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I've always been drawn to abandoned structures and places - buildings, amusement parks, schools, theaters, churches, you name it – even old rusted out cars. So when I was surfing the web a few months ago looking for some derelict to shoot, I stumbled across a place called Old Car City. It’s essentially a junkyard of over 4,000 cars about 50 miles north of Atlanta in a little town called White, Georgia.
Old Car City began in 1931 as a general store and sold items ranging from clothing to car parts, including tires and gasoline. By the late 1940’s, the general store had morphed into an auto salvage yard, and contributed scrap metal and rubber to the war effort in WWII.
In 1970, Dean Lewis, the son of the original owners, began running the business and buying old junked and wrecked cars and trucks. His intention was to preserve the legacies of these wonderful old vehicles rather than destroy them, and the family business became what is now Old Car City. It’s billed as the world’s largest known classic car junkyard, and there are actually more cars in Old Car City than people living in White, Georgia.
It would be a few more months before I was able to carve out a day to drive up there, but once there, I was completely taken with these beautiful old rust-buckets. There’s something intimately nostalgic and romantic about these old abandoned vehicles. There are cars, trucks, vans, buses, and even an old vintage airplane in the front of the yard – almost all of them from 1972 or older.
The grounds are spread out across 34 acres of woods with about 6 ½ miles of groomed walking trails, and it’s not hard to get lost once you’re in there, particularly if you aren’t paying attention. As you walk along the trails, you get to know these vehicles and slowly begin to imagine their stories. Some are clearly victims of a rollover; others have been T-boned and never had a chance. They each have their own story to tell – you just have to stop long enough to listen.
The oldest have been reclaimed by nature, almost completely buried in foliage and pine straw, left untouched for decades. A few even have trees growing up through the engine compartment or bumpers.
Toward the end of the day, I was completely absorbed in setting up a photograph of an old Ford truck driven by Johnny Cash in the movie Murder in Coweta County, when I heard a slight movement behind me. I looked up to see a gorgeous – and very large – deer standing on the cleared path not more than 10 feet away from me. We eyed each other for a few seconds, then he (or she) quietly walked back into the woods, picking his way between the trucks.
As I sit here now, looking through the photographs I took that day, I can’t help wanting to go back again to visit those beautiful old vehicles, quietly rusting away out in the woods.
I recently made a quick day-trip to the town of Cartersville, Georgia, to visit my brother - and of course do a little shooting - and I thought that might make a good topic for my first blog entry.
Cartersville is a small city officially located within the northwestern edge of the Atlanta metro area, even though it’s over 40 miles outside the city limits. It was established in 1850 and has some historical significance in that most of the area surrounding Cartersville was affected by Sherman’s March to the Sea during the Civil War. Of course, most of “metro Atlanta” was affected by Sherman’s March to the Sea, so I guess that kind of goes without saying.
The downtown area is much like what you would expect to see in any small town across the United States – a town square and a little park, along with several quaint shops and eating joints, and of course a couple of antique galleries. There’s even an old vintage Mustang or two still running around.
But that Coca-Cola sign painted on the Young Brothers Pharmacy wall is a real find. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the world’s first outdoor painted-wall advertisement for Coca-Cola – the first EVER. It dates all the way back to 1894, when a Coca-Cola syrup salesman decided to pick up a paintbrush and create it. Right here in downtown Cartersville.
Just off the square is the requisite train depot, which has some distinction in that it’s one of the few original Western and Atlantic railroad depots still in existence; it’s now home to the Cartersville Welcome Center. One of my favorite things to photograph is trains and train tracks, and this one kept me busy for quite a while. It was overcast that day, which made for some really nice kind of "dark and brooding" images.
After you pass through the downtown area, you’ll run into well-kept, sidewalk neighborhoods with beautiful old homes, some dating back to the early 1800s. The azaleas in the spring are nothing short of spectacular.
A few blocks further and the rolling farmland takes over, dotted with barns and working silos, and horses and cows grazing in the pastures.
A little further down Mission Road right across from my brother’s subdivision, there’s a beautiful white home set well back off the road, just barely visible if you know where to look. The tree-lined driveway is gorgeous, and just begged me to stop and enjoy the scenery. So of course I did.
I did finally make it to my brother’s house, but he knows me well enough not to ask what took me so long to get there. At least I remembered to bring a gallon of sweet tea.
There’s a lot of beauty - and a lot of history - in old towns all across the United States. I love exploring places like Cartersville – yes, admittedly because there are so many great photo-ops, but something about being in an old town square makes me want to stop and just sit for a while. But not too long – my camera is calling me.