New Jersey, “The Garden State”, is probably better known for its auto junkyards–many of which are now disappearing. And of all junkyards, G.I. was perhaps the king! For over half a century, the sun rose and set on this enormous field of discarded metal, glass, plastic, and rubber. The golden rays of the midday sun glinted and gleamed off shattered windshields, dented hoods, and chrome bumpers formed into nearly every possible shape a designer could imagine. In winter, all was covered by puffy white snow. On rainy days, the land became mud. The seasons came and went, decade after decade.
The story goes that after World War II, two men (who were former G.I.s in the U.S. military) founded the auto salvage business in Pine Brook, N.J. where Route 46 crosses the Passaic River. Given that fact, it is reasonable to assume that since its beginning in the 1940s, nearly every make and model car from the ‘teens through the ’90s has passed through its gates of hell. One can only imagine thousands upon thousands of “curbside classics” and future collectables which came to their end in this horrific place.
Junkyards, I have realized, are actually a rather controversial subject. That’s because people in general can be divided into two camps which I will call “Normies” and “Junkies”–you’re either one or the other, and they are constantly at war. Normies (the vast majority) consider junkyards to be ugly eyesores, undesirable in any community, but which serve a necessary purpose, and are to be avoided whenever possible. Junkies on the other hand, get really excited about the prospect of visiting a junkyard because Junkies are antique car lovers, restorers, hot-rodders, treasure hunters, historians, explorers, and people who are probably a little bit nuts. I will admit it; I am a Junkie. And as a Junkie, I will tell you that it is very hard to explain to a Normie why I will hike through a quarter mile of mud and pricker bushes to get to a rotting hulk of a ’57 Mercury or a Goggomobil which has somehow escaped the crusher (even if I don’t need parts off said vehicles).
In my teens to early adult years, I made many pilgrimages to G.I., sometimes with a friend and sometimes by myself. Occasionally I took my camera along, which is why I have pictures to share with you. I bought a lot of parts for my own cars at G.I.: wheelcovers, tires, and a bumper jack for an ’89 Chrysler New Yorker; a dashboard vent for a ’72 Mercedes; a pair of GM Delco horns from a 1992 Buick Park Avenue which I installed in my ’58 Cadillac; and quite a few other items. But the most fun thing was just exploring through the automotive wreckage which surrounded me.
One of the unique experiences of visiting G.I. was having the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of just about any kind of car you can think of. There was a row of Lincolns from the ’70s: Continentals, Town Cars, Mark IVs & Vs; and it was interesting to sit in the driver’s seat, study the interior, and imagine piloting this luxury cruiser with that enormous hood in front of you. I wondered at the time, “Could these be the modern successors to the big luxury classics of the late ’20s and early ’30s?” There were plenty of other vehicles to check out–Alfa and Fiat sports cars, Ford Pintos, AMC Pacers, a black Firebird with a rampant, fiery golden eagle on the hood, a Yugo (built with all the integrity of Barbie’s Camper!), plus taxis, delivery vans, trucks, school buses (which were used like giant yellow building blocks to wall off sections of the yard)–everything!
In the junkyard, all are equal. A Mercedes is stacked on a Chevy is stacked on a Cadillac. It doesn’t matter. I would look at some vandalized old wreck and think, “This was someone’s new car once. Somebody picked out this model, in this color, and probably waxed it when he got it home. He got upset if the paint got scratched or the upholstery got dirty. Now look at it–it’s come to this!” Then there were the interesting things found inside the cars. One time I found a Cadillac with Newark housing project parking stickers (and a glovebox full of City parking tickets)! In the trunk was a stack of newspapers the likes of which I had never heard of: “The Final Call” (published by Louis Farrakhan). They made for some interesting reading, let me tell you!
But probably the most fascinating thing was watching the crusher in action–one after another the doomed cars were thrown in, and then the hydraulic rams went to work. The metal of the car bodies screamed in agony. I stood above like a divine guardian, witnessing the final moments of each car’s time on earth–a Toyota Celica, a Pontiac Bonneville sedan, a Chevy pickup, a ’57 De Soto Firedome (No! Don’t crush that……too late!)
During this time I always had the sneaking suspicion that G.I.’s days were numbered–that the Normies and real estate market forces would eventually put an end to the place. Since the early 2000s, several proposals have been put forth to redevelop the land–first it was to build a Lowe’s, then condominiums, but nothing materialized. The junk cars have all been cleared out now, and after 2012 the land was used to park vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Now it appears that new cars are being stored there, but I’m not sure for what purpose. The site is no longer open to the public.
So for now the sun still shines down on metal and glass, and the land’s ultimate fate remains uncertain. But I do know this–five thousand years from now, in the year 7000 A.D., someone will be walking along the same ground, and he’ll find a pitted metal circle with zigzags in it: a “V” and a “W”. And he won’t know what it means. Of course we know, but we won’t be around to tell him!