard in the past twelve years. All of these vehicles have been quickly swallowed up in the rusting mountains of iron, plastic and steel. I once brought in a 1964 Ford pickup that had stranded me on the highway three miles out of town. I have no patience with vehicles that die unexpectedly, and that Ford had taken me completely by surprise when the differential disintegrated. I towed it home behind an old Eldorado and sold it to Fred the next day.
That truck was rolled in through the gates of the yard on a Wednesday. By Saturday, when I went back to look for a Pinto taillight lens, the truck was nowhere in sight. Surprised that it would be crushed and taken away so quickly (it wasn't a bad truck, the blown rear-end notwithstanding) I asked one of the Steves what they'd done with it. "Over with the other fuckin' Fords," he said, hooking a thumb to the west. I followed his instructions toward the back of the lot where a grove of cedar trees started. I climbed over a large pile of engine blocks, squeezed between a school bus and a Dodge van, and leaped over crevasses that had formed between half- submerged Lincoln Continentals, Mercury Zephyrs and Ford Fairlanes. I finally found my old pickup mixed in with a dozen other Ford trucks of similar vintage. The engine had been pulled, the tires and wheels were off, and the bed was filled with rusting tie-rods, leaf springs and bumpers. It was completely surrounded by other vehicles, some stacked five deep in the mud. I couldn't see any possible access, and concluded that the truck must have been either airlifted or thrown to its final resting place.
I stepped out of the office and, carrying my wrenches, began searching for the proper pulley. I walked in the general direction that Fred had indicated, detouring around the opaque black puddles until I was deep into Chrysler territory. I didn't believe Fred's contention that a slant six and a 318 shared the same pulley, so I searched for a car or truck with a V-8 to scavenge from. The visit to the office had not been for the purpose of locating the pulley anyway; Fred had no idea what parts could be found in his yard, or where they might be. The only reason to stop was so that Fred would know who was in his yard, and to make sure that he considered it open for business. It was rumored around town that Fred had shot at more than one customer who had been found prowling around in the back of his yard at the wrong time of day. Fortunately Fred had very bad eyesight and was, as a consequence, a very poor shot.
I found the pulley I needed dangling off the rusted engine block in the front of a battered Dodge Tradesman van. The water pump had been removed from the cracked block, and the pulley was hanging by a rubber belt from the alternator. There was no need to use my tools. I just plucked the pulley out from the engine compartment, separated it from the radiator fan with a yank, and headed back to the office.
"How much?" I asked, tossing the pulley onto the desk in front of Fred.
"Five bucks," he said, looking me in the eye. I fished a five out of my wallet and slapped it into his palm, then picked up my pulley. He kept his hand held out. "Plus eight percent for the Governor," he said.
"Fuck the Governor," I said. Fred's laugh bellowed out of the trailer and cackled from the speaker as I walked down the steps.