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Cool Caddy's & Rusted Relics

By: Mike Marino

Row of Caddies at Cadillac Ranch Photo Credit Mike Marino

Combine the elements of asphalt and chrome, and you end up with one nitro methane fuel-injected work of art. We're talking' real garage style Guggenheim stuff too. America has been addicted to asphalt and auto's like a nation of full of leaded and unleaded junkie's. Originally, the Detroit metal masters of machinery turned out pretty simple transportation to satisfy the growing motoring needs of an industrial nation that was entering a phase of horsepower puberty. A nation hell bent on going somewhere, anywhere, fast..faster..and even faster still. Eventually, there was an intercourse of speed and style, and in the 1940s' the cars started to get a little class, and in the process, the mechanics of The Motor City were turning into the Monet's of Motown.

In 1949 fins first started to appear on cars thanks to one of GM's top designers, Harley Earl, the Liberace of auto design. He was so impressed by the P-38 fighter's fin aerodynamics he placed them on the 1949 Caddy..and the semi fabulous decadent decade of Fin Worship and Fin Envy got underway. Sexy and sleek they defined true art and form as Machinus Erectus!! The demise of the Fin Age came in 1959 when Caddy once again out did all the competition with monster fins a whopping 41 inches tall!!!

The styling' days that left us in a metallurgical haze have disappeared along with those magnificent fins but Caddy-philes can still get a good dose of fin mania by visiting The Cadillac Ranch, located in the Panhandle Region of Texas, just west of Amarillo. The idea came to Stanley Marsh decades ago to do something with on old wheat field lying just off the interstate, and what was at one time Route 66. Then along came a collective of artisan anarchists' from San Francisco called the Ant Farm, and the idea for Cadillac Ranch was conceived. Today these grand daddy Caddy's are visible from the highway and can be visited by using the service road between exits 60 and 62 off I-40. You park your car on the side of the road and begin a short walking trek to the Garage Majal of Texas. Admission is free, it's open all year and graffiti is strongly encouraged so don't worry about it not being a kid friendly place, they can't do any more damage than an adult at this place!!!

The undeside of a Caddy-- Photo Credit Sarah Nichols

The Caddie's are nose down in the ground as though they were propelled by some unseen galactic force above, landing in Texas and not the more alien friendly Roswell. They rest nose down in the ground and there is a purpose to the angle of repose of these metal beasts. If calculations are taken, it could be shown that the angles are at the precise western angle of Cheop's pyramids!! Coincidence, I think not. Cadillac Ranch seems to run the gamut of Cad-dom too. Most years are represented starting with the 1949 Club Coupe called the Sedanette. Other years and models represented include a 1950 Series 62 sedan, 1954 Coupe de Ville, a 1956, 1957 and 1958 sedan, a 1959 Coupe, and a 1960, 1962 and 1963 sedan. Ten in all, and collectively it is the Godfather of All Auto Art!!! Cadillac Ranch is a true Roadhead must see and if you do, look on one of the rear tires of the 5th Caddy from the front, it says Roadheads Kick Asphalt! I have no idea who put it there.


 

The great thing about visiting Cad Ranch, is that in addition to the Ranch itself, is the fact that you can also explore the Ghost of Route 66 as it winds through downtown Amarillo. Great area with tacky souvenirs and memorabilia shops, as well as a chance to wind through the city on the famed Mother Road of Steinbeck's America. If you're looking to spend the evening in Amarillo, make it to the Big Texan Motel and Steakhouse, one of the original Route 66 stops, it since has been moved to take advantage of the interstate traffic, but retains some unique original signage. The Big Texan puts on the ten gallon tacky with a theme motor court that resembles a cross between a wild west town and an adobe village. You can't miss the place either, it has a huge cow in the parking lot that towers over the gift shop and just off to the corner of the parking lot is the Tornado Museum that is chock full of twisted twister metal from various unlucky locations throughout Tornado Alley. If your feeling hungry and lucky, try to down the 72 ounce Big Texan steak with trimmings..you eat it all..you get it free!! Good luck, gluttony...it's what's for dinner!!!

Chrome and culture also go hand in hand in one of the Great Rectangle States of the Midwest...Nebraska. Not only is it the land of the Cornhuskers but also the location of one of America's quirkier chrome-magnon erections!! Of course, we're talking about Carhenge a conglomeration of chrome high culture just off Highway 87 about 2 and half miles north of the town of Alliance, which like all things Nebraskan, is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Patterned after the original Stonehenge in Jolly Old, it's the metal off-spring of it's Brit cousin. The original Stonehenge, for historical background was a Druid built stone enclave that consists of 900 stones and was built around 3200 to 1200 B.C. (I still know people today who refer to it as Stoned-henge!! Yep..Californians!!)

Stringbean's Cadillac at Smoky Mountain Car Museum in Pigeon Forge, TN Photo credit Kathleen Walls

The main difference between Carhenge and Cadillac Ranch is that instead of a rag tag army of artists, the inspiration came from a week long family reunion back in the late 1980's. As the clan gathered at Jim Reindeers farm for whoopin' and hollerin' somewhere over the course of the week and the barbeques they came up with the idea of putting old cars, ala, Stonehenge on the property. Eventually the planning stages were finished and the finished product was constructed. There had to be some Cad Ranch influencing however, because rather than nose down into the ground these old rusters are planted trunk down!! The vehicular work of art was painted a uniform gray to give it that Stonehenge look and sort of feel. Although the city fathers were real mothers at first when it went up, today it is one of Nebraska's top attractions with over 80,000 Roadheads a year making the pilgrimage.

Today there is a growing crop of auto art and sculptures that are beginning to show up on the farm, including a giant salmon made entirely of auto parts!! Other works of art are encouraged and are being solicited for inclusion in this one of a kind Roadhead find in the middle of the middle part of the middle of the USA.

Hank Williams' Cadillac at Hank Williams Musuem in Montgomery, AL
Photo credit Kathleen Walls

There are other sites and sights to behold in America devoted to the American Dream Machines. Litto's Hubcap Ranch in California, a gentleman in Salem, Illinois who raises chrome bumpers in the back forty and calls it The Bumper Crop, as well as the traditional Auto Museums that dot the landscape from Henry Ford Museum of Transportation in Dearborn, Michigan to the Big Daddy Don Garlit's Museum of Drag Strip Racing in Florida. America has had a love affair the automobile since it's birth and is the greatest American innovation since..well..Zinfandel!!

America is also full of asphalt oddities and wonders from mechanical museums, giant water tower catsup bottles and giant Mr. Peanut statues, Statue of Liberty Statues in just about every town square and not to mention the plethora of Paul Bunyans and her babeness, The Blue Ox..how many of those dot the continent from Maine to California?

Mike Marino is a freelance writer and journalist of car culture. He is also the author of four books including The Roadhead Chronicles, the history of the American Car and Roadside Culture. To contact Mike email: theroadhead@yahoo.com. You can also visit The Roadhead Booksite at http://www.angelfire.com/mi2/sfroad/page1008.html