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.