Traffic trophies cap an entrepreneurial spirit


October 16, 1991|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Evening Sun Staff

Hubcaps and wheel covers glimmer on the chain link fence at Hubcap City like shields and armor captured in some modern tribal war. And in a sense they are war booty: They've rattled off in the conflict of contemporary traffic, booby-trapped by potholes, chicanes, high curbs and just plain bad driving.

Thousands of lost hubcaps and wheel covers have come to rest at Hubcap City in Jessup, stacked and racked, boxed and hanging, piled and packed, crammed into what was once one of the earliest gas stations on Washington Boulevard.

"Not the first," says Dan Selke, the lean, bearded aficionado of the inner wheel who owns Hubcap City with his wife, Faye. "That's in Laurel."

Selke surveys his stock like a shaman contemplating miraculous artifacts. He calls out his prize trophies:

"De Soto, Chrysler, Dodge, a Mercury," he says, intoning an autocar litany. "See, he's got his wings on his hat. That's about '46. There's a neat one: a Lincoln Zephyr 12-cylinder limousine."

He squeezes between stacks and up a set of chicken-house steps to a garret. The place looks a total jumble. Selke agrees: "I will say this place is getting out of hand.

"A '63 T-Bird spinner wheel cover," he says, a tour guide through the footnotes of automotive history. "That was original equipment. There's an essence to it.

"There's another De Soto, a '61 Pontiac, a Comet. That whole back rack is antique. I enjoy finding a cap like that for somebody."

He's got hubcaps from Nashes, Packards, a Type-E Jaguar. He turns over a cap from a Hudson Super Six, with an inverted triangle motif and the inscription "Made In Detroit, Mich. U.S.A."

"That goes on one of those big wood spoke wheels to cover up the spindle," he says.

"There's an early Porsche, about '66 or '67. That's a brand-new Lincoln center. There's a BBS wheel, a top-dollar wheel, crisscross type of wheel. They charge over $80 at a dealer's. I'll probably get $25. The main thing is you're paying for is the inscription in the center."

Selke has made a stab at order.

"In the first rack are Pontiacs, next two are Olds. Three or four racks are Chevies. Two racks of Chrysler. This whole section is all Ford. That's the antique rack, stuff about 25 years old."

He stocks some new hubcaps and wheels and wheel covers. But he gets most of his stuff from junk yards, tow truck drivers, trade-ins, work crews, people who find them along the highway.

"We got a couple of retired gentlemen who go out and pick up beer cans, they bring 'em in," he says. (Selke doesn't deal in cans, only hubcaps, thanks.)

"One old gentleman in the neighborhood has got a '91 LeBaron he's paying for with cans and hubcaps. He picks cans and hubcaps 2 1/2 or 3 weeks a month. He takes off a week a month.

"There's a lot of 'em around, especially if you know where to look. There's places prone to spin a hubcap faster than other locations.

"Everybody knows big potholes, you're bound to lose a hubcap," he says. "Ramps when you flex your wheel a little; any turn with a washboard, with a series of little humps where you get bouncing real good.

"I've had people come in here ran over their own hubcaps. Railroad tracks are good. Accidentally bumping curbs. Drive-thrus are horrible on hubcaps and wheel covers. There's never enough room. Lots of people catch 'em at those spots.

"There are some hubcaps you can never have enough of," Selke says. "Nissan Stanza: If I had a hundred of them today, in seven to 10 days I wouldn't have a one because there's such a big demand. Some do have a tendency to come off, others there are just so many on the road.

"There's one particular Taurus hubcap that goes out as fast as we get 'em, '87, '88."

"Eight-six, Taurus GL," says Wild Bill Williams, who is Selke's brother-in-law. He's painting a wheel.

"You want a hubcap comes off easy," Selke says. "Pontiac 6000, they were falling off sitting on the dealer's lot. They were the worst designed in the history of wheel covers."

Dan and Faye Selke started out about 10 years ago with 58 used hubcaps and a little tag-behind trailer. Dan worked at a tire store and Faye sometimes helped out. The owner paid her off with the hubcaps. They'd sell them up and down Washington Boulevard, not far from where they are now near Kit Kat Road.

"We'd carry them out every weekend," he says. "And we'd spread 'em out all over this little hill. They looked like mirrors shining in the sun. They caught people's eye."

Now they have shops in Overlea and Glen Burnie as well as the one in Jessup and they have thousands and thousands of hubcaps.

And not all his hubcaps go on cars.

"We had a guy made a chandelier out of 'em," Selke says. "Circuit City has our hubcaps hanging on the wall where the car radios are at. Had somebody from one of the frat houses at the University of Maryland wanted a big hubcap for an ash tray."

The University of Maryland assigns students from photography courses to come down and take pictures of his hubcaps.

"I've had people come down to buy hubcaps to make bird baths, for dog dishes," he says. "They make great dog dishes. They don't tip over."

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