FINDING THE GOOD IN EVERYTHING


Dale age 18 behind the wheel of his 27 Model T road buggy next to his mother and brother with his brother's new 1941 Ford.

DALE KIRKHAM had a special talent  for  finding the good in everything, and he made a nice living doing just that – finding the good!  Whether it was seeing value in a broken down car sitting in a farmer’s field, or helping a destitute young man get through vocational school, or serve a mission, Dale saw the good and capitalized on it.  He made a career of finding value in salvage, repurposing old buildings, developing raw real estate, and overhauling broken lives by being a friend, counselor, and mentor.

SCRAPING MODEL T’s – When Dale was 13 or 14 years old he used to go around his neighborhood, begging and buying old Model T Fords that in the late 30s were being phased out in large numbers by newer, more powerful automobiles. “I would “find the good” in other people’s junk.  People would often give me their old cars if I would just drag them out of their beet fields”, Dale recalled.  “I would take an ax and cut the bodies off, stripping them down to their frames.  I would load them on a wagon and when I had a full load I would hitch up my old horse and drag them down to Geneva Steel in Orem, Utah where I would get $10 a piece for those frames. They made sheep camps out of them. I often had a hundred dollars or more in my wallet when I was just a kid.”  Dale helped support his family during the very lean times of the depression years when money very scarce.

Oliver Kirkham on a home made Model A tractor

CREATING AND REBUILDING – Dale’s passion for cars was not just for the scrap value they had, he could also “find the good” by creating new from used.  With the help of his father he would creatively put pieces and parts of different cars together to make  tractors and road buggies.  Because his family lived on a farm, they could get fuel ration coupons during the early days of the war. “I always had a car from the time I was about 14 years old. I drove to school, and in the winter I would often go out on Utah Lake when it was frozen over.  I would spin my friends around in my hacked off Model T.  I’m lucky nobody ever got killed!”  Later in life Dale would make a business purchasing wrecked vehicles and rebuilding them.  “I always had nice cars.  I love cars!  I would build my cars up from scratch, repaint them, and presto, I had a beautiful car.”

Dale standing behind the counter of one of his auto parts stores in the 1970s

THE AUTO PARTS BUSINESS –  Dale came to Pocatello from Utah in 1949 to start an auto parts store in partners with his brother, Reed.  They modeled the Kirkham Auto Parts stores using principles pioneered by Uath auto parts magnate Frank Bradshaw. Both Dale and Reed worked for Frank before the war.  Dale and Reed eventually split up and finding the good in the separation, Dale went his own way.  As Dale’s business grew he discovered that he could “find the good” in wrecked cars.  He would buy cars that had been totaled in accidents to harvest them for their engines. “The Ford Flathead V-8 engine was all the rage after the war.  Everyone wanted one.  I would buy wrecked cars that had the engines, sell them, and then I had to figure out what to do with the rest of the car.  Finally I bought an empty lot south of Pocatello and I put the bodies there.  Then people started buying other parts off the bodies and before I knew it, I was in the salvage business.”

A FUNNY MEMORY BUILDING CARS – Years later, Dale remembed purchasing one wrecked car in American Falls in the early 1950s.  The car was a rollover but still had all four tires, brakes, and could be steered.  “I took my father-in-law and a chain and we drove to American Falls to tow the broken car back to Pocatello.  A few miles out of American Falls the chain broke, and I was obliged to pull over to the side of the road and wait till he came back.  People would stop to see if I was alright.  It looked like I had been in a terrible accident.  A police officer came and I had to explain that I hadn’t wrecked the car, I was just being towed back to Pocatello and I didn’t need a ride to the hospital. Meanwhile my father-in-law drove all the way back to Pocatello, pulled up in front of my house, turned around and to his astonishment, I wasn’t there! Baffled, he drove all the way back to American Falls, found me, and seeing me surrounded by concerned drivers he asked, “What happened to you?”  I fired back at him, “I was wondering the same thing about you!”  We laughed for years about that experience.”

EXPANDING BUSINESS – Dale’s Auto Supply and Dale’s Auto Salvage served customers all over the Western United States and Canada.  “We got one of the early tele-type systems and joined an association of other auto salvage yards.  If customers needed a part and we didn’t have it, we would put it on the tele-type and see if we could find it.  It was the early internet system.  Eventually we transitioned to “hot-lines”, expensive dedicated long-distance phones that allowed dozens of salvage yards to talk to each other simultaneously.  “You would walk in the store and it sounded like a live-stock auction and a carnival all rolled up into one.  Those were days that you had to be sharp and really on your toes.”  Finding the part was only half the battle.  Whether buying or selling, the parts had to pulled, tested, cleaned, crated and shipped.  “There was a lot of overhead in doing all that.  We had a alphabetic price system we would use, instead of numbers, so that we could speak in code front of our customers.  It was amazing to watch.  To me it felt a lot like being live at the stock exchange on wall street.”  Dale eventually opened specialty salvage yards including yards for imported cars and yards for heavy duty truck parts.

Dales Auto Salvage 1982

AUTO RECYCLING -  Dale was a pioneer in the recycling business and his enterprise grew rapidly.  Dale started salvage yards in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, and Montana.  “The yards were  very profitable and eventually people caught on to recycling so the scrap became valuable as well.”  In the late 1960s and early 1970s people starting buying cars from Japan.  “The Japanese needed scrap to make steel.  So we started a second company called RECYCLE CONTRACTORS and went all over the country literally cleaning up everywhere we went.  We owned our own trucking company and began shipping pre-processed scrap to the large mills in Las Vegas, Houston, Sacramento, Portland, and Regina, Canada.  People used to abandon cars in gullies, farm fields, and at public dump grounds.  We gathered them up, crushed them, and sent them over to Japan on huge ships.  They would melt them down and send them back to us as new Datsuns or Toyotas.  We had a lot of fun in those days.”

TETON DAM FLOOD.  On June 5, 1976 an earthen dam on the Teton River, north of Idaho falls failed, causing a devastating flood that resulted in the loss of millions of dollars of property and took 11 lives.  Dale had several contracts with insurance companies to buy their auto salvage.  “We guaranteed to pay them 20% of the retail value of any wrecked vehicle they got.  We were geared to picked up the occasional salvage from a car wreck, but we weren’t prepared when the dam broke. Thousands of cars were swept away in that terrible flood.”  Immediately the phones started ringing and Dale was told he had to go out and gather up the salvage from the flood.  “The extent of the damage was catastrophic.  Often the cars were miles away from where they started.  They were all filled with mud. Some had rolled over hundreds of times and the model was unrecognizable.  The cost of all those cars nearly bankrupted our company.”  Somehow Dale managed to raise the money and gather up all the battered cars.  Slowly, overtime, he turned the huge inventory into a valuable asset.  “I just tried to find the good in a very bad situation and thats exactly what I discovered.”

DEMOLITION WORK.  As Dale acquired equipment and trucks he also got opportunities to branch out into other forms of salvage.  He started finding the good in demolition work.  “We always helped out in the community, tearing down little shacks especially in the poorer area of Pocatello around the rail road where I lived with my family in an apartment over our store.  One day officials at the Union Pacific saw us tearing down some old houses and asked if we wanted to bid on the demolition of their old freight depot.  I knew nothing about demolition work, but I gave them a bid.”  Dale’s bid was so low that they questioned that he could even do the job.  He not only completed the demolition ahead of schedule but came in below budget.  “They were happy and we were happy.  Everyone came out a winner.”  Finding the good in demolition work opened up many new doors for Dale and his company.

Blackfoot Sugar Factory

BLACKFOOT SUGAR FACTORY.  In 1982 Dale and his sons, who had now both joined him in the business, were driving through Blackfoot, Idaho. Dale pulled the car over next to a dilapidated old sugar factory and said to his boys, “My father used to boil sugar beets up on the top floor of that old building. Come on, lets go have a look.”  The property had been sadly vandalized and was a terrible eye sore in the community.  As they walked through the rubble Dale said, “What a mess! We should buy this and clean it up.”  Once again Dale was finding the good in something where others saw no value.  He called Amalgamated Sugar Company and made them aware of the liability of the enormous nuisance they had in Blackfoot, and he asked if they would consider selling the property.  Negotiations began and Dale soon acquired the property and he had a huge cleanup project in front of him.

REPURPOSING AN OLD SUGAR FACTORY – During the process of tearing down the old factory, a man stopped by and asked him if he could buy one of the old bagging machines that was still inside the factory.  “You can have it for nothing if you want it, take it.”  The man then asked about Dale’s plans for the property and he was told that it was all coming down.  Dale wanted it cleaned up.  “Please don’t tear down any of this old brick warehouse”, he said, “I would like to rent it from you.”  With that Dale found a home for Con Agra Foods fertilizer division and the property has been used for fertilizer distribution ever since.

BECOMING A REDEVELOPER – After the sugar factory, Dale went on to repurpose a number of other historic properties in Southeast Idaho including The Garrett Business ParkMeridell Park, and the old ZCMI warehouse in Pocatello.  Dale saw so much value in old property. “Find the good and get rid of the rest”, was his motto. The allure was more than he could resist.  Garrett Freight Lines was a facility that had been built during the high years of government regulated freight tariffs.  Garrett’s buildings were built to the highest standards. Clarence Garrett chose to build the headquarters for the fifth largest freight company here.  But when Mr. Garrett died and the company was sold, the facility was too large to serve Pocatello any more as a single purpose freight facility.  “We envisioned that Garrett’s could be turned into a business park and provide affordable incubation facilities for many businesses.”  Finding the good in the remnants of Garret Freight Lines proved to be a small gold mine. Once again customers found that when properly remodeled and updated, those facilities functioned as good as new and at a lower cost.

FINDING GOOD IN OTHERS.  Dale also was a believer that you can find the good in people as well.  He loved to help others.  For over two decades Dale sponsored scholarships at Idaho State University School of Applied Technology for students who couldn’t afford tuition. “Many of those kids were very worthy of help but had nowhere to turn.  Vocational scholarships were pretty hard to get in those days.”  Some of those students went on to very successful careers of their own, some becoming famous in their own right.  Dale helped to give them that start.  One such student was ISU Alumni Boyd Cottington who went on to be one of the most famous hot rod car designers in the industry.  His cars and designs are highly sought after to this day.

Hot rod designer Boyd Cottington, recipient of Dales Auto Scholarship

Boyd Cottingham Thank you letter to Dale Kirkham

Through his company, Dale provided jobs to hundreds of people through the years.  His ideas and philosophies have influenced his industry and his family.

CONCLUSION - Dale lived by the idea that true religion is helping and serving others.  “There is no better form of service than helping people by serving in business”, Dale loved to say.  “In business you treat people well.  You treat them with courtesy.  You call them ‘sir’ or ‘mam’, and if you please them and serve them well they will come back and do business with you again.  They will become your friends and you will be wealthy because any man who has friends is never poor.”  Dale had many, many friends.

 

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