Farm Horizons, September 1998

One farmer's trash is another's treasure


Looking over acres of used farm machinery at Cokato Tractor Salvage in Cokato, one might get a feeling of scattered abandonment, but owner Elroy Dahlin knows where everything is.

Rows of well-organized bins march up and down the electrical shop and storage areas. The smaller parts are stored here, and Elroy knows where every part is.

If on the outside chance he doesn't know where to find a particular part, one of his three full-time employees does, he said.

No computerized inventory here, at least not yet, said Elroy.

The software is out there, but many salvage yards have spent years trying to get all their inventory into the computer.

Elroy and his wife, Betty, own the salvage business and cater to full-time farmers, hobby farmers, artists, and an international trade.

Every morning, the fax machine spits out a dozen or so pages of parts descriptions that are being searched for world-wide.

They come from a network based in Kelseyville, Calif., that puts out the information to all its members.

"We have shipped parts as far away as South America, Africa, and Alaska," said Elroy.

Daily shipments go to the east coast, and some small amounts to the south and west, he said.

"A guy that came down from Alaska for a birthday party ended up buying a Ford tractor and a trailer to haul it with. We have shipped parts to him," said Elroy.

Betty and Elroy have been in the salvage business in Cokato for 24 years, and, until July, they were partners with Dennis Lundeen of Cokato.

Lundeen sold out to the Dahlins, and they also bought the remainder of the inventory from Mid-State Equipment, owned by Jerry Terning and Dennis Mahlstedt.

The Dahlins purchased what is called short line equipment (as opposed to major lines) from Mid-State.

They now carry oil and new belts, grease, antifreeze, plow parts, and many other items.

There are only a dozen or so tractor salvage yards in the state, with Willmar and Paynesville being the closest.

Things have changed over the years, said Betty.

"I first started doing the bookwork at home, then we built another building, and I had an office," she said.

The original building was just a little barn, she said, as she pointed out an old picture on the wall.

There were a lot of dairy farmers around then, but now the business deals with more grain farmers, hobby farmers, and collectors, said Betty.

The average person with a car or truck has been added to the customer list with the addition of the electrical repair shop, Elroy explained.

"The last 12 years or so we have done a lot of generator and alternator repair for cars and trucks, and now we are having a lot of call for lawn mowers and parts," he said.

Now the business carries batteries and belts for lawn mowers, so they are also getting more into used parts.

"Of course with more cows gone, the trade is more seasonal, rather than year round," stated Elroy.

Some of the changes to the business came about because of a season, said Betty.

In 1992, a tornado took three-quarters of the roof off and did a lot of damage to the machinery.

"We had a 32-foot field cultivator on top of our truck," said Elroy

At that point, the Dahlins were forced to do repairs and some refurbishing.

The smaller parts in the bins were all over the floor and the place was quite a mess, Elroy said. The inventory had to be completely organized again.

The salvage yard gets its inventory from used tractors, insurance companies, auctions, or a private party, sometimes trading with people, Elroy explained.

The parts locating system is between the salvage dealers in the United States and Canada, he said.

"We handle new, used and rebuilt parts for tractors and some combines," said Elroy.

Some of the salvage trade comes from collectors with antique tractors from the 1930s and '40s, he said.

Betty said they have had some interesting experiences and met some very interesting people.

On the good side, a doctor and his lawyer daughter come out once or twice a year with a trailer and load up with parts to weld together for art projects.

Sometimes the parts are special request and are shipped to them. Other times they are so big they have to be delivered, said Elroy.

"The first time they came out, they were taking pictures, and we thought they were from the government or something," said Elroy.

Other times, the interesting people have not turned out to be quite so nice.

Theft can be a problem.

"We had a guy steal an alternator," Betty said.

Elroy said he confronted the man outside the store, and the man took off running to Olson Chain and Cable across the street.

"Pretty soon, Olsons called us to find out what was going on over here," he said.

There was a man standing in their parking lot looking toward the salvage yard.

"The police finally caught him in the body shop," said Elroy.

Sometimes, he said, people go into the yard and take more parts than they are supposed to take.

But Elroy likes his customers, and they visit a bit when making a purchase; sometimes, they just give Elroy some old-fashioned ribbing.

A person might think Elroy wouldn't be able to resist all the "good stuff" that comes through his business, but Elroy said he doesn't have his own tractor collection, just toys.

"I don't have any place to keep the big ones," he said.

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