In the prehistoric years B.C.C. (Before Curbside Classic), I was involved in my own personal little Curbside project, photographing old cars (pre-1963) that I would find in my local area. One day I asked an acquaintance who was in the antique car hauling business whether he knew about any old cars close by that I could take pictures of. “Oh, I know a place…you won’t believe it!” He told me how to get there, and when I drove up to this abandoned gas station in the summer of 1991, I had no idea what was moldering in the woods behind, hidden from public view…
According to an article in a now-defunct magazine called New Jersey’s Antique & Classic Car Magazine (Vol. 2, No. 1; 1998), the story goes like this: A man owned a service station and would take any old cars that people wanted to give him. They were towed, driven, or pushed into the back lot. There they sat for decades, as trees and vines grew around them.
Eventually the old man died, and the property lay abandoned with all the old cars still resting in place along with sheds full of parts, tools, appliances, and lots of other rusting debris from the 1920s to the early ’60s.
Outside of a car show, this was the largest collection of vintage automobiles I had ever seen! My friend was right; I didn’t believe it! I had my Minolta 35mm camera loaded with color slide film, and I snapped these photos in the dappled sunlight. There was a tremendous variety–Chevys, Fords, Plymouths, Mercurys, Oldsmobiles, and quite a number of independent makes too! I had really found the Jurassic Park of automobiles!
I wish I could tell you that this story has a happy ending; that Jurassic Park still exists as it always had, offering opportunities for more exploration and photo shoots, and chances for treasure hunters to find needed parts or other collectibles–but it is not so. Because as the old hymn tells us, “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away” [and its old cars too]. Predictably, sometime after the death of the mysterious gas station proprietor, the land was sold to new owners who cleared the land to store construction equipment. They brought in a crusher, crushed the cars, and loaded them onto a flatbed truck with lots of other rusty metal, and hauled it all away to be scrapped. As far as I can tell, nothing was preserved.
This continues a pattern that I have seen unfold over the past few decades. When I was growing up in northern New Jersey, there were many secluded woodlands with labyrinths of dirt trails running through them, lined with long-abandoned pre-1960 cars–you never knew what you were going to find ’round the next bend! But as property owners die off and the land can be developed for more economically profitable uses, the fondly remembered “fossilized” remains disappear.
Of course, we all know that authentic places like the one I have described above are impossible to re-create–once they’re gone, they’re gone! Who knows how many such archeological sites remain today in the year 2020 A.D.? Nearly all the local old car sites that I remember from my early years are gone now. To find more, one must venture ever westward, over the Delaware River into the hinterlands of Pennsylvania. There I believe are more, but finding them–and getting to them–that’s the hard part.
Some people may say, “What’s the big deal? We’re cleaning up some ugly old junk and putting the land to good use.” I admit that’s true and reasonable, but something is being lost, and why (or whether) such fascinating places have any ultimate value is a concept I cannot fully explain right now. My fellow CC readers, they would understand.
Rust in pieces. One man’s treasures is another man’s trashes.
This place reminds me of a junkyard that I went to a few times in the late 90s-early 2000s. I was tipped off to the place by a story in the Chicagoland Mopar Connection monthly newsletter. It was on the far south side, very near the Indiana boarder. Walking into the office on my first visit the owner wasn’t sure he wanted to let me and my friend in to even look around, after showing him the article in the newsletter and promising not to break any ca windows we were granted access. It was mid summer and the weeds obscured your view more than about 20ft in any direction. We were climbing on top of hoods and trunk lids just to see which direction we should go to find needed parts for my Duster. One car I remember was a late 40s Nash, looking it over I noticed a 1968 Chicago registration sticker in the window, Im sure it had been in that same spot since 1969/70. By the end of the day on the first trip I came to a realization that there wasn’t a single car built after 1975 in the whole place, well, at least that we had seen. I went back there maybe 2 more times to get parts for my Duster, the last time being probably 2002ish. Ive asked people about it but nobody seems sure if its still around but most believe its gone now. If I still lived in Chicago I would find my info on the place and try to visit it again just to see if its still there or how its been redeveloped but its unlikely I will ever get a chance to do that.
This is a photo of me on the day of that first trip, Im standing on the hood of a car and you can see the overgrowth is still as tall as I am.
Some people may say, “What’s the big deal? We’re cleaning up some ugly old junk and putting the land to good use.” Unlike a “real” junkyard or parts yard, these were just left out of sight to their own devices. From the perspective of one who loves cars, you have to love these types of sites, but the reality is much more sad. The slow decay of the relics allows the viewer to imagine both the glorious past of the cars while contemplating the future, usually as a fully restored car. And that future rarely, if ever, happens. The cars simply rust away, or get removed to make way for another project deemed more worthwhile. But I don’t consider such sites as graveyards: rather, they were the retirement homes these poor cars were dragged into, probably kicking and screaming the whole way. Left to wither away, much like a forgotten maiden aunt who no longer could care for herself, these cars sat alone with only each other, awaiting their destiny.
Thanks for the photos and the retelling, Poindexter. First of all, I just have to accept that 1991 is nearly “30 years ago,” as long-ago Pearl Harbor was as I left high school.
I’m of two minds about such places, the downside being whatever environmental damage can come from leaking fluids, etc. But I guess we always thought of the earth as a big enough sponge/filter to just soak up whatever we threw at it, indefinitely. The upside–beyond the possible resource for parts–is fond memories of patrolling such sites as a car-crazy teen, either when owners didn’t mind, or illicitly.
I’m an easterner, so to me these sites bring to mind weeds and mud puddles and maybe mice or snakes; I’d love to visit a similar car graveyard in the west sometime, where sun is more the enemy than rain/humidity.
Poindexter, we were neighbors once upon a time, and these posts always stir some nostalgia in me. I grew up in Sussex County in the 70’s and 80’s, and there were plenty of places very much like this back then. Some in back fields, some just behind fences in the back of old service stations, body shops or even behind random non-automotive-related businesses and farms scattered around the hills. As kids we used to scavenge these places for old bottles, pieces and parts of old tools and hardware, etc. I can think a of a couple of old private farm dumps, just basically a clearing in the woods at the back end of an old family owned farm, that are still undisturbed since my childhood. But time eventually eliminates these sites, or at the very least they rot into the Earth and become un-scavenge-able. I can’t say it’s a shame, but emotionally I have a hard time viewing iot a a positive thing either. These places are just relics of a time that will never be again.
Years ago I remember reading an article about how mobile car crushing rigs were going around the country cleaning up sites like this. Back when the price of scrapped metal was high, I think an average car could fetch 300.00.Right now scrap metal prices are down. I think that this particular site was more of a hoard from a Depression era person than a parts business.
The really sad part is the way the cars were allowed to just sit and weather for thirty years. I would suspect that after that amount of time, there was not a lot left of value on any of them. Certainly all of the trim parts were lost, the potmetal was terminal and even the thick steels of that era had lost much of their thickness to the rust monster.
I recall walking through small scale things like this, like in a woods on rural property owned by the relative of my BIL. The “farmer’s way” was to use a car or truck until something broke making it not worth fixing, then it would be dragged out to the woods with another newer one taking its place. “Maybe I’ll fix it” is a viable idea for maybe the first two or three years, but after that the poor car’s fate is sealed.
“The “farmer’s way” was to use a car or truck until something broke making it not worth fixing, then it would be dragged out to the woods with another newer one taking its place.”
That was exactly what my grandparents did. When a car reached the end of its life if got parked somewhere on their farm, and a new(er) car replaced it. I used to have great fun as a kid exploring their land and discovering all the old cars, in the same condition or worse as the ones pictured in this post. It seemed like every vehicle they’d owned since the 1940s was still somewhere on their property. The oldest ones I found were a pair of 1940s Pontiacs with straight-8 engines, which were my favorites. I took the Indian Chief hood ornament off of one of them as a souvenir. There was also an Edsel, and a Dodge stakeside truck with a Studebaker key in the ignition (I took that key as a souvenir, too).
I once saw the other end of the spectrum. One of my college friends came from old Philadelphia money on both sides. She and his dad lived in a nice home across from her family’s much grander estate, which was an odd survivor in a suburbanized area. They had a big, red brick carriage house, and inside were cars they no longer used, each under a car cover. My visit was in the late 80’s and they had a ’70 Town & Country and a Mercedes W109 in there, among others. All in pristine shape.
The family eventually sold the estate for development, I’d really like to know what happened to those cars.
Way back in 1979 I had just moved to a new city and a new job, not too far from where I lived was an old rail spur line-now gone-I used to walk my dog along the spur and discovered an old auto junk yard full of ancient cars, engines and other debris rusting away. It was surrounded by a chain link fence so I could not walk around but nonetheless fascinating. Then one day walking by there was a gondola car in the lot being loaded with scrap from the lot; eventually the lot was cleared and the topsoil in the lot removed. The lot set empty for a period of time, now once more it’s being used as an auto junkyard.
Cars are ephemeral things, here for a time and eventually gone. Some survive long enough to be classics, but even those are subject to catastrophic wrecks, fires, floods, etc. That’s why we like reading about Curbside Classics, it’s capturing an interesting older vehicle that is still on the street. It’s a moment in time, where we recognize something noteworthy. Many of the ones we’ve immortalized over the last decade probably aren’t around anymore (except the Eugene ones, which seem to last forever!).
The junkyard classics are even more ephemeral, since those are certainly marked for destruction. Sadly, it is so also for unofficial junkyards like this one. The nature of somebody hoarding cars on his property is bound to be temporary, since that is not a legacy most people would be interested in maintaining after the man passes.
I agree with the author and most readers, I’m sure, that it’s too bad sites like these can’t last forever and seeing all those vintage cars get crushed hurts. But had the property owner not been willing to take all those cars in, they would have been destroyed the conventional way one by one years before. So, at least they were there for the author and others to experience them. Maybe some folks purchased (or took) some parts that were used on other cars. It would be nice to have it as a commercial parts yard in perpetuity, though eventually everything would deteriorate to the point where no parts would be useful. If man doesn’t destroy it, nature will.
P.S. There was a massive commercial building explosion in Houston this week that made the national news. I saw a story on the local news that across the street from the building was a Corvette dealer/garage. The owner said he had 12 cars on site at the time that were crushed when his building collapsed from the explosion. Proves the point that anything is subject to destruction at any time.
Toured a lot of those type of junkyards in the ’80’s – early ’90’s in NY and PA, when the ’30’s-’60’s cars dominated. The owners were aging out, the cars largely weather and rust ruined parts cars as best. It was fun but little if any were saved. I call them ‘the permanent car show’ that is until the owner died and the estate had to be cleared. Or, scrap prices went high enough to make the effort worthwhile. I have a memory full of images of those lost cars.
Is there any definitive work on how WWII scrap metal drives may have contributed to the small number of earlier cars in yards like this? Logically, anything in a 1943-45 junkyard would have been pulled into the scrap metal drives for the war effort, and one rarely sees a 1930s car in these home-grown yards.
I too remember junkyards like this back in the 1980s and 1990s. All are gone now. In every single case, the cars were too far gone even to make decent parts cars. They could still yield something – I collected emblems and occasionally found some other trinket. But anything more than that was usually rusty, moldy, mangled and generally not worth the effort to remove at the time (nowadays, we’d all like a chance to re-assess that situation). Very seldom was there anyone around to sell you something, usually it was some deceased hoarder’s forgotten stash, like the pics above. I always considered it a shame and a waste, but was happy enough to spend lots of time digging around.
But in those days, one didn’t have to go too far out in the woods. There were plenty of abandoned cars right on the streets outside your house. Here’s a pic from my ‘hood (Lower East Side NYC) from c.1980. I could have easily been one of these kids – and often was. All inconceivable today.
The Pyramid gas sign in the first picture is an obvious rip off of Citgo. If this sign was neon and sized to scale behind the wall at Fenway Park would anyone notice the difference? I knew of many hoards like this year’s ago. Most are now gone. Those that aren’t continue to wither away. Back in the mid 80s I knew of a yard that had a 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. It was rough. It needed everything. The stainless steel roof still sparkled but nothing else did. The owners price was $5000 firm. I doubt that he ever got it. That was a lot of money back then. Eventually it disappeared as did it’s stablemates.
Reminds me of this Eldorado Brougham in a photo I took in 1989 at another private yard not far from me:
Wow! A Facel Vega. Back then most old cars were just old cars.
Back then and ever since, that car has been a Cadillac Eldorado Brougham.
I have to admit, I think the people who park their old cars out “in the back” are just pretty well nuts. I’ve seen so many of these rotting away cars over my lifetime that they have to number into the thousands. I saw one place down near Columbus, Oh, back about 1988 or so that had about 200 muscle cars, mostly GM with a few Mopars in the bunch, just sitting there, rotting away for no reason. My friend with me tried to buy an old Chevelle SS 396 that still looked good to restore, and the old guy who owned the place said he wouldn’t ever sell any of them. My friend asked him, “What’s the point of letting them rot? I can give you cash for it, and put it back on the road!”. He looked at us like we were crazy, and said, “I think you boys should leave!”. I always wondered what happened to the cars as about 1990/91, they were gone, and the house looked much better than it ever did before. I’m guessing he checked out. I hope the better cars survived.
I went to a friend’s house last week and on the way is a yard full of old GTOs and Tempests that are all in pretty sad shape. No engines, judging by the raised up front ends. I haven’t seen any of the cars move there, ever. In the ten years he’s lived there and I’ve been passing by that house, the cars just multiply and nothing seems to ever be done to them. He drives a rusting 20 year old Ram 1500, and his wife has a Chevy Trailblazer, but no running GTO has ever been seen. He’s got about 18 or of them sitting there now, some have windows and windshields, but most don’t and are full of mold and/or mice, I would guess. I don’t get it.
Hoarders gonna hoard.
Some just have more space to put stuff.
Can’t believe that I recognized that place from the top photo. I used to live in the Rockaway/Dover area, and I used to go past that place frequently. Always used to wonder what went on there, because the place seemed to be semi-abandoned. Never had any idea what was behind the building. Amazing!
This brings back fond memories of junkyard shopping for car parts in southern NJ as a youthful driver of aging cars. So many yards were full of interesting vehicles, and I, as a customer (or as a tourist when I couldn’t find what I needed) wandered around marveling at them all. It’s too bad I didn’t think to take photos back then.
More recently I had the good fortune of finding an old yard in a nearby town that had apparently closed down in the 1970s. The place was accessible with a little effort, and, though vandals and rust had taken their toll, there were plenty of interesting vehicles, including some Edsels and some old fire trucks that looked like ones I had only seen in children’s books. I went there several times and took some pictures that I can’t find right now.
Unfortunately, as was too often the case back in the day, this place was located very near a stream, which it had undoubtedly contaminated with its share of fluids over the years. The owner was very old, and state and town authorities had been on him for years, but it seemed that he lacked the money or wherewithal to do what needed to be done.
The last time I went by, the vehicles closest to the stream had been scrapped, but those on higher ground remained, though they may all be gone by now. Good for local streams, soil, and drinking water, sad for junkyard tourists.
The flattened car sitting on the ground appears to be an extremely rare 1949 Packard Station Sedan [woodie wagon]
Correction; it’s a 1950 model 2393-5 Station sedan.
I too remember many places like this in rural New England in the early 1960’s, always fun to wander around and look at the 1920’s ~ 1940’s relics rusting away .