Oh, yes, the things that people do with cars.
That’s obviously a ’60 Plymouth sedan sitting like a land shark out of water on top of two nameless GMs with their noses well-buried in the ground. And that might be a Chevelle atop two more sedans buried butt-first in the background. Why? Where? Well the title kind of gives part of it away, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
First I will reiterate that these columns have been, and will be, based in large part on my sizable photo archive. That archive consists of a wide variety of images that I have collected from a whole lot of sources over a 40+ year career, on subjects mostly relating to rods, customs, and racing, that date back as far as the 1930s. But another large part of that archive consists of photos I have taken myself, either for several periods of freelance work, for many books, or just because I have always liked taking pictures, since about the age of 10. So I have a shelf in my garage darkroom lined with 23 fat binders, half filled with color slides, and half with black and white proofs and negs, all taken by me.
The second thing, which I probably haven’t mentioned, is that nearly every year since we’ve been married (that being 46 as of last week), Anna and I have taken one- or two-week vacation road trips every-which-way across the U.S., mostly on two-lane highways as much as possible. On these trips, Anna has always brought a small point-and-shoot color camera to document people and places we’ve visited. But I’ve always brought one of my “work” cameras loaded with B&W film, partly because most magazine work back then was B&W (and therefore I had my own darkroom…in the bathroom…to process film and make prints), but moreso because I have long regarded black and white photography as one of my favorite art forms, and make attempts at producing some.
The fattest binder on my darkroom shelf is marked “Personal and Trips.” I was actually thumbing through the proof sheets looking for early family photos, including Bill (who always accompanied us when he was young–I’m sworn to say no more), when I came across these images. I’d forgotten I had them. I’ve never shown them anywhere else.
So this brings us to the subject at hand. Yes, it’s called Carhenge, and it’s located three miles north of Alliance, Neb. (pop. 8400) on state hwy. 87 (or U.S. 385, depending on your map). This was on a trip we took in 2004, ostensibly following I-80 from Tahoe to the Mississippi, then down the river to Cape Girardeau, and home by a very circuitous route around Dallas and across I-20 and I-10.
We disagree on how we got there. Alliance is about 100 miles north of I-80. Anna thinks we’d heard somewhere about Carhenge, and decided to go find it. But looking at our annotated AAA map book from that era (she traces our route in different colored marker each year), I see that we turned northwest in Ogallala to follow the North Platte river to the Scott’s Bluff monument, then up U.S. 385 to take state rte. 2 back east across Nebraska to Grand Island just because it was marked a scenic route. And I think we happened to see a sign to “Carhenge” in Alliance, and went to find out what it was. Both scenarios are typical of our road trips.
So that’s the where. What about the why? Well… There was no on-site explanation when we visited. Apparently now there is a small visitor center/gift shop. But a little research I just did says that farmer (and engineer) Jim Reinders decided to build it on 10 acres of his land in 1987 as a tribute to his father, who died five years earlier. I assume his father was British, since it says Jim was impressed seeing Stonehenge as a youth growing up in England. He noted that its monolithic stones were about the same size and shape as ’50-’60s American cars, so that’s what he decided to use to create his near-exact duplication of that mysterious monument. He says he “rescued” the vehicles from “nearby farms and dumps.” There are 38 cars planted in a 96-foot diameter circle, welded together, then spray-painted gray to further resemble stones, plus a ’62 Cadillac “heelstone” about 80 yards away (like Stonehenge). The oldest car appears to be the ’50 Plymouth above. It sits on two station wagons, but most are 4-door sedans (including the ’60 Ford above), and one Jeep pickup. Some windows have sheetmetal tacked over them, as you can see, but others are simply painted gray, or missing. Otherwise the cars are all amazingly complete, including engines, drivelines, even wheels/tires. On the Ford above you’ll even spot windshield wipers. Probably because of its much more remote location, it seems to remain free of graffiti or vandalism, unlike the much better-known Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo on I-40.
According to one source, Reinders gathered 35 family members to build this in less than one month, using “blood, sweat, and beers.” On the summer solstice they dedicated it with champagne, poetry, songs, and “a play written by the family.”
Wouldn’t you know, the city first ordered it removed, then declared it a junkyard, demanding a fence be built to hide it. Fortunately they relented, and Reinders donated the 10 acres as a Car Art Reserve, where a few other “car sculptures” have been added. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the citizens of Alliance finally voted to accept it as a gift to them. Pretty smart, considering that an estimated 60,000 people visit this remote attraction annually. And there ain’t much other reason to visit Alliance, NE.
Lastly, I had to add this small color photo I found at one of the research sites. What’s the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile doing there? Who knows. But it seems fitting.