The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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September 14, 2013

Another man’s treasure: Cars have multiple uses after their driving days

JOHNSTOWN — When it comes to old, used up and junked cars, Ed Shaffer is a sort of Charon – a ferryman to the vehicular afterlife. Except the splendor of endless, verdant fields and harp music is replaced with a roughly 82-acre lot of dirt, rusted metal and classic rock over the radio.

S&S Auto Salvage started out along Frankstown Road in the 1980s as a small operation, owned by Shaffer’s father and his father before him. Today, Shaffer estimates they crush hundreds of cars into scrap each month. S&S buys and sells junkers all over the country – as far as California, New York and Florida – via its website,

Shaffer said around 2,200 calcified husks with a lot of miles and memories – a family minivan, a 16-year-old’s first ride or a trusty taxi – currently fill their lot to capacity.

“It’s an ongoing process. We’ll get one in and it’s so full right now, we gotta  take one out,” Shaffer said. “There’s no room to keep putting them out there.”

Most of the junk cars in their stock are bought elsewhere. Very rarely do they take in local cars, but for good reason.

“They’ve seen a lot harder life,” he said. “This area’s hard on cars, with the corrosion and weather. They become rusty.

“We tend to buy stuff from down south. We get better quality cars down there.”

Once they’re on the lot, the vehicles are field-stripped, with engines, transmissions, rear ends and moving parts like alternators and axles removed. All fluids are drained and recycled before the bodies are hauled to the yard and the usable parts are stored in the S&S garage.

They’ll later come back to the cars to pick at them again.

“We strip it down as far as we can, use as much as we can off it,” Shaffer said. “At that point, we put it in the crusher, we crush it and then we haul it in for scrap.”

Although it depends on the car, those selling to a scrap yard can only expect to get a few hundred dollars out of their tired heap. But there’s a way to make the worth go a little farther – donating it toward breast cancer research.

Komen Cars, a not-for-profit that handles the salvage effort for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, works with towing and salvage outfits across the country to pick up junk cars, turning them into research funds for local Komen affiliates. It’s a division of larger D.C.-based nonprofit Melwood.

“The towing is free of charge to the donor – we take donations regardless of age or condition,” said Komen Cars Director Ron Farrin. “Even a piece of junk has some value we’ll be able to get for the local Komen affiliate.

“For the good, the bad, the ugly, probably about $800 to $850 a vehicle (on average).”

There are plenty of other salvage operations that donate toward breast cancer research, but they’ll extract a fee – usually 40 to 50 percent, according to Farrin. Komen Cars gives everything in excess of the towing and auction expenses.

The foundation then gives 75 percent of that to the local Komen affiliate – Pittsburgh for the Johnstown area, but donators can decide where their money goes – and 25 percent goes to national breast cancer research.

And the process happens very fast. Farrin said once a donation order is placed, typically through the organization’s website,, a call to a local towing company is made within the hour.

“If we take a car today and we send it up and get it picked up, typically, the car’s picked up the next business day,” Farrin said.

Donators should receive the IRS paperwork for writing off the donation on their taxes within the month, according to Farrin.

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at

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