by Dan Neil, Road & Track, November 1998
Bill Dierker doesn’t lock up at night. Which at fIrst might seem odd. After all, Dierker’s garage—British Automotive Specialists in Peoria, Illinois—is in the middle of the mofo ’hood, a rusty and decomposing landscape of scrap yards, rail yards, and factories so squalid it’s practically radioactive. Dierker’s 160-by-160-foot lot, surrounded by chain-link fence, is equidistant from three public-housing projects—“in the heart of the wine country,” he says. On a clear day he can hear the gunfIre.
And yet he fears no evil. For Dierker has Ned, the biggest, baddest junkyard dog in the valley. If not the world.
Understand, the AKC, doesn’t register the breed Canis Rustoleum, perhaps? So it’s hard to be definitive, but if Ned is only runner-up, we don’t want to meet the winner. Weighing a girthy and ill-tempered 251 pounds, Ned is a mixed breed of Great Dane, Saint Bernard, and Buick.
His veterinarian, Dr. Scott Demanes, describes Ned’s head as the size of a “microwave oven.”
Now a ripe old 14 years—very ripe, by all accounts—Ned is gray in the muzzle, overweight, with a touch of arthritis. He has lost a couple steps on his hole shot toward the fence. “We use him mainly as a deterrent,” says Dierker. “He doesn’t have to do much but growl.”
As the “Director of Security Operations,” Ned leaves most of the chasing and barking to the six younger dogs under him. They include an epileptic Irish setter named Fitz and a Chinese SharPei-English bulldog mix named God Is She Ugly. When not prompting involuntary bowel evacuations on the part of startled passersby, the dogs hang out in Ned’s private office, the only heated and air-conditioned room in the garage.
But woe betide the burglar who under estimates Ned, says Dr. Dave Harvey, an emergency-medicine physician who is friends with Dierker. “I’ve seen Ned get angry, and it’s quite impressive. He takes his guard-dog duties very seriously.”
Ned’s legend began 12 years ago at another junkyard after he badly damaged an employee there. The victim, a prisoner working on a furlough program, had been spitefully spraying Ned with a water hose. “Ned hates to be sprayed with water,” Dierker notes absolvingly. Ned backed up into his doghouse until the offending trustee got within striking distance. Then Ned charged him and nearly bit his arm off.
“Ned broke both the bones—the radius and the ulna—in the guy’s arm and did all this nerve damage,” Dierker recalls. The prisoner had to have his arm put back together with metal plates. In 16 years of trauma medicine, Dr. Harvey has never seen a major “crush injury” from a dog bite.
Bad dog! Down, boy!
That junkyard went out of business, and Dierker inherited Ned, along with a doghouse, some tools, and a rusty ’79 Toyota. “All’s gone by the wayside but Ned,” says Dierker.
Since then, Ned has faithfully earned his keep, watching over a yard that at the moment hosts three MG TDs, a Mini Cooper S, a Morris Minor station wagon, and a Triumph Herald. Dierker’s private collection includes an Austin Cambridge and a Triumph Mayflower—“cars that if they’re kept very nice, and very clean, in many years will still be worth absolutely nothing,” Dierker notes.
And yet Ned guards everything as though it were a vintage Bentley. Among his more notable—ahem—collars was the interloper he treed on top of a Jaguar XJS. “Ned tried so hard to get at him, we had to repaint the entire car,” says Dierker. More recently, a burglar trying to break in the back door turned to see Ned and his security team zeroing in on his groin area. The perp ran through the chain-link gate, breaking it off its hinges.
For the most part, though, crack enhanced entrepreneurs give Ned a wide berth in this city where he has achieved nearly mythic status—with a little help from his friends. Dr. Harvey, having treated a man whose hand was blown off by a pipe bomb, brought a picture of the mangled limb to Dierker’s garage, where it was posted near the door with a sign indicating it was Ned’s work. Local police contributed to the story. In their version, Ned’s jaws were locked on the victim’s hand, and it took three cans of Mace to get him off. That sort of thing gets around.
Ned enjoys considerable perks of canine celebrity. A local grocer brings him gallons of ice cream, the butcher shop brings along weekly allotments of raw meat and rib bones. The cops bring him chili dogs. The Goodwill thrift shop brings him couches, one of which he eats through every two months.
“From a veterinary standpoint,” says Dr. Demanes, “his diet is pretty scary.” In the midst of a late-life voluptuousness worthy of Jake LaMotta—who also ate couches—Ned cannot last much longer. In fact, to get him to the vet’s, Dierker now has to borrow Dr. Harvey’s 1970 Citroen “safari” station wagon, because Ned can’t jump into a truck, and no one’s about to try to lift him. “I let the suspension on the Citroen bottom out and then put out a ramp for him to walk on.”
Ned is one chili-dog-induced infarction away from eternity.
Bill Dierker will miss him. But Ned’s protege is waiting in the wings. A cross between a Rottweiler and a hydrophobic rat, this dog got his name when he attacked the otherwise harmless Thievin’ Gene, who had come to the garage to sell a stolen battery. Gene, trying to run and still carry the battery, the dog hanging off his pantleg, kept screaming, “Do he bite?! Do he bite?! Do he bite?!”
So, naturally, Dierker named him Dewey.