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News / Clark County News

Dean Yankee a dandy of a storyteller

Master spinner of yarns holds ‘garage sale no one else wanted to have’ near Dollars Corner

By Brooks Johnson, Columbian Business Reporter
Published: February 21, 2016, 5:00am
3 Photos
Dean Yankee stands amid his inventory at Yankee&#039;s Custom Farming outside of Battle Ground in December. The 59-year-old says he has &quot;moved a mile and a half my whole life here&quot; and turned the family farming services business into a garage sale for those who don&#039;t want to hold their own.
Dean Yankee stands amid his inventory at Yankee's Custom Farming outside of Battle Ground in December. The 59-year-old says he has "moved a mile and a half my whole life here" and turned the family farming services business into a garage sale for those who don't want to hold their own. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

DOLLARS CORNER — Most days, you’ll find Dean Yankee in his chair by the wood stove. The garage door on his outbuilding will be open, so he’ll see you coming. You probably saw his Craigslist post, or heard from a friend and just had to see the place for yourself. Just bear in mind: There’s a method to the madness.

Welcome to Yankee’s Custom Farming: Sales, Salvage and More!

The exclamation point is necessary. The emphasis really is on the “more.”

“If you want it, I can find it,” said Yankee, the proprietor of the 60-year-old business just north of Dollars Corner.

Turning onto his 15 acres from Northeast 239th Street, a rare moment of December sunshine illuminates the tractor parts, furniture, old gas pumps and barrels full of metal that decorate Yankee’s yard. He’s in his chair, talking to a contractor who’s going to make the big garage even bigger.

You’ll smell the muted campfire scent of the wood stove as you walk past a brass ashtray from the early 20th century, along a shelf filled with tools, random memorabilia and an at-home radiation detector.

If you ask, Yankee will give you his life story, and he’ll meander through his 59 years like a river without any dams to stop the flow of his voice.

“I have two associates, two bachelor’s and a master’s. Now I sell junk,” Yankee said. “I’ve done a lot of different things in my life.”

Yankee was born June 29, 1956, and grew up just down the road from where you’ll find him today.

“I’ve moved a mile and a half my whole life here,” he said, giving no indication whether that’s a good or bad thing.

A graduate of Clark College and Washington State University, Yankee collected degrees in sociology and criminal justice before coming home, buying his land and picking up his father’s farm services business before going to work for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Through his career, he worked in the jail, with the work crew and in the medical unit, taking swing shifts while getting his master’s degree at the University of Portland.

“That whole time, I was still farming,” Yankee said.

The sales and salvage side of Yankee’s Custom Farming was born as a garage sale no one else wanted to have. Yankee would take in boats and tractors, fix them up and offer them for sale on his property. Or he would get parts, or NASCAR hoods, or an 8-foot plastic Rainier beer bottle replica that looms in his garage as he talks his way from past to present.

“I’ve got all sorts of stuff here,” he said. “This is a picker’s paradise.”

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Now he cleans out foreclosures and estates and takes in drop-offs of seemingly everything but radioactive waste. It may seem a mess, but Yankee keeps a mental inventory of all the odd parts and furniture and antiques.

He’ll trade, barter and travel to keep his stocks rotating.

“It’s got to be the right person at the right time,” Yankee said. “I have 300 people I call.”

Yankee’s Custom Farming is part oddities store, part museum of recent American culture. It’s a known fixture in an area that, like Yankee, hasn’t changed much even while the rest of Clark County has exploded with growth.

Yankee has had to reckon with some new neighbors, however.

“I built big green fences, because Californians don’t like the look of anything obnoxious,” he said.

The occasional meth-producing household in his neighborhood proved troublesome as well, Yankee said.

Yankee’s biggest issue lies a mile down 72nd Avenue, which his property also borders. At Dollars Corner proper, where Yankee once owned a tavern, the east-west road that runs to Battle Ground is being remade into a four-lane highway.

Well, 219th Street (Highway 503) should be east-west, though Yankee says it’s “crooked.”

Plus, the median barrier is trouble.

“The jersey barrier is going to be affecting a lot of people,” Yankee said. “Elderly people, young people, any size people. It’s going to stop the fire trucks and ambulances and police.”

But construction marches on all around Yankee as the wear of his own work collects on his Carhartt jacket.

As time wore on, and wore on Yankee, especially, the salvage business became more of his focus, and he retired from other work.

“I used to handle 800 tons of hay a year,” Yankee said. “I basically worked myself to death.”

As your eyes drift to the beer signs, vintage clock and myriad knicks and knacks around the garage, you’ll notice Yankee’s hands: worn, bent and sore.

The best time to find Yankee is in the afternoon; he has doctor’s appointments most mornings. He peers through glasses that enlarge his eyes. He takes 15 pills a day. He’s already drawn up his will to make sure the Humane Society continues to get some of his money after he dies.

Other than the stream of visiting buyers and dumpers and contractors and neighbors, Yankee lives alone.

Portrait 2016

Find more stories about some of the unique people that are our friends and neighbors in Clark County at www.columbian.com/portrait. Do you know someone we should write about? Send an email to features@columbian.com.

“It’s just me and my kitties,” he said. “I don’t have anyone else to talk to, so I’ll just keep going if you don’t tell me to shut up.”

You shouldn’t, though. Yankee has good stories to tell.

Columbian Business Reporter