I had often thought about doing it but never had. You know, taking time to stop, introduce myself and find out what junk another man might have buried under years of vegetation, in old sheds, in the grove or deep in some ditch located on the back 40. I guess in the past I’ve never been interested enough in another mans’ junk to take the time or make the effort to stop.
Things are different now and for 3-days during Thanksgiving I’d passed a run-down deserted highway grocery too many times to ward-off the temptation any longer. Besides, Jeffrey's Gone Junkin’ series posted on MetalMeet.com kept running through my mind and that old roadside dump of a building met all the requirements for great discoveries as described by Jeff and the other Masters of Junk on MetalMeet.
So; as I drove through the curves leading up to the old place I would be passing for the last time I was pleasantly surprised to see an old gentleman picking his way through the overgrown patch of weeds in what had been, I suppose, the off-road parking area for the store in its’ more successful years. The building was covered with those imported vines that seem to be taking over the landscape of the SE faster than even the Yankee immigrants. Ked sue. I’m sure that’s not spelled correctly but if you’ve ever seen this stuff you will remember it even if I can’t spell it. The leaves were brown now, stunted by the season's first frosts in the mountains of North Carolina. The vines and the few remaining leaves nearly blocked the building from view and had it not been for the two old Ford truck carcasses resting near the highway I probably wouldn’t have given the place a second glance.
It was junky. Real junky and the store appeared to be locked in time, somewhere between old and real old, but I knew I had to stop. Seeing that old gent made the decision easier than it might have been. As I said, stopping was quite out-of-character for me and my slowing down followed by a quick turn directly into the weed patch caught my wife by surprise. Before she could formulate her question, I was in a conversation with the old guy. Not being experienced at this sort of thing and without saying even hello first, I got straight to the point. “Got any other old cars around the place?”. Pretty impolite on my part but I guess you have to understand that I was just learning and hadn’t practiced the Gone-Junkin’ routine, not even once before.
“Yep… got those two ’49 Ford pickups and that black Cadillac and the Chevelle behind it”. “Mind if I take a look?”, I asked as I got out of the car. “Nope”, he said and slowly stepped in the direction of the vehicles. He was obviously suffering from some medical problem, looked like he had had a stroke …. left hand and left leg weren’t able to function fully. “Be careful, don’t trip on those weeds”, I said as we walked closer to the old trucks. “Did you say they were both ‘49’s”? “Yep, that one missed the corner and killed the guy when he hit the tree that was there”. “He just left the truck here…?” “He couldn’t take it with him, I guess”, the old man said with a slight smile that in addition to a sense of humor exposed an obvious life-long lack of dental hygiene. We both laughed at his comment.
After wading through a thick mass of sticker bushes that seemed to want to protect the old truck from anyone (me) wanting to get near, I was able to see that it was all there; including the V8 engine of some denomination and some rock hard tires that rested flat on the ground. Major surface rust, due to a lack of annual waxing but solid, nonetheless. As I went around the truck pulling weeds in great bundles from the cab and the box, he said, “Was going to take the parts from both trucks to make one that run”. “Never got to it ‘cause my hand stopped workin'”. “Yah, that’d be a problem without the use of your hand”, I said as I headed back through the thorns toward the second truck.
This one was in a lot worse shape than the first. One of the fenders was bent over the already empty engine compartment but the box looked intact and the hood, lying on the ground near by, looked to be in good shape, as well. “Have you thought of selling the trucks”, I asked. “Ya, I’d sell ‘em…” “How much you want?” “Well, I guess ‘bout thousand”, he said and turned back slowly in the direction we had come.
“What’s in that old building there?”, I asked, pointing at a metal shed that had been hidden from view earlier. “I got an old Cadillac in there but it’s not for sale”. “An old Cadillac, what year is it?”, I asked. “’59”, he said. “What kind of Cadillac is it?” “It’s a goodin”. “A good one eh, but it’s not for sale?” “Nope, not for sale.” I asked if we could get into the building to take a look and he said sure but emphasized, once again, that the Cadillac was not for sale. Keep in mind that this guy was suffering from an apparent stroke and although it would be difficult to guess his age I’d be surprised if he hadn’t celebrated at least 10-15 more birthdays than I have while still believing that what he had hidden in that old shed would be taking him to Sunday meetings before long.
We walked up to the shed and I helped him lift the plank inside the twin doors unlocking each enough for us to squeeze through the opening. Inside I found not just a Cadillac but a monster Cadillac covered with dust but in what appeared to be perfect condition. A quick brush of the dust from one of the classic fins exposed the polished black paint surface of a beautiful, extremely long ’59 Cadillac. A walk along side revealed an impressive funeral procession limousine…. Not a Hurst but a limo, the type that usually transports the family to the cemetery. “A guy offered me $12,000 for it once but I didn’t take it”, he said. “Why not?” “Didn’t want to sell it.” Which to me sounded like a reasonable answer and since I had no need for such a vehicle I didn’t press the issue any further.
It had been a bright and beautiful Thanksgiving weekend during each of the three days we spent in the mountains and that Saturday was no exception. Walking from the bright sunlight into that old tin shed played havoc with my eyes for a while. Seeing the big beautiful Cadillac kept my attention until my eyes became accustomed to the relative darkness of the room. Once I could see more clearly and I stopped stumbling over items piled on the dirt floor I looked up and nearly yelled out, “What’s that?!”
“Model T”, he said just as matter of fact as anyone can imagine.
“Model T?”, I said. “Yep, got everything on it in good shape, engine and all…. had to stop working on it when my hand went bad.” Sure enough there was a stripped down, full-bodied model T that looked like it was nearly ready for the paint booth!
By this time, I was nearly going out of my mind. My first journey into the world of Gone-Junkin' had developed into a real experience and it had only taken about 15-minutes out of our planned 3-hours travel back to Winston-Salem. What an experience! I hadn’t bought anything but that didn’t matter the experience was worth it with surprises that seemed to turn-up following each new question I asked. The answers I had received and the sights I saw that afternoon kept my mind active during the drive home and beyond.
I think I’ll do that again. Yep, the next time I’m motoring down an old country highway and see some junk along the way I’m going to stop. Yes indeed, I’m going to do some serious Gone-Junkin’ activities in the years to come.
Footnote to this entry: On a recent trip past this,my first Gone Junkin' experience, I found that the building that housed the Cadillac and the model T had been completely destroyed by fire. A quick walk through the rubble revealed no trace of either vehicle.