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  • Scott Murdock

Digging up Bones

Abandoned antique vehicle
Salvage yards are treasure troves of fun for those infected with the car disease.

“I’m looking for front suspension parts for a ’65 mustang–V8 motor,” my friend said as he shook the salvage yard owner’s hand.

“Mustangs are over there,” came the reply through an impossibly thick accent. “But they burnt.”

And the Toyotas?

“They burnt, too.”

It’s true, James did want a set of shocks for the Mustang roller in his garage, but touring the region’s more remote salvage yards was also a favorite way to occupy gray winter days and (allegedly) use some sick time. If we could come away with a few souvenirs, all the better.

Winter is my preferred time for this kind of activity in warmer climates. I’m a lot more comfortable crawling into a half-sunken Mercedes when I know there isn’t a rattlesnake or brown recluse waiting for me. The dreary weather and bare trees also create a fitting ambiance for cars that have long been abandoned by the people who once picked them off the lot with pride, paint and smiles shining. For anyone who enjoys cars and cameras, the scene is a can’t-miss opportunity.

Burned classic vans
They burnt, too.

This visit was particularly bleak because a recent fire had burned most of the property into an alien moonscape. What remained of most of the cars was little more than toasted exoskeletons. Trees were reduced to blackened twigs. There wasn’t much to be found in terms of salvage parts, but it was quite a sight.

With rubber melted away even glass shattered or reduced to permanent icicles, cars sat as bare sheet metal. It was almost like they had all caught Benjamin Button disease and were reverting to their assembly line forms. Somehow vans from the 1960s still looked great–almost good enough to tempt me into trying to restore one of them. Newer cars didn’t fare as well. Metal holds classic shapes through time and fire; plastic does not. I couldn’t begin to recognize more modern cars, which looked like nothing more than clumpy black plastic draped over generic bones. I’m not a doctor, but I think that kind of stuff is bad for your health. All the more reason to stick to the classics.

As we hiked across the sprawling property, I was continually entertained by the variety it held. There was an attempt to organize by make and model, but I still saw early Honda Civics next to Oldsmobile station wagons, camper trailers alongside Cadillac coupes, and depression-era farm trucks hidden under the same tree branches as dictator-special Mercedes. We even found predictable family haulers sharing a field with a delightful row of Fiat X1/9s. Who would have thought?

Equally diverse were the junkyard dogs. There was definitely an encounter with one pack on a remote corner of the lot that made me wonder how quickly I could turn a loose hood into a shield, but others were perfectly gracious hosts. One of the younger pups followed us all morning with a cheerful smile and wagging tail.

Junkyard dog
Don’t judge a dog by its habitat.

I recommend that you find a similar place near you and start exploring; but be advised that salvage yard excursions are exercises in patience. Brace yourself for hours of walking and climbing over tightly-packed rows of uninteresting K cars. Stay up-to-date on your tetanus shots, too. Keep plugging away with an open mind, though, and you’ll be rewarded. We came across several cars I’d never seen before, and a few old favorites.

The salvage yard’s inventory also served as a wonderful conversation starter. When my wife asked what James and I talked about all day, I explained that we basically took turns pointing to something, announcing what it is, identifying someone from our past who owned one, and providing one piece of trivia–usually in the form of a particular part that was especially troublesome. The other would nod approvingly at the successful execution of conversation protocol, then begin searching for an opportunity to reciprocate. During occasional rapid-fire rounds, we’d both lean over an open engine compartment and point to various components as we named them. This custom is very enjoyable.

Abandoned Ford farm truck
What luck! This one even comes with a period-correct feed sack.

Most cars were in poor enough condition that you would be hard-pressed to find a usable component on them. Almost none would be a candidate for restoration. Those of you searching for a specific piece of unobtanium might want to look elsewhere; however, if you simply love cars and want to spend time around them, a salvage yard can be a veritable playground for the imagination. Where did all these cars come from? Who drove them? What kind of adventures did they create? Poke your head into a ’70s panel van and you can almost hear Pink Floyd and see blacklight posters. Peer over the expansive roof of a station wagon and imagine the family road trips that began with a pile of luggage on that now-pitted chrome rack. Climb into an old pickup and try to guess how many generations of farm kids learned to drive it to school on a hardship license.

Someday, your car might find itself in a salvage yard just like this one. The next generation of car weirdos will stare at it and dream about the joy it brought you. Make sure they’re right.

Salvage yard
It’s important to be thorough. Hidden treasure could be anywhere.

Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.

The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.



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