A family never intended to start a business. But maybe, when fate drags you to do something that you enjoy doing, you will end up with something fruitful, born out of passion and will to do it.
Here is a father-and-son story of their Bug Barn which was actually started by Don Carter and was continued by his son Dustin.
With government restrictions that made things difficult for salvage yards to continually operate, Don’s Bug Barn was one of the only few salvage yards that still exist today. If you are a vintage car buff and you are trying to look for a salvage barn, you can visit Don’s bug barn for parts of a Volkswagen.
Don’s collection started with horse-trading in Texas. His first Volkswagen, a dune buggy, was from his father who offered it in exchange for his horse. Don had bought all types of American iron and muscle cars over the years that passed, but his one great love was for Volkswagens.
Where It All Started
While Don was working on with the buggy, he found out that the carburetor was missing. For a typical car enthusiast, most probably, he will just buy a car part for the missing carburetor. But this was not Don Carter’s style. What Don did was buy a complete Volkswagen Beetle where he could find a replacement carburetor for the buggy. This was how Don Carter’s bug barn started. After the first Bug that he bought, it was later on added by another unit and another, till later on, it became the Bug Barn that it is today.
The first Bug that Don owned was a 1959 Semaphore Beetle since Don was fond of the simple yet refined engineering of a Volkswagen. Beside the fact that he can work comfortably on the engine, he could also enjoy the process while reinstalling an engine all by himself. Not to mention that VWs were also a low-priced hobby back in that time.
Don has a heart for collecting things and he really gets very enthusiastic over the things that fascinate him. He couldn’t even remember the specific reason why he started the Bug Barn. Primarily, he just needed a space where he could work on his VWs. Then back in 1977, the main shop was founded after Don has bought a land from his mother.
The Bad Habits
Don also began joining the local Volkswagen racing scene during this time. Since then, he has been participating in the drag racing scene for many years. That is why we should not be surprised to see some race cars in the Bug Barn.
The Bug Barn actually has two VW race cars. It has a 1961 Ghia and the other one is a modified 67 Beetle. Don called these two race cars as “The Bad Habits.”
Initially, Don just intended to open the Bug Barn so that he could have the money he needs while he was racing. His shop boomed and it became full time. It was a dream-come-true for him. Who wouldn’t want a life where you enjoy your job while at the same time, you get to spend your weekends for drag racing?
Dustin Carter Comes To The Scene.
But the fun time that he had in the drag racing scene was short-lived when his son Dustin came to his life in 1979. This was the point where both his mother and his wife persuaded him to get a real job. Later on, Don got employed as a social worker.
While Don was working as a social worker during weekdays, he seeks for various suitable people who could run the Barn for him. His shop accelerated through 1980’s until the early 1990s. He never ceased buying VW cars as well as its parts. Don values each VW because he had always known that each of them had good parts, even those that are one-year-only parts. This is why he considers the 1967 Beetle as the best year built. And after all these years, he has acquired various 1967 Bugs that were in his Bug Barn today.
As Dustin grows up, he already got accustomed in seeing his parents drive Volkswagens and buying VWs during weekends or being in races. Don’s Bug Barn hobby soon became a successful business.
The Shop’s Downfall
Almost every successful business today has experienced downfall before reaching their way to the top and Don’s Bug Barn is not an exception. One of their mechanics died from cancer back in between 1993-1994 while the other mechanic made up his mind and went to college for a career change.
From this point, the shop turned back into their weekend-only operation. Only Don and Dustin remained in running the shop that’s why business slowed. While Don was busy with his job as a social worker, Dustin was still in high school back then. This just meant that both of them barely had time for the shop although it was their hearts’ desire to allot their time for it.
Don Carter Gets Sick.
While the operations for the shop slowed, it also almost went to a halt when Don’s health started to deteriorate after his retirement. He suffered from both throat and colon cancer. And when he was on his recovery, it was then his mother’s time to be taken care of. Don took the responsibility.
At this point, Dustin would visit his family frequently and every time he had a chance to pass by the Bug Barn, he makes time to sit there, only to feel heartbroken in seeing its current state. While Dustin was busy in trying to build up his career as a professional chef, the consequence was the fact that he could no longer spend enough time for the Bug Barn.
If you think that the Carter family had been through their worst, well, it doesn’t end there yet.
Since Don’s mother has deteriorating health condition back in that time, he had to look after her but because of this, his health also got affected and this worsen his health condition once again. While Dustin was on duty in a restaurant in South Carolina, Don was brought to the hospital and was diagnosed with a dreadful case of pneumonia. He immediately came to the rescue. He went to Texas to tend to his father. He only spent two weeks there before he came back to South Carolina for his work.
For only a matter of months, Don was hospitalized again because of an even worse pneumonia. Dustin was torn between leaving his job and going home for his father. It was a tough decision to make. He ends up going home for his family after the restaurant where he was working for was sold.
This was the perfect option for Dustin. His family badly needed his help, and he has been thinking about the Bug Barn even before the problem had emerged. He had been thinking of what he could possibly do to the Bug Barn during that time.
After Dustin and his wife Cassie talked about Carter family’s current situation, they went back to Texas in February 2009.
Dustin’s initial plan was just to clean up the Bug Barn and sell everything in it in just a span of six months. But a 6 month-period was barely enough for the operation. Even a small tractor couldn’t aid in the job of moving 315 cars on the two acres of land. Dustin even did the job of a forklift operator just to make use of a backhoe and a forklift for this clearing-off project. They went on through a series of rearrangement as different cars were moved from one spot to another. The couple did not dare to open or enter the shop yet in spite of the long time that they allotted in the Barn’s cleanup.
Only when they received orders for the cars did the couple decided to enter the shop. For more than 14 years, it was not used but only to accommodate the engines, miscellaneous spare parts and the race cars through the years that have passed.
Thanks For All The Support From VW Enthusiasts
Paul and Ellaine Dill who were also VW enthusiasts and friends to the couple, also helped in organizing and sorting the shop.
The Bug Barn Was Reopened Again.
Dustin actually did not plan on reopening the Bug Barn. In reality, Don had no idea about what’s going on in the classic Volkswagen market back in that time, whether there were still car enthusiasts who were longing for car parts of Volkswagens or if the hobby was still existing in Texas during that period.
To Dustin’s wonder, the hobby was still going on and had never ceased. The need for original car parts was also increased now. The business in his time was far easier to operate compared to his father Don’s time because nowadays, there is presence of the web, the craiglist, and TheSamba.
Shortly after, there had been rumors that involved their Bug Barn business, why it was being cleaned up and people’s wild guesses as to why the cleanup was necessary. Like for an instance, there were rumors that Don was already dead that’s why people have expressed their condolences for a time to Dustin. It further concluded that the Barn was sold and was being fought by siblings.
Every time Dustin has a chance to correct it, he just smiles and clarifies that all of these things were not really true. His father is still alive so no siblings were fighting over some will especially that Dustin had no siblings in the first place. He tells the people that they were just cleaning the Barn so that they can sell the cars there.
Every time Dustin receives calls, people were always surprised that there was still someone who answers it. That after many years that passed, the Barn was going through clean up and the cars were being moved. This was the point where Dustin and his wife Cassie make up their mind. They both agreed to stay there at least a year so that they could finish the things that they started regarding the Barn. Later on, Dustin didn’t notice that he was already running the business again, and this time, he shares the hobby with his wife.
The Bug Barn In Dustin’s Time.
It amuses Dustin to see that there was still demand for VW parts. Through the aid of the Internet nowadays, 40% of their customers were actually coming outside the U.S. He never imagined that the business would ever ship parts to California, as this was where they would order parts way back in his dad’s management.
“Perhaps the biggest surprise for me came with our first shipment to Germany. Of all places, I never dreamed that our parts would be going back to their homeland.
The VW community in the Dallas area has been very valuable to our business. Many people who had tried for years to come to the Bug Barn were eager to finally get the chance when we re-opened. Now locals can come to look around all day, and in Texas the term “local” covers anyone within 200 miles. VW clubs enjoy planning day trips to come out to have a pick-and-pull. Groups from all over Texas and Louisiana have visited the Bug Barn. I try to stay active in the local VW community, and attend as many shows as possible,” as Dustin tells his story now that he runs the Bug Barn business.
Dustin also expresses his gratitude for all the people who have been part of their success. He gives thanks to Jay Salser who he notes as a great asset to their business. He also recognizes the help and support from VW enthusiasts just like them. Salser became the Bug Barn’s honorary public relations representative since the day one that he learned what the Barn was all about. Larry Moore should also be given due credits for also helping and supporting the business. Moore is Don Carter’s friend for more than 30 years. He is more than knowledgeable with regards to the Texas VW scene. Actually, Moore was the bridge between Salser to the couple.
Don Carter’s health is stable now. The business may not run the way things were way back in Don’s time, buying VWs on weekends but Dustin wouldn’t be hindered in puling up a deal whenever he had the chance to do so.
This time, Dustin and Cassie were the only employees of the business. Cassie’s job was regarding the Online ads, sales, shipping, and keeping things organized for Dustin. Meanwhile, Dustin is the one who deals with VW people apart from organizing cars, pulling parts, and getting the needs of people who also wanted to keep their VW running on the streets.
Although this is not what Dustin expects for a career, he never regrets doing this since it’s a hobby where he never ceased to enjoy and long for. He is even proud of the outcome that the Barn has turned into.
“Perhaps my proudest moment so far, though, came when my dad recently brought me a new business card which reads ‘We buy VWs any condition.’ “Dustin recalls as he ends his story.
For VW enthusiasts out there who wish to contact the Bug Barn, you could reach them through:
Dustin Carter, Don’s Bug Barn
Reference and Photo Credits