For as long as I can remember, I have taken a great amount of pleasure in driving around the country and looking for deserted automotive treasures, camouflaged by the overgrown landscape on which they reside. You see them, to some extent, everywhere you look, but it seems like the closer you are to the city, the newer the age of the dearly departed becomes. For me, there is not a strong personal attraction in reviving somebody’s old discarded pea-green Geo Prism, whose intrinsic value suddenly plummeted with the failure of a head gasket. It’s when you get away out in the rural areas that you begin to find those truly classic examples; those that served their owners well for the automotive equivalent of a lifetime, before they were literally “put out to pasture”. I spent quite a few years searching these out and taking Black & White photographs to capture my discoveries in their natural habitat. The character that these cars portrayed seemed to be better captured without the detail of color film. My desire was to be able to look back on these photos later; remembering where and when I saw them, and hopefully re-imagine some of the stories those rusted heaps might tell to me, if they could.
I believe that the car lover that hides deep inside a large number of us secretly longs to reclaim those forsaken lost relics; to pull them out from their earthen tombs and breathe new life into them. While the venture of doing such a thing is admirable and ultimately very costly, it’s important to realize that, to borrow a line from the American classic film, Cool Hand Luke, “Some men you just can’t reach”. There are times when the life you hope to recover is just too far gone. It’s at those times that you need to be able to identify this reality and NOT deny it. Are you dealing with a “Barn Find” or are you just buying an expensive chunk of yard art? There may be very little difference between them.
I tend to favor the term “barn find” because it, by nature of the name, insinuates that the vehicle was stored in a barn or, at very least, under some sort of cover. While this does not guarantee a cars structural integrity and hardly limits the likelihood of the interior now being home for a colony of rats with an appetite for seat cushions and electrical wiring, most barn owners would not likely designate precious space for something that they didn’t care about or hold some plans to repair in the future. If the old Jeep was seriously broke beyond repair, it would probably be repurposed as a flower bed out in the yard. However, once you put a car outside, exposed and unprotected from the elements, you can count on it returning to the ground from whence it came, in a painfully short period of time. While many of the components on a Jeep that are the most prone to rust from exposure are readily available and easily replaceable, one has to consider whether starting out with nothing might be a better option.
For an old vehicle to truly qualify to be considered a genuine ‘barn find’, the vehicle should only be corrupted by years of dirt, grime and passing of time; something that got put away some time ago for semi-safe keeping and not surrendered to the elements. Too often, one man’s barn find is, more accurately, just a basket case in which to pour large sums of money with little hope of ever recouping even a modest initial investment. The art of finding those that pass more easily as a treasure than trash and acquiring them for as cheap a price as possible is where a bargain finder shows his true mettle. Developing an emotional attachment to the subject is where many people lose sight of the primary objective and end up with a few apple crates full of rusty parts and no substantial premise on which to build. Don’t ask me how I know. In such cases, the buyers motivation should only be save the mechanical artifact from the edge of extinction for nothing more than the sheer satisfaction of it, as that is likely the only certain profit to be had; a profit that is exempt from taxes and only appreciates with time.
I’m reminded of a buddy of mine when I was growing up who, while everyone else was acquiring their first set of wheels, chose to take ownership of a certain Willys M38A1 that his grandfather had pulled from a lake or, more accurately, a South Georgia swamp. We spent several warm summer months scraping barnacles off that old crusty hull of a vehicle with putty knifes until our knuckles bled. The metal, thanks to the coating of mud, was remarkably well-preserved for its age. In spite of that, I remember slowly coming to the realization that this dream that we were chasing was running speedily in an opposite direction than where we were headed. That old Jeep, fortunately, hadn’t cost him a thing but the time and effort it took to try to resurrect it; and maybe a small fee for a scrapper to haul it off. It wasn’t my first project and certainly would not be my last.
So, regardless of where you find them or how much time and effort it takes to restore them, I cannot think of a more admirable or satisfying pursuit than tracking down one of these old vintage vehicles, in whatever barn they may hide, pluck them out from the grasp of decay and reviving what is left of their automotive spirit. You might even share the experience with a member of a younger generation so they can enjoy the same sense of fulfillment that such an undertaking brings. After all, it’s only the seeds you sow that multiply and not what you keep in the barn. OlllllllO