Two lovers taught a giant automaker all about the junkyard business - but that took a back seat to Ford's feelings about romance.

Spare Hearts 

Two lovers taught a giant automaker all about the junkyard business - but that took a back seat to Ford's feelings about romance.

The videotape isn't the clearest, shot as it was through the window of a car parked across the street from Kristin Eklof's Independence home. But there's Dennis Roberts Jr.'s black, four-door F150 pickup parked in Kristin's driveway in the dark. It's still parked there the next morning. And there's Dennis, plodding out of the house, starting the truck and scraping the ice from his windshield. He had stayed that night and would stay the next night and the next, three incriminating nights in a row.

As a couple, Dennis says they were offended by the private investigator's work. It's "a complete invasion of privacy."

As businesspeople, they're disgusted, Dennis says. Executives at Ford Motor Company, who hired the professional snoop, could have saved a lot of money, he says. "They should have just asked us."

Ford had hired the private dick to substantiate rumors of an office romance at GreenLeaf, an auto-salvage company it owned. The rumors troubled Ford executives because Dennis and Kristin were the highest-ranking employees at GreenLeaf's Kansas City location. As company controller, Kristin was expected to check Dennis' work as general manager; as general manager, Dennis' job was to make sure Kristin wasn't doing any funny math.

The couple had made no secret of their relationship. Dennis had been almost giddy during the courtship of his bright and beautiful coworker. More than a month before the recorded sleepover, Dennis had told his brother and a few employees about his first date with Kristin.

Ford said Dennis should have known better than to sleep with his bookkeeper, just as Kristin should have known not to get involved with her general manager.

But they didn't know better. They'd both been raised in junkyards. Dennis had grown up at the same Kansas City salvage lot Ford had just bought, Kristin at her family's salvage and transmission-repair businesses in Des Moines, Iowa. In the salvage business, nepotism is the norm. Family members are cheap and reliable labor. At times, Dennis had worked side-by-side with his first wife, his father, his mom and his brother. Kristin had logged hours with her own family and had met her first husband on the job.

Now Ford is suing Dennis, trying to keep him from working in the only business he's ever known. And his second wedding is on hold.

Henry Ford started cranking out Model Ts in 1908. Dennis Roberts' great-grandfather, Curtis Roberts, must have had a few of them on the lot when he started Roberts Auto Salvage in the 1930s at an abandoned coal yard between Kansas City and Independence. Curtis' son, Dennis' grandfather, opened his own salvage yard a couple of miles away. Billy Roberts called it Little Roberts because he was so much smaller than his physically imposing father. Dennis' father eventually brought Little Roberts to the family's original site at 2408 Blue Ridge Boulevard.

Dennis Roberts Sr. came from a tradition of businessmen bound more by handshakes than contracts. He worked long hours to support his family, and he ran an honest business, but he didn't put up with any nonsense -- not from his sons, his employees or his customers. More comfortable holding a cutting torch than a telephone, Dennis Sr. handled misunderstandings with harsh words rather than with free calendars and apologies. "Dad came from the old school," Dennis says. "He handled things differently."

For a while, Dennis Sr. worked with his brother, Randy Roberts. But Randy left in 1983 to start Late Model Auto Salvage at 10th and Hardesty. With limited space, Late Model set a standard for efficiency. It was one of the first local yards to replace note cards with computers, affixing a printed label to each alternator, fender, water pump or exhaust pipe organized on two floors of storage racks.

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