Wastelands of Suburbia

A place where the cast-off ephemera of the last four generations comes to rest, and is discussed fondly....Like junk, or the injection-molded minutiae of history? Welcome home...Junkyards, yard sales, roadside oddities, thrift stores and more-your memories are deep inside the box, so keep shaking.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tiny junkyards for the spatially challenged.

(a badly weathered '74 Ford sits in a miniature junkyard. Photo courtesy of Bugsy's Junkers website)

I've always been a fan of scale models. As a kid I loved to build them, and sometimes, destroy them via BB gun, Black Cat firecrackers, or by lighting them on fire in mock "accidents". My childhood achievement in model building was my '71 Hemi Cuda in Hemi Orange, which won not only Best Overall in my 7th grade Exploratory Program class, but took Fourth at the local West End Fair.

Recently I poked around online to see how the hobby has progressed over the last 25 years or so. I was both surprised and pleased to see a few builders taking steps towards what I would call "Ultra Realism"-that is, rather than turning out kit after kit in flawless, showroom-shine finishes, they chose to go in the opposite direction, and show the effects of time on plastic "sheetmetal". Borrowing some techniques from model railroaders, they weather and rust their kits to near disintegration. Some go as far as to build minature junkyards with piles of "wrecked" cars. Combine two things I love and you are bound to get a mention on my blog.

(No junkyard, mini or othewise, would be worth its salt without an old racer or two in the pile. Here, Bugsy has a Vintage Chevy Gasser awaiting restoration or, maybe [but hopefully not], the crusher. www.bugsysjunkers.com)

One Man Junkyards....

(A nice selection of Mopars in The Elysian Fields I hope to go to when I die.)

A few miles down the road from my house, in nearby Portland, PA sits a travesty. A 1957 Chevrolet BelAir 2-door hardtop in red and white-the classic, quintessential, iconic Fifties car, sits, slowly rotting into the ground. Down to it's axles on disintegrated whitewalls, a crude, crumbling, hand painted sign says, through a cloudy windshield, "NOT FOR SALE". Countless Northeastern Pennsylvania and Northwestern New Jersey males have seen this grave injustice played out over the last nearly 40 years. Probably longer-as my Dad can attest to the fact it has sat there as long as he can remember. What possesses a person, presumably a car enthusiast (based on their taste in lawn decor), to entertain not even the highest offer on potential purchase of a seemingly (for now)useless vehicle? One might say, "why, you simple jackass, he's obviously going to restore it himself". OK, I'd buy that if he had started work like, uh, twenty years ago. When I was in high school, a much thinner, mullet-bearing, pimply version of the sexy Evil Genius I have become, The story was more than one Shop Kid had knocked on the door of the house, ignoring THE SIGN that should have told them better, and inquired about the car. Stories ranged from being chased by a shotgun-bearing codger off the property, to a sad story about a son killed in Vietnam, to a ranting lunatic smelling of feces and Beech-Nut chew. At least one rogue claimed it Stephen King's inspiration for "Christine" (which, in it's core principle at least, may have been true).

What possesses a person to, not only hoard such a precious piece of automotive history in disrepair, but to deny the enterprising enthusiast the right to do the same? One can understand packratting-GOD KNOWS I can. But, with the budding Boyd Coddingtons of the world running about waving handfuls of hundreds anymore, I can't imagine not being TEMPTED to let go of the keys and title. I mean, if some fast-talking Vo-Techer (an oxymoron?) came to separate me from Greta with the right amount of Benjamins, I would not squeal too loudly-there are a million yard ornaments out there with my name on them, thanks much.

It is in this spirit that, a few years ago, a guy came up with the website www.carsinbarns.com . I'd show you some pics but he's got them all protected-fair enough. Go there, it's worth it if only to make grown men cry-hundreds of cars, organized by marque, sitting in barns, garages, side yards, junkyards and in front of run-down motels all across this great land. When possible, he has a story for each one. I have not seen so may Superbirds in one place, not even Mopars at Carlisle! Sadly, they all sit, like my youth's beloved '57 BelAir, sinking into the ground. In the end, the nasty old bastard who holds the title on that beauty will die, and it will be sold at auction with nothing the prick can do about it. Will it be worth it? To someone it will, even after 40 years of rot.


So, the official story is this-dealing with my doggie on the steps, I managed to trip, fall, and break my ankle. The bad news? A broken ankle. The good? Maybe I can get some of this blogging done again....you know, in my copious spare time. I'll be in touch realllly soon.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Off to the races...Illegal Hot Wheels races.....

(An event so insane Mattel would not sanction it!)

While the above picture could have, most likely, been taken any time in the last 40 years or so, it is, indeed, from this past weekend. Got to love Photoshop and sepia-tone. My friend Jimmy D, the Viceroy of Ridicule, has been an avid collector of Hot Wheels Cars since he was small. Jim is possessed with a freewheeling lifestyle, limited responsibility, and a fair salary (not unlike Yours Truly), so one of the things he continues to do is fortify his collection with new Mattel releases.

Jim got to thinking we ought to get together and have a race. Now, mind you, we have gotten together in the past for more than one event the average adult could easily consider juvenile. There are the regularly-occurring Risk games, often a marathon stretching out over the hours and cases of Yuengling like some real-life, alcohol-soaked Falklands conflict. There was the idea (though rejected) of a back-to-back showing of every Star Wars movie-the hard part was deciding on order-is it I-VI, or IV, V, VI, I, II, III ? (The event would have been further made enticing by a keg and the offering of Depends to those who felt they did not want to get up to use the bathroom all day.) Finally there was Jim's bachelor party, where we camped out, rode mini-bikes, nearly set each other on fire with potato cannons, wrecked a truck, and found out Dave D can bend time and space to appear and disappear at will.

As Jim tells it, somewhere along the line recently, there was a shortage of Hot Wheels track. I'm not sure if it was an artificial shortage, or one due to a great demand for the stuff, but for a long time, apparently, you could not get it. Recently, one can assume, the floodgates have again opened and the (now) orange track is available in all its extruded glory. Jim promptly plunked down around $125 for enough track to go to the Van Allen Belts and back.

(A partial lineup. From left to right: Aaron's (Brain's kid) dragon car, Dave D's Datsun 128x, Brain's 'Cuda "Savage Grace", my belly tank lakester "Twelve Lashes", Ian's (Brains other kid) '57 Chevy, Gerald's concept car, Jimmy D's "BFC", and Chad's "Your Momma". Missing from the photo is Daryl's Lexus, "Relentless Pursuit". Special thanks to Labatt's Blue for unofficially sponsoring the event, or at least for letting us drink their beer after we paid for it.)

The contestants ages spanned the years from around 12 to well over 40. Despite this, the trash talking was intense, and even prevented one contestant (Stiv) from showing up at all, despite spending all night drilling out his entry's body and adding weight to the chassis. While the younger set chose cars more on flash or street cred, The adults considered factors like weight, aerodynamics, ground clearance, roadholding capability as well as the aforementioned aesthetics. Many potential entries were quickly discounted in the test runs-some were too heavy to negotiate the trademark Hot Wheels loops, others allowed centrifugal force to get the best of them in the curves.

The events would be fairly simple-a "road course" track of our own design, and a flat-out drag strip. Standard elimination would rule, and a loser's bracket was created to make up for an odd number of contestants. Contestant over the finish line first won-in the likely event both cars jumped the track, the one travelling farthest overall would be determined the winner.
After taking a good hour or more to set up our tracks, we were ready to (literally) roll.

My entry was quickly eliminated in the first round. However, I was able to make up for it in the loser bracket, and gradually worked my way up through the pack to the top. A lot of track adjustment was going on, to the pleasure of some and the chagrin of others. It became obvious that the inside or "house-side" track was a hot setup, and the "alley-side" had more than it's share of troubles.

(Lonely at the top. We had an exhibition race for our friend Danny, stationed in the Gulf-two military Hummers-either way, Army was the winner. House-side is left, Alley-side right. Blue US Postal Service tape is horribly misappropriated as a smooth transition to the loops. Note Daryl standing in the distance, just above Brian's head at near 12 o' Clock-he's watching the finish line of this massive track!)

(Since Jim was racing, Big George (L) filled in as professional heckler and all around pain in the ass. Dave looks to be watching his chances at victory slowly slip away-it was that kind of afternoon for some.)

(more than one person had a problem with Chad, an attorney, running the starting gate. Here, Gerald looks on for any malfeasance and stands prepared to pound him into a pulp should he start trying to lawyer his way out of anything. Brian, his hand seen at left, has already decided to disqualify Chad altogether.)

Towards the end of the first event, I worked my way up to the Number Two spot, paired off against Jim, organizer of the event. Now mind you, Jim and I have been trading insults and wisecracks for nigh on 25 years now, so there was no shortage of intimidation attempted, and no amount of efforts rebuffed-it would simply have to come down to a race. I had not run in some time, so I had the opportunity to test-run. I quickly checked the alley-side track, in case lane choice was mine. In the end it would be a good move. I ended up winning the race, and a $10 side bet with Jim. In an amazing show of cunning, he promptly reminded me I owed him a Fin for the beer, and I handed him back his money.

(One weird Winner's Circle-Jim, the closest thing we had to a Trophy Girl, congratulates me on my win and awards my my price-a large-scale Hot Wheels car and track set!)

Donnie gets himself a bitch.

Well it was bound to happen I guess. Donnie has fallen for the blonde next door. Meet Frankie, a Golden Doodle owned by my neighbor, Jamie. She's 13 weeks old and he runs from her like she's a pit bull. Must be love. Note Donnie jumping up and away as Frankie "attacks" him. My dog is a wuss.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Here's a pic straight out of dreams from my own pre-teenage years-it encompasses two of my favorite things at the time-pedal cars and junkyards! Junkyards, of course, are still one of my favorites. This image is by R. Ehlers, and is entitled "Take your Pick!" I located this on Ebay, and the seller is local to me.

I have heard a legend circulating around through the years of just such a place close by here-I have never been able to nail down the location, but it generally is told as being somewhere on the top of the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap. I can imagine going there and filling up my pickup with cars, and turning them into a small fortune on Ebay and at places like Carlisle and the Macungie Awkschfest. I emailed the seller to see if there is any additional information about the photo and where it may have been taken.

Today I found my neighbor was throwing out a reproduction Texaco Fire Chief fire engine pedal car-it even has the front bell the driver can ring...My Mom has been searching endlessly for one of these babies to no avail, and I found one half a block away for FREE. Pictures to follow of my latest curbside find.