The Car Graveyard: It’s Not Just Junk. It’s a Time Machine.

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As you wander through a car boneyard, you can smell everything rotting around you–the fabric of the seats, headliners, rubber tires, gaskets, window seals. Some of the cars stink of mildew and off-gassing formaldehyde. The zillion colors of fading paint almost flake off when you walk by, and rust clings to everything. The cars have often sunk into thick mud. I’ve seen a tree growing up through the floorpan of an old GTO.

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A lot of the cars are just junk to most people, me included, but sometimes you’ll find some cool old stuff from the 1960s and earlier. There’s not much like suddenly coming upon an old 1930s Oldsmobile that has mostly gone to hell and getting a chance to see how they were built, the craftsmanship involved, the styling, the design. I like the steering wheels, in particular.

I got my 1955 Cadillac from this private yard outside Hamilton, Montana (the guy also had running cars) back in 2003, I think. We had gone there to look for parts for my dad’s 1959 El Camino that he was restoring.

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I just went along for the ride, really. I never intended to come home with a car, let alone an old Cadillac. I have always been into cars, and in more recent years, while the muscle car craze was in full swing, I developed an affinity for 1950s classics. They’re bigger, curvier, chromier (new word I just invented). They’re larger than life. They epitomize the good parts of 50s American prosperity (as opposed to all the racist events of the day). And in the case of my Cadillac, it makes everybody smile when they see it drive by. I fell in love with the big green monstrosity as soon as I saw it sitting there covered in dust.

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Being as my dad is always working on cars (and has been my whole life), I grew up going to car graveyards. When I was a kid, it sucked. It wasn’t any fun. But in those days, we were going there to find a cheap but necessary repair part for one of our vehicles. That’s not nearly as much fun as hunting for some little factory Cadillac or Oldsmobile or Chevelle or GTO part they don’t reproduce.

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Wandering around these paces makes me nostalgic for days that vanished decades before I was born. It makes me think about what the old days were like, and the people who designed, built, sold, bought, and lived in these cars.

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Junkyards like this are usually quiet. You might hear distant highway noise, but most often you just hear a little bit of wind, especially if you go off alone. I’m not sure why, but it always seems to be both muddy and windy when we go parts-hunting. The sighing of the wind just adds to the sense of being dislocated from our time and transported back. It makes me think of Laverne and Shirley, All in the Family, and Taxi, all tv shows from my early childhood.

It’s almost like I hear Archie Bunker sitting in his armchair bitching about hippies and I feel a little sad. Isn’t that silly? But it’s true–it also makes me think of all my grandpa’s stories of the cars he had throughout his life, the crazy things he did, the times he ended up in the barrow pit, or blew up a motor racing some guy in a Ford. I guess it’s a way for me to connect with the past in some way, whether it’s the real past or some strange amalgamation of real and imaginary things drawn out of my memories.

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I suppose I have been waxing nostalgic lately. It’s probably because Gianna just turned a big one-year-old yesterday, so I’m thinking about the passage time and what’s gained and lost as the world grinds on. It’s that and the fact that the novel I’m working on, Unleashed: the Eddie Black Story, takes me back to another era.

What about you? What brings you back to the “good” old days?

One Reply to “The Car Graveyard: It’s Not Just Junk. It’s a Time Machine.”

  1. I know exactly the feelings you are describing.  These yards are full of memories.  When you love cars, you always had one that was your favorite.  Perhaps one that you wish you still had.  You always wonder what happened to it.  You see these cars in a yard, you think about that stuff.  You hate the thought of your favorite ride rotting away in one. You think about how if still alive, how old the original owners of these cars would be now.  He/she has memories in that car, pictures and all.  These are things non-car people cannot understand.

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