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Hemmings Motor News Blog

Hemmings Motor News has been around since 1954. We're proud of our heritage, but we're also more than the Hemmings full of classifieds that your father subscribed to. Aside from new editorial content every month in Hemmings, we have three monthly magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car and Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car.

While our editors traverse the country to find the best content for those magazines, we find other oddities related to the old-car hobby that we really had no place for - until now. With this blog, we're giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what we see and what we do during the course of putting out some of the finest automotive magazines you'll ever read.

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Did Yenko Chevrolet Close Due to Radioactive Waste?

Posted November 22, 2021 9:30 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: chevrolet

Chunks of peeling paint appear ready to fall from the facade at any moment. Cracks cut through the cinderblock walls with the same aimless meandering of a river through the plains. Faded signs advertise products nobody has bought in years. These days, the old Yenko dealership on West Pike Street in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, looks as if it had gone through the apocalypse.

Yenko Chevrolet didn't start in the West Pike Street building nor did it come to a close there. Frank Yenko got his first Chevrolet franchise in 1934 while occupying a building in nearby Bentleyville, and based on the success of that dealership, he opened a second—this one a purpose-built facility that also occasionally sold appliances—in Canonsburg in 1949. His son, Don, might have grown up in the dealerships but didn't join the family business until the mid-1950s, about the same time he started racing. Whatever success he found as a racer, though, his work as a tuner eventually became his calling card.

At roughly the same time, the borough of Canonsburg contended with the implications of another one of the its claims to fame. Just opposite Chartiers Creek from Yenko Chevrolet lay the former Vitro Corporation of America mill, where radium and uranium ore had been processed since 1911. It famously hosted Marie Curie in the 1920s and provided uranium for the Manhattan Project in the '40s. Vitro ceased operations in 1957, but nothing would be done about the radioactive mill tailings still on the 37-acre site until Congress included it in the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act in 1978. Even then, it took until 1985 for government officials to finalize a plan to complete construction of a five-acre capped cell to bury the tailings 25 ft underground.

By then, Don Yenko was done selling Chevrolets. He sold the franchise to Sun Chevrolet in 1982, and as far as most enthusiasts are concerned, that was the last significant date in Yenko history before Don Yenko died in a plane crash in March 1987 in Charleston, West Virginia.

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