Welcome to The Beauty of Junk Cars
What is it about junk cars that spark both your imagination, nostalgia, and even remorse?
There’s something about the discarded that kicks the dust off imagination and piles on the possibilities.
Who owned this? Why did they throw it away? Was it hard for them to give it up? Did it get lost?
So many questions that beg for answers…
I’ve always been fascinated by any common everyday object that has been left by the wayside.
From bicycles, kitchen cookware, furniture and even baby bottles, I have a fascination with the worn out, tossed out, and discarded.
Evidently, Dean Lewis feels the same way. The difference is he’s made a living from it.
Dean lives in rural White, Georgia, and owns Old Car City, USA. His family has owned that 32 acres of forest land there since 1931. Today, it is home to over 4200 junk cars.
When I see the pictures of Dean’s cars, I can’t help but feel, that in their own way, these junkers are as beautiful as the limousines at Monmouth County New Jersey Limo Service.
Why would I say that? Well, Mother Nature has had a generous hand in defining and shaping these old beauties into a fine work of art.
No, they aren’t whistle clean like a limo, or have all the bells and whistles of a sleek, late model luxury vehicle. These ancient domes carry the weight of time, rusted and corroded, then fed by opportunistic trees, moss, and critters that now call them home.
Busted out headlights, branches of trees invading the interior like aliens, cars lifted off the ground by 40 year old trees, and the humid, rustic Georgia surroundings, have turned these forgotten vehicles into relics.
For me, that’s what makes them so beautiful.
A Photographer’s Dream
Apparently, photographers think these old junkers are beautiful too.
Every photographer that visits Old Car City, USA is looking to capture what could have been and the strangeness of what is.
Some take pictures of the vehicles; others use props and models to capture their vision. (Yes, there’s even a dressing room for models. Dean doesn’t allow nude photos with his junkers–please take note.)
For photographers, Mother Nature is the force that keeps bringing them back. A car that looked drab in one season can suddenly appear bewitching in another season, or a different time of day.
That keeps the path to Old Car City USA worn with returning shutterbugs.
But you don’t have to have shutter envy to flock to Old Car City USA. It seems most everyone has a fascination with the mechanical undead.
For $25, you, too, can wander the 6 miles of vehicles that time forgot and take pictures. School buses, VW vans, classic Cadillacs with tail fins, you name it, Dean Lewis has it.
Awe and Ire
The metal bones of these some 4200 vehicles, many that date back to 1923, have created both awe and ire.
Hobbyists think Lewis should let people buy the vehicles and fix them up. After all, that’s what many junk car museums do. Dean says, okay, sure, but you’re gonna pay my price to remove them. And that’s what has hobbyists, well, pissed.
Dean’s not one for letting go of his treasures. For him, once they are removed, they’re gone and cannot be replaced. That’s why he puts such a high price tag on them. I don’t know what the prices are, but if folks are mad about it, you can be sure it’s high.
Doesn’t really matter to Dean. A guy’s got to make a living, and he loves what he does. Letting go of his treasures is not at the top of his list.
“I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t get up every morning and look at old cars,” Dean says, From his perspective, he’s saving history while the rest of the car world is crushing it.
Some of Lewis’s “history” hasn’t been moved in 30 years. For sure, one of Dean’s most popular cars is a 1946 Ford truck that was used in the 1983 movie, “Murder in Coweta County,” which starred Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith.
Unique and More Unique
What makes Old Car City USA truly unique (as if it wasn’t unique enough), are the signs that greet visitors throughout the property.
Wit and wisdom dot the forest with Dean’s musings, jokes, and old sayings. Hand-lettered, of course, you’ll find something to tickle everyone’s fancy. Many of Dean’s signs hang from what he calls the “Tree of Knowledge,” at the back of the property.
You find gems like this plastered all over it:
- Gonzo means far-out journalism
- Black pepper repels rats
But is Dean an artist or an eccentric? He doesn’t think. Instead he sees himself as more of a “doodler.” When he’s not creating hand-lettered signs to scatter about the forest, you can find him on the second floor of the entry building. That’s where he exhibits more than 3,000 styrofoam cups that’s he’s hand decorated–starting in 1978.
That was the year he started drinking convenience store coffee to quit smoking. Now, he doodles at night while watching TV in his recliner.
The other half of this unusual business idea is Dean’s childhood friend, Eddie McDaniel, AKA Fast Eddie.
When they were small, Eddie and Dean played in Dean’s dad’s old junk cars, riding a million miles as boys will do, with their imaginations.
Now Eddie looks a lot like the Duck Dynasty people but not so hard core.
As the other attraction at Old Car City USA. Fast Fast Eddie wrote the theme song for the business. He also plays piano every Saturday night, for tips, with a shotgun lodged on the piano and a stuffed bear at his side.
Maybe you’re wondering how all of this got started. It began humbly enough in 1931 with Dean’s parents. The place was originally a general store during the Depression.
But that’s a story for the next post. Hope to see you there.