Passion for vehicles spawns rural business

Hobby becomes profitable | Muscle car addicts trade in cattle to concentrate on carburetors, calipers and crushed cars

CLAVET, Sask. — A farm that was once measured by heads has become all about bodies.

The Bentley farm, which used to be home to about 400 head of cattle, has taken diversification to a new level by morphing into a graveyard for 5,000 to 6,000 wrecked vehicles.

Miles and Blair Bentley incorporated the venture 25 years ago after their father gave them some farmland to start Amigo’s Auto Wrecking in Clavet, Sask.

It has grown into what the brothers believe is one of the largest auto wreckers in Western Canada.

In addition to selling car parts to drivers, garages and body shops, every year the Bentleys ship 150 to 200 semi loads, each containing 20 to 25 crushed vehicles, to the Gerdau Long Steel North America recycling plant in Winnipeg.

That creates room for a constant turnover of vehicles.

“That’s the reason we’ve done so well. You go to some of our competitors and the rows of cars haven’t changed in four or five years,” said Miles.

On a typical Saturday, there will be 30 or 40 customer cars in the parking lot at any given time.

“We are just literally run ragged on Saturday. It’s our big day. It’s definitely the best day of the week,” said Miles. “We are so out of control.”

It hasn’t always been that way. The brothers recall the early days of the business when they were hauling vehicles at two in the morning, swapping plates on tow trucks to save money and moving cars around the yard with their father’s front end loader.

“At the beginning, the banks said auto wreckers are too much of a risk,” said Blair, in between cellphone and walkie-talkie calls.

“We had to fund everything.”

They used their personal credit cards and lines of credit to finance the fledgling business and took turns helping their dad with the mixed farming operation.

It started out as more of a hobby than a business. Both of the brothers were keenly interested in muscle cars. They would buy a neighbour’s vehicle to add a part to one of their cherished cars and then sell the leftovers.

These days, farming has taken a backseat to the auto wrecking business. The 15 quarters of land that their deceased father owned has been rented out to a couple of area farmers.

The cattle herd is gone, replaced by about a dozen sheep that can often be found grazing among the 65 acres of wrecked automobiles.

“I thought cattle smelled bad but damn them sheep are nasty,” said Miles.

The cattle may be gone but the memories linger as strong as the scent of those spring days when their father was cleaning out the corrals.

“Customers were wanting to get in and out as quickly as possible,” said Blair.

Miles runs the back end of the business — running the shop and the yard and co-ordinating the crushing and recycling duties.

Blair handles the front end of the business — locating and pricing the parts and dealing with customers. Miles said Blair has an uncanny ability to remember what vehicles and parts are on the lot. There is no paper inventory, just what exists in his head.

“He can remember that but he can’t remember if I ask him to unclog the sink,” said his wife, Cheryl, who helps with the bookkeeping at Amigo’s and answers the phones.

Miles’ wife, Tracey, also helps out with the business when she gets time away from pursuing an education degree at the University of Saskatchewan.

“It’s so family oriented and we all have a part of the business,” said Tracey. “We all do what we can to help each other out and work whenever we have to work.”

That includes the kids. Miles and Tracey have three daughters, two of whom are working part time at the front counter. Blair and Cheryl have two boys, including 20-year-old Cody, who is being groomed to take over the reins of the business some day.

Blair said one of the plans to expand the business is to have his computer-savvy son create an inventory and take the high-value portion of the parts business online.

A modest Miles claims they’re just “dumb farm boys that got lucky,” but when pressed he acknowledges that they inherited their father’s work ethic. Putting in six-day weeks for a quarter of a century has taken its toll. He hopes Cody, who started full time on Sept. 1, will take a little pressure off.

It’s a safe bet that if Miles gets any free time, it will be spent polishing his collection of 10 pristine Ford muscle cars.

“I’ve got issues. I’m not a drug addict. I’m a car addict,” he said.

Blair also clings onto a lifelong habit that spawned their thriving business. He has five muscle cars.

“He’s a Chevy guy. He only gets to see the rear bumper on my Fords,” Miles teased.

Blair fires back that Miles’ cars never see the light of day.

“God forbid if they ever got rained on or got a rock chip. I’d have a stroke,” said Miles.

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