Author Archives: Chris

About Chris

I've always loved old worn out stuff. Really, I've been fascinated by it. It seems to me old junky stuff has a story to tell of its own. That's why I started this blog. If you're fascinated by old cars and other so-called junk. Please feel free to follow along.

The Chatillon Car Graveyard

photo source: www.earthporm.com

photo source: www.earthporm.com

In the small town of Chatillon, Belgium, there was a mysterious graveyard of cars that snaked through the forest.

It was like looking at an ancient  airport shuttle service traffic jam–except there didn’t appear to be an end in sight.

For over 70 years, a staggering 500 vehicles slept there, buried in trees, vines, critters, and forest foliage.

But what was really weird about this strange scene is that the cars looked like they were left behind in a hurry. What could cause such a strange occurrence?

The Legend Behind The Car Graveyard

The story that most people are familiar with revolves around the ending of World War II. When it was time to return to the US, American soldiers realized they could not take their cars with them.

On a soldier’s salary, how do you ship a vehicle overseas? So they went to Plan B. Leave them in the forest behind the small village of Chatillon—and have them shipped later.

Except that didn’t happen.

In fact, locals insist the whole thing never happened. They claim that the cars were parked there as part of a regular junkyard. The proof, they say, is right on the vehicles. Most were made post-World War II, the 1950’s and ’60’s, and very collectible.

Okay. Point taken.

It is true that before 2010, there were many vintage cars abandoned in the beautiful Belgium forests. There were four graveyards with 500 classic vehicles, including the Chatillon mystery graveyard.

According to some, we’ll never know the answer to the Chatillon mystery. (Spoiler alert: see below) In 2010, amidst environmental concerns and car part thefts, the vehicles were removed.

What we do have is Urbex Photography to thank for their stunning photographs of these chatillon-abandoned-carsancient vehicles.

With a philosophy of, ““Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time,” the team of photographers travel world wide to remote locations, filming the bizarre, the unusual, and the beautiful. (A little of all three here.)

The Real Story (Or Long Story Short)

But according to Ronan Glon, also a photographer, we do know  the real story. It’s long and complicated so I’ve abbreviated it here.

Canada was looking to construct air force bases around Europe and settled on France in 1951. The Canadians had a difficult time adjusting to the French life, so they migrated to a border town called Virton in Belgium because it was more industrialized.

Canadians bought American cars but there was a shortage of mechanics. However, in Chatillon, there was a mechanic who was very good at working with American cars. Parts were difficult to get so the mechanic (name unknown) relied on junk cars, or cars that were considered too old to be saved.

That’s how this man started his wreckage collection. As the owner of the shop got older, he slowed down his business, but never fully retired. When he died, all of these classic cars still remained, attracting enthusiasts everywhere.

Sadly, this story makes a whole lot of sense, which means the legend of the American soldiers is probably just that, a legend.

Sadder still, the cars and remnants of that era are all gone. The only thing left is the stellar photography of Urbex. For that, we are truly grateful.

 

 

 

 

Bob’s Auto Parts

1960 Edsel Ranger Sedan photo source: www.oldcarsweekly.com

1960 Edsel Ranger Sedan
photo source: www.oldcarsweekly.com

It was a humble name in a humble part of the country, Fostoria, Michigan. But for 70 years, it operated as the place to go for classic cars built from 1930’s-1970’s.

Bob and Chris Zimmerman took over ownership of the junkyard in 1957.  The previous owner had operated it since 1938.

Just like Old Car City USA, it was located in rural America. Also like Dean Lewis, the couple ran a thoughtful business, fully invested in providing good usable auto parts to classic car enthusiasts.

While Bob wasn’t into offbeat art the way Lewis was, he and his wife loved classic cars. And if you know anything about the plastic cars of today, you know that classic cars were an art.

When Bob died in 2008, the classic car world mourned. He had over 1,800 vehicles and his quality was well known.

But what really got folks was that the auction company commanded a $400 minimum bid on any car, regardless of its condition. The auction itself was so large that there was a remote parking lot with shuttle service.

About Bob

1950's Linoln photo source: www.oldcarsweekly.com

1950’s Linoln photo source: www.oldcarsweekly.com

Bob was highly organized. Everything was grouped in sections, based on the make of the vehicle. For cars that were the more common makes, he had sub-groupings by year and/or model.

If you were looking for a 1958 Chevy, he had a whole row of them. Same for Buicks, Corsairs, Edsels, Cadillacs, and Lincolns. And they were all sorted by decade!

If a car didn’t fit into a category, Bob had one section of the yard that was dedicated to “orphans.” Packards, which also included a 1947 hearse, some British sports cars and even a Renault Dauphine, were included in his orphan section.

Bob didn’t buy old cars and then treat them like junk. For those that had more value, like the Lincoln above, he covered the interior with a camper top to protect it.

Bob and Chris also had an excellent selection of trucks, too. From the 1940’s through the ’60’s, you could find Dodge pickups, including many medium duty commercial trucks like the ’60’s Ford COE.

In an eery replay of the past, many of these old trucks still proudly wore the name of the business on their doors, although faded. Bob even had a few fire engines scattered around.

The haunting beauty of these discarded classic cars can’t be over emphasized. Whenever I see these vehicles, I can’t help but wonder about the life they had, the people that drove them, and how they ended up in a wrecking yard.

Just by sitting on a junk pile, these old cars shout their stories with unabashed pride. They tell us  of a history and a time many of us covet.

Sadly, it’s getting harder and harder to find classic wrecking yards like Bob’s. The bones of these metal pioneers are often crushed into oblivion.

That was certainly true in 2008 when many of Bob’s 1800 classic cars were destroyed.

One of Bob’s customer was so impressed with Bob’s work that he honored the business with the video below. I think you’ll find it worth the 5 minute watch.

 

How Old Car City USA Came To Be

In 1932, Dean Lewis’ parents bought a plot of land. It was a time when gas was $.19 per gallon and apples cost a penny a piece.

Dean’s parents opened a general store and bought old junk cars for parts to sell. Dean was born a few years later, “in a junkyard,” as he says. It was there he and his lifelong friend, Eddie McDaniel, would play among the mechanical trash, fighting the bad guys and making a fast getaway.

For over 5 decades, the Lewis family had the best car parts business in White, Georgia.

Right after high school, Dean worked as truck terminal manager, saving his money to buy used cars so his parents could sell off their parts.

Over the years, Dean bought more cars, and those cars began to meld in with the landscape. His parents got out of the junkyard business in the ’70’s, just about the time Dean took an interest.

Dean kept buying cars, going to auto auctions, private parties and recycling yards. Eventually, he had to buy more land to accommodate all of his worn out purchases.

The area became a playground for him, his kids and eventually his grandkids to play on. The family used scrap metal to build airplanes, towers and other oddities around classic 1950’s cars, and the rusted out frames of muscles cars.

With five decades of old cars embedded into the forest land, Lewis got the idea of turning the car parts business into a junkyard museum. Why not make money charging an admission to see these old relics instead of stripping them of their parts?

That’s when Old Car City USA was born.

But it’s not just any junkyard museum. Dean had more than a fondness for his vehicles. While he has never said no to selling one of his treasured landscaped vehicles, well, he’s never said yes, either.

If the buyer is willing to pay his price, he’d let the vehicle go, but no one has. And that’s just fine with him. Dean’s not one to let go of his collection easily.

There’s pride in his voice when he says, “Over 30 years ago, I told my son and daughter, Jeff and Tracy, that this place would probably turn into a showplace one day rather than a sales place, and it has.”

Well, maybe a different kind of sales place. While he no longer sells  car parts, he does sell tickets to see what he bills as the world’s largest junkyard museum.

His lifelong best friend, Eddie McDaniel, is right there with him. Eddie is as much a part of the business as Dean’s cars. He plays piano on Saturday nights for tips, and has his own kind of charm.

McDaniel even wrote the theme song for Old Car City USA. Check it out below.

I’ve read that Old Car City is peaceful, nostalgic, and a bit sad. That doesn’t surprise me. Everything has its own energy, even decaying cars.

I imagine those old relics are still breathing their sadness at having been discarded; still trying to find dignity among the moss and trees, and listening with a kind of reverence to Eddie as he plays piano on a Saturday night.