Motorcycle graveyard gives old bike parts new life
Tucked away from sight in a northern part of Mount Pleasant is a graveyard of twisted metal, handlebars and headlights where motorcycles come to be reborn.
The Snowmobile and Motorcycle Salvage, 4101 E. River Road, has been said to take many shapes over the past few years under the running of Steven Tompkins, president of the graveyard.
“It’s probably one of the biggest in the state,” Tompkins said of the space his salvage company takes up. “There are about 7,000 to 8,000 sleds out back now.”
In the early 1970s, Tompkins’ father came up with the idea of starting the graveyard with a total of 90 acres before retiring.
After 32 years of working at the graveyard, Dave Ryckman, who now works in sales as a manager, remembers how big it was the first time he looked over the rows of broken machines.
“It just keeps getting bigger as it goes,” Ryckman said. “When I first started here in 1981, there might have been 10 acres that had stuff on it. Now, there is 20 to 30 acres of parts.”
The place is ever-changing, with older models coming in, which have been used beyond all relief, he said.
“You can walk out there any given day and stumble across something you never knew was there,” Ryckman said. “Because I don’t think I have ever walked the same area twice out there.”
When a customer visits the graveyard, he said, they are pointed in the right direction and look around until they find what they were looking for. From then on, a grown man could be seen as a kid in a candy shop.
Normally, the graveyard has a motorcycle part eluding the customer at any other parts store; it’s just a matter of finding it.
These parts that weave in and out of one another like the chain-link fence surrounding the property come from motorcycles, snowmobiles, lawn mowers and boat motors.
With four or five employees on hand, winter is the busiest time of the year, along with the first part of spring, when the motorcycles come out of hibernation only to break down from not being ridden. Once in a while, even the dealers venture out to the graveyard.
“We originally started with just snowmobiles, but (we) had to have something during the summer when it became slow,” Tompkins said. “We included motorcycles so no one had to get another job when June came around.”
However, when winter wants to stick around like this year, he said, the weather detracts from the business side because the graveyard isn’t covered by a roof.
“It affects us. If we get too much snow it’s hard to find anything,” Rychman said. “Plus, if it’s really bad out, the customers don’t come out.”
Cedar Lake resident Ron Conner is a customer who has been coming to the graveyard for 20 years and has found it useful to peruse the collection of rustic metal for a transplant on a lawnmower.
Conner said he knows his way around the graveyard because of his time spent with lawnmowers when he had his own landscaping company before retiring.
“They’ve got everything you want, and that’s what I like,” Conner said. “I first heard about it from my brother-in-law.”
Ryckman enjoys when he can help someone who is starting a project from scratch. Some people who come back bring in pictures of the things they built from using the parts.
“I had one guy come in here who only had a muffler of a motorcycle, and he said he wanted to build one from it,” Ryckman said. “I told him, ‘You’re starting from the wrong end, buddy.’”
Like the stray parts that give life to snowmobiles and motorcycles, Tompkins said the business has adapted to a slow economy and has made the appropriate changes.
“We’re not going anywhere for a long time,” he said.
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