Saturday, November 12, 2022

Old Car City in White, Georgia

On Sunday 6 November, 2022 I drove the 4 1/2 hours from Nashville to Greater Atlanta so I could vote in the mid-term elections on Tuesday Nov. 8. Before, I usually voted during advance voting at the main Cobb County polling place, but this time I could not. At about 10 am I drove to where I used to vote in my area. There were just a couple of cars in the parking lot; I thought they had moved the voting location but a sign showing "vote here" was in front of the door so I went in. I was first in line and it took me only ten minutes to vote. Of course I live in the extreme northwest of Cobb County, in the rural area where houses are far in between (my neighbor has 40 acres between us behind the lake, and the next one is a farm.)
Thursday Nov. 10 was a bright and sunny fall day begging for me to stay oudoors, but where to go? In early 2020 I had planned to become a member of the Nashville Photo Club; then Covid happened and I did not. They met monthly and went on regular outings, near and far. They had been planning to drive to White in North Georgia to an old car junkyard-museum. I checked and realized it was only 26 miles from my Georgia house. If they were willing to drive 4+ hours to visit, I certainly could drive half an hour to take a look. So this is what I did that day. My house is not far from the Bartow county line. The red dot below, between Acworth and Kennesaw, is where my house is located.
Arriving around 10:30 am there was just another car in the parking lot (from Pennsyvania.) Old Car City is on highway US-411 with just a small southern restaurant across the road. I went in and paid the entrance fee (cash only.) There was an eclectic assortment of memorabilia, vintage collectible, antique toys, Americana, an old piano, etc. in the interior area.
I was shown a map then told the property had 6.5 miles of trails on the 34 acres (137,593.12 sq meters.) I walked by a sign with a short history of the business and a witch left over from Halloween when they offered a spooky "Haunted Trails." (Click on collage to enlarge and read better.)
The parents of Dean Lewis, the current owner, started a general store in 1931 that sold various items from tires, gasoline, clothing and car parts. Because of the Great Depression steel was scarce so they changed their line to scrapping cars; by the late 1940s it had become a salvage yard. When Dean acquired the business in 1970 there were 40 cars on the lot. He had a passion for old cars and spent decades acquiring wrecked and junked vehicles from recycling yards, auctions and private parties. But Dean did not like to sell the old vehicles' parts, he wanted to preserve them. He kept collecting them, had to buy more land; he stopped counting when he had collected over 4000 rusting metal carcasses. People were stopping by to take a look or take pictures, so about 15 years ago Dean realized that the business could be better sustained as a museum charging admittance. I started walking on the grounds, passing more unusual items, rusting bicycles and tricycles.
Then I entered the trail, looking in awe at all the decaying cars covered with pine needles and creeping vines. Some cars had trees growing through their bumpers or windshields and even lifted them. Some cars were on top of each other, maybe as they had been delivered. After more than 80 years the cars had been taken over by nature, they were part of it. This is why the slogan here is "Nature, Art, History and Cars." It was an amazing sight, but very quiet, with just the birds chirping, and no one else around.
Stopping to take photos, walking, turning, I knew I was getting lost, but so what.
Along the way there were random unique hand-painted signs, with optional spelling.
It was in the high 70s (26 c) but under the pine canopy it felt cool. It was a forest, really, with some very large trees and a heavy carpet of pine straw on the ground and covering the cars.
Actually with all the pine straw it was hard to read the make of the cars. I like vintage cars but I am not an enthusiast and unless I can read it I can't distinguish between all the different brands and certainly can't tell the models or years. Maybe after a good rain, if the straw moved it would be easier to read. I kept stopping and snapping - I had brought my Nikon D5200 and my small Sony DSC-HX90V plus took some with my Iphone. There was an embarrassment of choices - where to point?
I read the oldest car there was a 1918 Buick, then a few from the 1920s, more from the 1930s and most vehicles from the 1940s to 1972. They included Packards, Desoto, Chevrolet, Studebakers, Hudsons, Fords, Edsels, Mercury, Buicks, Plymouths, Oldsmobiles, Dodges, Cadillacs, Chryslers, Pontiac, Lincoln, some buses, a 1941 Mack milk truck and a few foreign cars - I recognized some VWs. From a distance I thought I read "vagabond" on the back of a car. Getting closer, sure enough, it read "vagabond." I never knew such a model ever existed. Back at home I researched it. From 1946 to 1951 the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation made upper-medium price luxury automobiles; their Frazer Vagabond was a unique hatchback sedan. The Vagabond shown below (courtesy Wikipedia) has been restored to its prime glory. (I wish I could be restored...)
There certainly was a plethora of rustic relics from days gone by and I understood why another of the Old Car City's slogans was "Photographer's Paradise." How to select the best angle to snap these decomposing dream cars?
Some metal chairs were placed in some of the trails for a quick rest or meditation or reflection?
Then I saw it - a car I knew. Flying to France in 2008 I watched on the flight the movie "Gran Torino" starring Clint Eastwood with his prized muscle car, a 1972 Ford Torino. Here was a poor sweet green Torino resting under the Georgia pines.
It was already past 1:00 pm. I had been wandering in the forest among this chrome and rust cemetery for 2 1/2 hours. It was time to go back and cross the highway to the restaurant for lunch, but which way to get back? I kept going up and down trails, and they all looked alike. I did not reach the restaurant until close to 2:00 pm!
I understand that locals gather there for lunch and it gets quite busy, but by then there were just a couple of patrons. Wes-Man Restaurant is a typical rural southern restaurant. They open 6:00 am to 3:00 pm. Inside it looked cozy and tiny with license plates covering the wall along old newspapers, old high school annuals, etc. The lunch menu has a large selection of classic southern comfort food with burgers, salads, blue plates (meat and 3) and more.
There were bags of water hanging over the booths - to prevent flies they told me. I ordered the standard southern vegetable plate: fried okra, turnip greens, black eye peas, fried green tomatoes and corn bread. I'm pleased they served the vinegar pepper sauce for the greens, as they often don't in Tennessee. For dessert I had the blueberry cobbler. Everything was tasty especially the okra and fried green tomatoes.
Now that I had re-fueled my body I was ready to cross the road back to the forest of disintegrating relics. Close to the front of the lot the cars and trucks were parked on cement or gravel, not under pine trees. Many had moss and grime from all the decades they had been stationed there.
I wish I recognized some of those cars, like that long black one above. I did drive two vintage cars back in the days. My father, in the late 1940s, had bought a 1936 Simca-Fiat coupe, with stick shifts, for my mother so she would learn to drive. She always refused. The car spent years in storage in a French country warehouse until she gave it to me for my 18th birthday. I drove that old car all over Paris in the early 1960s and had so much fun. I also drove my boy-friend's 1939 Chevrolet coupe in Great Falls, Montana, a couple of times. The Chevrolet is in the bottom photo, below.
Walking back to the forest trails I passed some vehicles that were under shelter and some above the shelter's roof.
I kept on my little trek stopping here and there to snap hood ornaments, car remnants, ghosts of VW Beetles and vans, and crumbling school buses.
At 3:30 pm I was ready to head back as they close at 4:00 pm. Getting back to the main building I stopped by a collectible automobile in great shape. It was the maroon 1977 Lincoln Mark V Elvis Presley bought in 1977, just months before he died.
Later I read some negative comments about this unusual museum. Some said it was useless hoarding these pieces of junk. Other said the land would be better used in more money productive ways or that the owner Dean Lewis would profit more by selling the land than keeping that garbage around. I don't think Dean is interested in that. He says "I don't know what I would do if I couldn't get up every morning and look at old cars."
Since a little boy Dean had a passion for old cars. He was able to build a business around it and make a living. Eighty plus years later, Dean is still around his beloved old cars (he was born in 1937.) There is a lot to be said about this - life is not just measured in dollars. These vehicles had their day, their use and now can freeze in place and give pleasure to others. About 99% of them are unsalvageable. They have another use - a destination for families to walk in an uncommon forest. They are ideal as photo opportunities for professional photographers, ad agencies, media companies, videographers, photo clubs or just people like me who enjoy shooting unusual and unique pieces.
Another comment was: "A friend and I just traveled almost 1400 miles to photograph the incredible cars at Old Car City. We arrived at opening and stayed till closing for 3 days and didn't even come close to seeing/photographing it all!" There have been visitors from Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, China, Russia, Canada and the UK in addition to domestic visitors. I truly enjoyed getting lost in this one-of-a-kind forest and snapping these lovingly neglected car remains fading away under the Georgia sun.
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