The passenger jet roars off the end of the runway, climbing steeply, its white fuselage gleaming in the late-morning sunlight.
A couple of minutes later, another jet takes off, then another.
It’s a spectacle that could entertain a kid for hours.
Much like what’s happening just to the south of that O’Hare Airport runway, where a wheel loader rumbles toward a junked car, its giant steel prongs spearing the doomed automobile. The car, still vaguely recognizable as a Chevy, is lowered onto the floor of an OverBuilt “High Speed Car Crusher” at Victory Auto Wreckers.
Like some Medieval torture device, the crusher’s flat steel top comes down on the car; the sheet metal creaks, groans and pops — before the car is smashed, pancake-flat.
Kyle Weisner used to bring his twin boys here a couple of decades ago to take it all in. One of them liked to ride, fireman-style, on the side of one of the shop’s many tow trucks.
“Obviously, my guy drove very slowly. He didn’t want to kill the boss’ kid,” joked Weisner, the owner of the area’s most famous wrecking yard, opened in 1945 after the end of World War II by a pair of veterans.
Plenty of time for jokes now that he’s no longer working 80-hour weeks and preparing to close the Bensenville institution his family has owned since 1967 — perhaps best known for the 1980s TV ad featuring a guy with a shag hairdo who opens the door to a turquoise Chevy Impala, only to have the door fall off its hinges onto the street at his feet.
“That old car is worth money,” says the TV spot’s voiceover announcer.
The last day vehicles will be accepted at the yard is Nov. 18; Nov. 30 is the last day it will be open to the public for parts purchases.
Cars — at least the kind that end up in Weisner’s yard — aren’t worth as much at they once were.
“What cuts into the business is that there are less and less of the people who are do-it-yourselfers. Kids, for the most part, they want instant gratification,” Weisner, 54, explains, walking past row upon row of cars and trucks propped up on blocks, hoods open. “They are going to order something online; it’s going to be at their door in an hour. … There aren’t a ton of people who want to walk around a yard.”
Weisner’s twins — both in the entertainment business out west — aren’t interested in the junkyard life.
It’s not for everyone. The main lot is a vast, coal-black automobile graveyard. When the wind is blowing the wrong way, an unmistakable odor drifts from a nearby waste-water treatment plant, Weisner says.
Hired junkyard dogs — Doberman pinschers and German shepherds — used to prowl the 8.8-acre lot. They’ve been replaced by surveillance cameras. Two cats — “George” and “Spidey” — deal with other unwelcome guests.
“We don’t have any rats or mice or rabbits eating away at cables or fibers,” Weisner says.
That’s important because the money is in the recycling of parts and materials.
When Victory picks up your vehicle — paying anywhere from $200 to $500 depending on its weight, not the model — it’s towed to the yard and basically stripped.
So pay attention to parking signs, Weisner cautions.
“We start on it right away: We cut the hoses, drain the gas tank,” Weisner said.
The battery and the catalytic converter are removed.
Visitors have about a week to pick over the new arrivals. You can pick up an engine for $146, but you have to hoist it up and cart it away yourself.
“It’s a lot of work — that’s why you’re getting the motor for $146,” Weisner said.
Much of what customers don’t take gets sold to re-build or re-sale companies: transmissions, AC compressors, copper wiring, on-board computers.
What’s left — basically the shell, with the seats, steering column and sometimes the engine— gets crushed.
In a typical week, Victory used to strip and crush about 400 vehicles, Weisner said.
A “diamond in the rough” occasionally shows up — like the 1975 baby blue Cadillac Eldorado convertible towed onto the lot about 15 years back.
“It needed very, very minor [repairs],” Weisner said. “Somebody had spent a lot of money on that.”
Weisner rarely learns a vehicle’s backstory and didn’t in this case, he said. He didn’t crush the car; he sold it for $5,000.
A few years ago, a Victory worker found an AK-47 in the trunk of a car. A call came in from someone saying he had an item he needed to quickly retrieve from the car.
“The minute he shows up, police cars came and they grabbed him,” Weisner said.
Most people who know the name Victory probably haven’t been to the junkyard — but they’ve seen the famous TV ad, which ran from 1985 to just a few weeks ago. It made Victory a lot of money, and its star, Bob Zajdel, a local celebrity. He was in his 20s when Weisner’s dad, Kenneth Weisner, picked him for the on-camera role.
At the time, Zajdel worked for Victory as a tow truck driver. Now, 63, he drives an 18-wheeler, hauling freight.
Folks still tease him about the ad, he said.
But he never made a dime from the ad — except for two hours’ pay.
“I’ll walk into a bar — one of the neighborhood bars — and someone will say, ‘You were on the TV the other day,’” said Zajdel, who lives in Villa Park. “I get free drinks every now and then.”
As for Weisner, he’s looking forward, finally, to some free time in Arizona, where he and his wife now live.
“I’m looking forward to just puttering around,” he said.