I had planned to write a blog post about “Reminder” #2 from Strunk & White’s An Approach to Style in which they say to “Write in a way that comes naturally.” But I’ve got something else on my mind that would likely make my approach to that topic forced and unnatural. It’s been weighing on my mind since I saw it yesterday morning, and I just have to vent about it.
My Instagram followers (I’m “mrstoddard”. Feel free to follow) are by now familiar with my love of crumbling, dilapidated, abandoned things. There is just something so evocative to me about an abandoned house or car that makes me want to speculate on why it’s in such a state and who lived there or used it in its prime. These sort of daydreams are why as a child I loved long road trips and never minded just sitting in the back seat and watching the world through the window. I still love that.
One of the few things to love about where I live now is that it is rural and crisscrossed with narrow back roads that have been here much longer than the few highways that cut through the county. I would much rather take these back roads or even the near-mythical US Rt 1 to get where I’m going than get on I-95 and hurtle north or south at seventy plus miles an hour seeing nothing but trees and bridges.
So, my Instagram feed and my hard drive at home are full of pictures of the things I’ve seen on my back road rambles. There are houses being reclaimed by forests, abandoned furniture, bridges that no one uses anymore, and chimneys without houses attached. It was on one of these rambles that I came across Michaels Rd. This road is just barely two lanes wide and winds itself through tree farms and rolling hills. It goes from having a full canopy of trees to more open areas populated by a mix of well-cared-for homes and houses that have seen better days. For a nature/decay hound like me, it’s paradise.
About halfway between the tree farm and where Michaels Rd runs into the slightly wider Bath Rd is a section of road about 100 yards long that is so full of delicious decay that I have on occasion pulled over and walked around taking pictures. There is an abandoned garage with a truck and farm equipment under a lean-to. Just past the garage is an abandoned bus parked neatly next to a stand of trees that shade it from view unless you know what you’re looking for. There is also a rusting abandoned trailer barely visible that looks so plain and narrow that even in its heyday must have been a dismal place to live. On the opposite shoulder about thirty feet away sits an abandoned armchair. It’s nothing special, a contemporary style wide cushiony chair with soft arms. If I saw it in the lobby of hotel, I would probably think it was outdated, but comfortable. Except it’s not in the lobby of a hotel, it’s in the grass by the roadside, so it’s upholstery is stained with mildew and the filth that comes off people’s cars or creeps up from the ground.
Just past the chair surrounded by high grass, is an abandoned car so close to the trees that it looks as if whoever parked it there had hoped that it would go unnoticed. The first time I drove by it, it reminded me so much of my granddad’s ’79 Nova that I had to stop and snap a picture. It was on a later trip that I came back with no children and got out to walk over to the car for a closer look. That was when I saw it. Downhill where the ground fell away from the shoulder surrounded by pine trees and high weeds was a car. I have no idea what kind of car it is I’m sure some car person reading this can probably identify it, but it’s one of the those beautiful art deco style cars from the late 1940′s with the smooth sweeping lines. The doors were gone and the trunk was askew, but beyond that it appeared to be intact. It wasn’t wrecked or on blocks or hidden under a tarp or lean-to. To my daydreamer’s eye, it almost looked as if someone as enchanted with the countryside as I am had just pulled off the road to enjoy a few quiet moments under the pines and left it there.
My mind immediately began creating scenarios to explain this beautiful car in the woods. First, it was just that someone had pulled into the trees to enjoy their beauty. Maybe they had gotten out and walked through the woods. That area is full of wetlands and black bears. Perhaps the car’s owner had wandered off and gotten mired in a swamp or attacked by a bear. On a more romantic note, maybe the car was pulled off the road to that spot for a lover’s tryst. It was just far enough off the road that it wouldn’t be visible to the average passing driver. Maybe they argued, and one left the other forever nursing a broken heart under the pines. Maybe another jealous lover had come upon them and done away with them removing their bodies, but leaving the car and whatever evidence it held to rot in the forest. My mind created pictures of people in post-war dress getting in and out of the car, leaning against the side, looking under the hood, dancing to Glenn Miller under the trees in the beams of the headlights.
Over the months that have followed my discovery of the rust bucket, I have taken pictures of it surrounded by fallen autumn leaves, covered in a blanket of snow, and amid the impossible green of spring weeds that flourish in our fertile central Virginia soil. It’s been the wallpaper on my iPad since I first spotted it. I love daydreaming about this car.
So yesterday I was tooling along down Michaels Rd. T was in the seat behind me working on her latest heavy metal hit on Garage Band on her iPod. I came around the turn past the garage and I was gobsmacked to find my favorite rust bucket suddenly sitting just inches from the pavement on the shoulder. I hit the brakes and pulled to a stop behind it, and just sat there. My favorite pile of roadside detritus was no longer in its little space under the shade of the pines, but sitting in the stark sunlight where everyone driving by could see it in its naked, decayed state. Part of me wanted to cover it up with a blanket to keep away prying eyes. Another part wanted to go home and get a better camera so I could poke around through all its nooks and crannies documenting every rusty worn out inch and angle.
It suffered for the move too. The rear window that had been mostly intact now sat at a right angle to its frame. The front seat was ripped and the stuffing hanging out. I could also see what had previously been hidden by a tree trunk. The hood was gone and so too it seemed was the engine. This was possibly the most heart-wrenching revelation for me. Suddenly all my scenarios of how the car got into the woods were shot out of the air. No one could have driven it there with no engine. Suddenly, it went from a wonderfully evocative rotting car corpse to just another piece of roadside junk.
No doubt the owner of the land on which my rust bucket was parked is the one who moved it, and they’re naturally within their rights. Still, I can’t help feeling like they’ve robbed me. They’ve taken a favorite item from the virtual cork board of my imagination and dropped it on the side of the road like so much trash. And no matter how I love taking shots of roadside trash (and I do), I couldn’t help feeling crushed.
As a rule, I don’t get out to take pictures when T is in the car, so I pulled around and snapped a few shots through my window making a mental note to come back this weekend when the kids go to visit my parents. Hopefully, it will still be there.
A couple of Updates to this post: First, I’m sorry to say that when I went back on Saturday without child in tow to try to take more pictures, the car was gone. Likewise the other car that reminded me of my Grandad’s Nova was also gone. It appears that whoever owns that land is in fact cleaning it up.
Second, after perusing photos of cars all over the internet from that era, I can just about confirm that this is a 1940 Packard 110 Touring Sedan. Here’s a link to an ebay auction for one that shows some good photos for comparison. In case you’re unable to look at the auction, here is also a link to a photo gallery of Packards from the 40′s. It doesn’t have the 110, but it does have some pictures of the similar but slightly larger 120. However, this is a match made by my untutored eye, so if you happen to be an expert in old cars and you think I’m wrong, please feel free to set me straight.