At Orr-Reed Wrecking, Hannah Hargrove Inherited Treasure in a Junkyard

One day in 2013 Hannah Hargrove stopped being a kid. She had been out of college a year, working in the family business. On the day her father, John Hargrove, was killed in a bar fight, the business became hers to run. She was 23.

One of the first calls she took was from a client backing out of a major deal. "They said, 'No offense, but with what's going on, we don't want you to do our job.' I said, 'Well, I take offense.' They said, 'Without John, we don't trust that it's going to get done.'"

She had a funeral to arrange. Now she also had to go sell some new business, but she was ready. That one year working with her father, between her graduation and his death, had prepared her.

"I don't think that he was planning to go out one night and get murdered. But I do think he knew that his heart wasn't great anymore. He was 150 pounds overweight. I do think that he knew that the best case for his family to go on without him was to make sure I was prepared."

As she talks, I become keenly aware that this is not the same person I interviewed two years ago. That person really was still a puppy, full of enthusiasm and play, wet behind the ears. This person is a boss. This is somebody who can make tough decisions and tell people what they need to hear. I hear confidence and command. I say something about it. She says she was already a changed person when he died.

"We called it John Hargrove boot camp, because that's what it was. He prepared me to be a grownup. It was a hard year of yelling and screaming and fights. But it was the best year of my life. I got to spend the whole year with my daddy, and it did prepare me in ways I didn't even know he was preparing me for."

The business, Orr-Reed Wrecking, is revered among old house restorers, professional and amateur, as one of the best resources in the region for salvaged architectural elements. But when John Hargrove owned and ran it, the place was an expression of his own big chaotic personality. Doors and windows, fireplace mantels, molding, siding and weird wooden stuff you couldn't identify lay in mountains and drifts, half of it exposed to weather, half not. Finding what you were looking for was always a treasure hunt.

In the year she has been the boss, Hannah Hargrove has brought about an astonishing transformation. "Welcome to my girlified junkyard," she says, greeting a visitor in the tidy little antique shop she has installed at the front of the place. I do a double-take. I distinctly remember broken toilet parts and paint-peeling house fragments here — lots of stuff I wanted to step around. Now it feels like a boutique.

Orr-Reed is on Rock Island, which really is an island in the old natural channel of the Trinity River, although the island lies largely hidden now beneath bridges, levees, culverts and fill-dirt, the man-made arms of the city reaching out to clutch it close and mask its independence. Orr-Reed is one of a few old businesses on Rock Island Street where the original eccentricity still peeks through.

She takes me to the yard in back, a place I have visited many times over the years as a customer. Before this week, I don't think I had ever once walked through that door and out into that yard without trying to remember when I got my last tetanus shot.

It's astonishing. All of the doors and windows and architectural elements are arranged neatly in departments along scrubbed and swept concrete walkways. It's the Home Depot of old stuff.

"Some people are mad at me," she says. "They think I've wrecked it."

Oh, yeah, I think, but those are dilettantes. They never ran out of a no-longer-milled size of novelty siding in the middle of a major house repair and had to come flying down here to search through random stacks of lumber while three visiting scholars from Latin America are waiting on the clock with hammers in their hands but no wood.

Hannah is showing me the old toilet department. "Imagine that," she says, "putting all the toilets in one place." But my eyes are flying down the aisles hunting for novelty siding. Oh my gosh! The novelty siding is all in one department, and it appears to be stacked by size! That's a two-hour search reduced to 10 minutes! Yeah, dilettantes be damned, this is great.

We return to her office and chat about the business for a while. In her year with her father she learned how to develop new business, do the books, call in the payroll, pay the taxes. Since his death she has added a lot of inventory control that wasn't there before, and she has learned how to hire people and fire people.

We walk out and go next door to a large warehouse. It comes back to me. I was here two years ago. I was doing a story about a zoning battle John Hargrove and Louis Okon of Okon Metals across Rock Island Street were waging against City Hall — one of the very few instances I have ever seen where people were actually able to beat City Hall. Hargrove was walking out of this big ramshackle metal building when I met him two years ago. His daughter, just home from college, had some idea that he should rent it as an expansion area. He gave me the impression he thought the idea was a little goofy.

So now she's the boss, and she is renting it. My memory is that it was full of junk when I looked in. Now it looks like a well-run factory floor, with neatly stacked inventory out of the weather and employees cleaning and processing more material.

We are back in her office, and now we must come to the story of his death. John Hargrove was an on-the-wagon and off-it-again guy, 50 years old. He was killed in the early morning hours of January 26, 2013, in a dive bar on Grand Avenue called Club eXtasis, since closed by state liquor authorities as a place of general menace. Police said he was struck with fists, a chair and pool cues. Then, 23-year-old Frederico Prado gave him multiple kicks to the head.

The next day when Hargrove failed to appear for work, his daughter began calling emergency rooms and drunk tanks. "And then I knew it was time to call the morgue," she says.

Her 15-year-old brother Sam glides into the office and takes up a post in a chair just slightly out of the conversational circle. Silent at first, handsome like his father, he listens with folded hands and then begins to interject Groucho Marx wisecracks far beyond his age.

His own feelings about his late father exhibit a certain edge and precociously sardonic wit. When Hannah begins to wax rhapsodic about long road trips she took with her father, I ask Sam if he went along. "No," he says, flat-lining it. "I don't do road trips with people who smell like fried chicken and cigarettes."

Hannah talks about how much she thinks she is like her father. "I'm kind of John Hargrove with boobs," she says.

"Yeah," Sam mutters. "But boobs you're supposed to have."

After the death and after the funeral, it was time for Hannah to arrange her own wedding, done at Orr-Reed, of course. "It was my junkyard wedding," she says.

The Okon family fashioned scrap-iron arches for the procession. Hannah traded doors and windows for a wedding dress. The meat she had bartered for turned out to be spoiled an hour before the reception so an emergency trip to Sam's had to be executed. Somebody called Orr-Reed at the last minute to say her dogs were loose. It rained up to the moment of the outdoor ceremony, stopped just long enough for the vows and then began raining again immediately afterward, which she credits to her father.

"I'm not a religious person. I am a faithful person. I have to believe there is something else out there. I don't want to die in a box and never exist anymore. But since he has died, I feel him in places. That's going to sound like some crazy psychic hoobie-bajoobie. But when I need him, I feel him."

Then Hannah tells me something very Rock Island. "I know that he would much rather have gone out in a John Wayne bar fight than at home with a heart attack," she says. "In the end he got his cowboy death, which I think he would have greatly appreciated."

In the great Dickensian plot twist that is East Dallas, it turns out Hargrove's attacker was a troubled kid who had gone to Woodrow Wilson High School with Hannah's cousins, who knew him. Perhaps because it wasn't easy to prove which blow in the melee was the fatal one, and because a key witness got scared and backed off her testimony, Prado walked away with seven years' probation.

But then Hannah tells me something else that it is even more Rock Island: "I'm hoping he makes it," she says. "He was a problem kid in school. I had two parents. This poor guy wasn't that lucky. I hope this is enough to turn his life around."

Prado, she says, has a daughter. "Every little girl deserves a daddy," she says.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze