An hour north of Atlanta on US Rte. 411, in the town of White (population 600) there is a unique museum, Old Car City U.S.A. Owned by eighty-five-year-old Dean Lewis, Old Car City U.S.A is, according to Mr. Lewis, ‘The world’s largest known classic car junkyard”.
This is not your typical automobile graveyard, there aren’t any chain link fences, scrap heaps, or mounds of old tires. What Old Car City USA. has is 4,400 rust and vegetation covered American made classic cars, trucks, and vans dating from the 1920’s up to 1972. The vehicles are spread over 34 acres, with seven miles of trails crisscrossing around them. To get a look at the exhibits I took a walk in the woods.
A Personalized Account
Dean, a tall angular man, loves to tell how Old Car City U.S.A began. “In 1931 my parents, Walter and Lucille, opened a small general store on the same spot where Old Car City U.S.A is now. They took a risk; the country was in the throes of the Great Depression. People looking for work stood in lines for hours, sometimes days outside companies only to be told there were no jobs available.”
“My mother ran the store while dad worked in the Sugar Hill mines. They lived behind the store in one room with no water or electricity. Along with groceries they sold parts from cars that dad picked up in junkyards. He would strip the cars of usable parts, when finished he put whatever was left behind the store. When I was growing up my friends and I would play in and around those cars, my children and grandchildren have played there.”
He went on to say “After I graduated high school, I worked in the trucking business for several years, saved some money and started buying more land and cars, after stripping off their parts I’d haul them out to the woods. About twenty years ago photographers started coming around asking if they could do photo shoots of the cars and the woods. Nowadays we have about 6,000 visitors a year from all over the world; Germany, Australia, and the Netherlands just to walk the trails, see the cars and the shop.”
A Beloved Institution
High school kids have their prom pictures taken here, the same goes for wedding parties. They all want a backdrop of thousands of rusty Edsels, Desoto’s, Pontiacs, Fords, Plymouths and Buicks that have trees growing through their hoods and are covered with thick carpets of pine needles, vines, and flowers adding to their quirkiness, and, believe it or not, their beauty.
Old Car City U.S.A has been featured on CBS News Sunday Morning, the BBC news, and in the New York Times.
When asked if he had details of the cars on computer Dean replied “I don’t know anything about computers and don’t want to. We have a website that Dane, who works with me, manages. On each of the cars I write everything down; the make and model, the date and who it was purchased from and the price I paid.”
Dean is a jack-of-all-trades, business owner, mechanic and artist. Above the shop is his other pride and joy; his artwork on 3,000 Styrofoam coffee cups that he hand painted with flowers, vines and, of course, classic American made vehicles.
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