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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Junkyard tour: King's Auto Parts in Birmingham, Alabama


Call it King’s Auto Parts in Birmingham, Alabama or the location of Job’s Junkyard Salvation for a family that has been dealt tragic loss. Lonnie King and his wife raised three sons and a daughter among a hodgepodge of buildings and vehicles that surround their homeplace. Decades of honest, hard work building a business was destroyed and became meaningless in 1998. One of King’s sons was murdered. Then an F-5 tornado ripped through their home and wrecked the junkyard in a span of two months that year. 

Lonnie King, owner of King's Auto Parts in Birmingham, AL.

King almost didn’t recover from the pain of 1998. “Daddy didn’t want to get out of bed or leave the house,” said King’s daughter, Lottie Green. The family worked together and pulled King’s Auto Parts from despair. “Mom and I started the junkyard back up. We ran it and got daddy motivated again.” The King family suffered through three murder trials while keeping the junkyard in business.

A 1970 Chevrolet is King's junkyard wrecker.

Starting from scratch
King has been buying junk since 1970 but started the junkyard after being laid off from his welding job in 1979. “I used to buy and sell cars and parts. Pull engines, you name it,” King says. “I had a real job and started doing this out of necessity.” After King was laid off, the family was down to its last $800 when he saw a truck for sale. King bought it for $750, built it into a wrecker and went to work hauling cars to his yard. Eventually, he got a business license so the local authorities would quit harassing him about the number of cars parked at his house. “I worked for a long time before anybody knew what I was doing. Sometimes, the police would sit out here and watch the place.”

Bread and butter years
King remembers years in the 1980s and 1990s when buyers from Ohio and Canada would buy cars from him and resell them up north. “In those days you could sell them a 1970 Chevelle SS or any other muscle car for top dollar,” King said. “Loads of rust-free, southern cars found new homes.” 

King's Auto Parts has tons of junkyard character. 
Can you find the Dale Earnhardt Wrangler model car in this photo?
Junkyard thieves
King’s business, like most junkyards, has been victimized by crime. One day while King was working alone, he was robbed at gunpoint by two men who left him tied up. On another occassion he caught a burglar in the act of stealing. King managed to fire a few warning shots at the would-be robber as he fled on foot. “There’s no telling what’s been stolen that I don’t even know about,” King said.
Lonnie King raised a family and operated a junkyard on this property.

Looks can be deceiving
At 10 a.m. on a recent summer day, the temperature was rising fast. Lonnie King, 66, stood on the porch of his house in the center of the automotive compound he rebuilt after the tornado. King, sporting a sleeveless t-shirt and Dale Jr. belt buckle, looks tough but has the heart of a true southern gentleman. King went out of his way to show me around what remains of his junkyard in western Birmingham. King’s Auto Parts unofficially closed in 2006 but it still looks like a junkyard, as dozens of cars remain. King leases a back lot to a towing company and the few vehicles that litter the red, clay hillside are for sale.
What’s for sale?
A couple of late 1970s Chevrolet Malibu Classics, a 1977 Nova along with some 1968-1972 pick-up trucks that can be bought. A 1975 Camaro and a destroyed, demolition derby car round out King’s upper yard. The older, collectible parts have all but disappeared but he does have a rare 1968 Chevy 302 engine and a 350 4-bolt main engine for sale as well. 
Junkyard vegetable garden
King now operates a produce stand called “Job’s Vegetable Garden” near the main road. In the Bible, Job’s faith was tested when he lost everything and remained faithful. The Lord restored all the things Job lost. It seems faith has not been lost at King’s. “Jesus loves you” and a dozen similar religious messages decorate the fence and front gate of King’s junkyard. Directly across the street from the junkyard is a church. If you make it out to King’s you may get a lesson in faith, the junkyard business and a basket of vegetables.

A first gen Camaro fender sporting vintage war paint at King's.

An old round-tracker, junkyard eye candy at King's.

A 1975 aluminum-bumpered Camaro bides time at King' junkyard.

King's 1966 Mustang convertible is for sale, read more.

1990 Mustang GT with parts to spare at Kings Auto Parts.
What? Where? Hours?
King’s Auto Parts
1432 Huron Pl N
Birmingham, AL 35224

Hours - Closed in 2006 but King still has cars and parts he will sell. You might catch him in person or call, (205) 786-3256
Know of a junkyard I need to visit? Send me an email here.