The table Sandra Mullins was sitting at had a hubcap on it.
Not surprising, since there are hubcaps in stacks, hubcaps in rows, hubcaps high and hubcaps low at Hubcap World.
So when she pushed the hubcap on the table back and started with, “The funniest hubcap story that we have…,” there was little doubt this was going to be interesting.
Mullins' father, Henry Calvert, started the business about 45 years ago and operated it on NE 23 for a long time, she said. Then he retired. It was closed for a while. But 13 years ago, she reopened and continues to do business at her store at 2717 NW 10.
So, with that much time devoted to these discs, there was a fair amount of certainty her story would be interesting.
She said Calvert used to go to an area of an Oklahoma turnpike where there were speed bumps by the gate. Cars would hit the bumps and hubcaps would come off, roll down along some railroad tracks and land in one general spot.
“So they'd hook up their trailers to their motorcycles and they'd go down the railroad tracks,” she said. “They'd bring a shovel with them and black plastic bags for the hubcaps to put in the trailer.
“They'd shovel the gravel back up next to the railroad tracks so they could get down in there.”
One day a motorist happened to see this. Think about it: It's about dusk, and there are men with a plastic bag and shovels. It wasn't long before law enforcement showed up.
“Dad said,” Mullins said, stopping to laugh, “‘Man I didn't make up any stories. I pulled out that hubcap card so quick when they told me they thought we were burying a body.'”
A good stock
Mullins has an abundance of hubcaps and stories.
There's a hubcap for a 1930s Lincoln Zephyr. On another wall is one for a Studebaker. A ways from it is a Plymouth hubcap.
When asked her system for locating a specific hubcap, Mullins taps an index finger to her temple.
“I know where every single hubcap is, and I know if there's one out of place,” she said.
Her father, who has been battling health issues, is 82. But recently he shared in a phone call that his method was the same as that of his daughter.
“It was like pressing a button on a computer, and it would open the screen in our memory,” Calvert said. “You mention a hubcap, and we'd know just exactly where it was. We were around them so much.”
The table where Mullins is sitting is an island, but she can easily navigate through the hubcaps.
Out back she points out, “You've got your Ford rack, your Chevy rack, and it goes all the way back. All this up here is Chrysler and Toyota. These over here are all 14s, and the 15s are up there.”
Mullins said her prices range from about $5 hubcaps to $100.
But asked about her most expensive hubcap, she cringes. She remembers when she had a Rolls-Royce hubcap she sold for $65 while in a pinch and then looked it up on the Internet and realized one had sold for $1,000 more.
What he taught her
Mullins, 53, walked to the west wall. That's where she talks about some of what she learned from her father. She is a firm believer in matching the look of a hubcap to a particular car or, rather, “what makes it pop.” Calvert told her, “You always put chrome on a red car.”
That's leads up to the story about the west wall.
“When Dad came in, I said, ‘I painted the walls red and put chrome hubcaps on it,'” she said.
These hubcaps also are ones with metal clips.
“We take great pride in our metal-clipped hubcaps,” she said. “These are a big step up from the factory caps with plastic clips. These hold up to Oklahoma potholes.”
But then again it goes back to whatever the customer wants.
And who is that customer? Today she has customers wanting center caps for alloy wheels.
But business is still good for the hubcaps. And that business may come from a car wholesaler or just someone who lost a hubcap. Or it may be the person making tables and clocks out of hubcaps or those using them to decorate “man caves.”
“I'm very well-known for, ‘If I don't have it, I find it for you,'” Mullins said. “I'll sit right here at this table and call the other dealers and my wholesaler for them. That way they don't have to drive all over town.”
However, she usually has the hubcap they need.
Once, Mullins bought thousands of hubcaps for $950 at an auction.
Calvert said back in the early days of his business, a man in rural Oklahoma who had “a whole farm of hubcaps” had died. Calvert bought truckloads from that location.
Today, Mullins said people will bring hubcaps to sell her, and recently a car wholesaler brought her two truckloads of hubcaps.
So has anyone ever come in and claimed she had their hubcap?
“Oh yes,” she said. “I remember as a kid I was sitting there, and this lady came in and she was telling Dad, ‘That's my hubcap, because that's my red mud on there.'”
She laughs at the memory. Mullins enjoys her business.
And Calvert said having fun is part of what made the business one he enjoyed for many years.
“The people that came in were good, and it was a happy business,” he said.
“When we'd close up at night, everyone was happy.”