As the third generation of a family-run company based in the mid-west US, John M Vander Haag, President of Vander Haags, providers of truck servicing and suppliers of used, remanufactured and new heavy-duty commercial truck and trailer parts, is proud to give Auto Recycling World readers a glimpse of his company’s fascinating history.
By late 1939 as the ground began to freeze, John C. Vander Haag Sr. realized that something had to change. Living in a developing agricultural area, John Sr. had spent the past few years farming and laying field tile by hand – one clay tile after the other. Faced with another winter season with frozen ground, John Sr. made the decision to contact the farming customers he had worked to purchase any leftover machinery or vehicles they had sitting on their farms. Little did he know it at the time, but John Sr. had just started a company that would still be in existence over 80 years later.
As a young boy, John C. Vander Haag Jr. would rush home from school to see what new items had been added to the yard. By his teenage years, John Jr. had become interested and active in the family business.
As world war two created shortages for car parts and increased demand for many recyclable commodities, South Side Junkyard used every opportunity to provide used, reused, and worn-out parts to as many customers as possible.
Times were difficult, and so was finding parts to sell. In addition to a limited supply of raw material (parts units), in 1943, the federal government tried to require salvage yards to turn in their salvage cars and parts for scrap. Fortunately, an association called the National Auto Truck Wreckers Association (NATWA) was able to convince the government to allow the salvage yards to keep their parts and contribute just their scrap for the war effort. Towards the end of the war, a salesperson stopped by and sold John Sr. their first Hollander interchange manual – A 10th edition manual! Unknown at that time, this book would open many doors.
By the mid-40s, John Jr. was active in the business, dismantling cars, selling parts, and helping his father transition the business from a junkyard to a salvage yard. After joining the NATWA association around 1945 and receiving the association magazines, they began developing relationships with other salvage yards across the county, from Denver to Chicago and even all the way to New York. Parts were coming to Sanborn via the railroad from all over the country from salvage yards connected to South Side Salvage through NATWA.
After returning from Korea, following a 2-year stint in the Army, John C Jr. was able to use some of the valuable leadership experiences he learned and used it to shape his future at South Side Salvage. The first meeting John C. Jr attended with the NATWA association was in Chicago at the Hotel Sherman in 1957; this was the “higher education” that John had been waiting for. John said: “I learned so much that I kept going back to the conventions because I believed I couldn’t afford to stay home.” John recalls about 50 auto wreckers were at his first convention. The fall conventions always had a trade show, and he purchased some hubcaps from a company called NAMSCO. The profit from the sale of these parts more than paid for the expense of attending the convention.
Excited from his trip to Chicago, John came home, and by the end of 1957, he had called a meeting in the Hotel Fort Des Moines to form an association of recyclers in the state of Iowa. Charley Riggs of the newly formed Salvage Locator magazine helped solicit membership in the newly formed IATWA association when he contacted salvage yards for ads in the salvage locator. In 1977 the association was renamed the Iowa Automotive Dismantlers and Recyclers, followed by another name change in 1991 to the Iowa Automotive Recyclers to align with the name of the national association.
Seeing the opportunities ahead, John C. Jr. branched out in the late 60s by opening up a new location, 25 miles east, in Spencer, Iowa. At the same time, the original yard, within the city limits of Sanborn was moved to a new site 1one mile west of the town. The new yard focused on late-model salvage, while the Sanborn yard focused on the older cars.
Belonging to and participating in the state and national associations has been part of the history of Vander Haags from the very beginning. John C. Jr was instrumental in starting the Iowa association of recyclers as well as serving as the president of the national association in 1970-1971. John Jr. attributes belonging to the ARA as having one of the most significant impacts on his business. Perhaps equally as important, he met many wonderful people and formed lifelong friendships.
John M Vander Haags’ passion for the business started at an early age; he began by pulling parts at the ‘old car’ yard, one mile west of Sanborn, Iowa, while in high school and ‘goofed off’ to drive old cars. After graduating in 1990, he started full time in the business. The transition to trucks from automobiles also came in the early 90s.
He assisted his father, John C Vander Haag with the acquisition and development of two new locations (Sioux Falls and Council Bluffs), at which point, his father retired from the business to divulge in his hobbies of collecting antiques and old trucks – www.yesterdaysmemories.us.
By the mid-90s, Vander Haags had added truck and trailer sales and increased their service and truck capabilities to all locations.
Vander Haags acquired their Kansas City location in 2013, and between 2015 and 2020, they expanded to three more sites further East: Winamac, Indianapolis and Columbus, respectively. 2015 was also the year John M’s son, Rueben came on board and is currently working in their Council Bluffs location as the Service Department Manager.
Looking to the future of Vander Haags Inc, John M said:
“The future includes many changes with the electronics in vehicles today as well as batteries and autonomous vehicles. The level of sophistication continues to increase. I see the broad range of services we offer as being important to supporting and strengthening our core recycled parts business.
Our Team is what makes what we do possible!”