Tuesday, 29 November 2016 15:56

Abandoned Junkyard Reaches Final Days of Scavenge

Written by Tanner Cole, The Hawk Eye

At the former site of Putnam’s Auto Body Shop in Burlington, IA, it looks as though someone dug up a graveyard’s worth of cars and left their mangled, rusting bodies to rot in piles.

For decades, the cars were pulled in by Lee Putnam and his workers until they began to stack up. Wrecked and abandoned vehicles spanning from the 1930s through the 1970s found a home at the shop, but then were forgotten and swallowed up by the woods at the north end of Burlington after it closed down.


Phil Grandinetti, who owns a junkyard in Mount Pleasant, bought the property and its contents in July. After spending about $30,000 and most of October cutting through the overgrown land, he and his team found more cars than they expected. So Grandinetti decided to open up the property for scavengers to come through and pick the cars of their parts before having them all crushed.


They’ve been picking since Nov. 5.


Today, the cars lay in ruin. Their doors, hoods and trunks have been left hanging open by pillagers, letting their insides fill with fallen leaves and twigs. Any identifying bits of chrome long since have been pried off, leaving behind nameless shells of cars only recognizable to those enthusiasts who are familiar with them, like loved ones identifying bodies at a crime scene.


There are hundreds of these cars stacked and strewn across 9 acres.


Clem Steinhoff of Danville crouched over an old Chevrolet with a power saw. He carved off a piece of the fender to add to a 1949 Chevrolet truck he’s been repairing for about five years.


“There’s a couple of ’58 Chevys back here,” Steinhoff said. “That’s my favorite of them all. I’d love to have one, even if it was just for yard art.”


He previously visited the junkyard with his son when it still was overgrown. They found the easiest way to travel around was by walking atop one car to the next. He said he didn’t even know half of the cars were there because it was so thick with plants. When he walked in to the property at the start of the scavenge, he was shocked.


“I was overwhelmed,” Steinhoff said. “I didn’t know where to look first.”


He wasn’t alone. Kurt Parriott was on the team that cut through the brush to reveal the cars back in October.


“When I first came out, we found five cars on this one trail,” Parriott said. “Then, we started cutting and found there were more like 50.”


When they finished, they were left with mountains of cars lying about and wood-clippings littering everything. Old tires were uncovered lying around. Several windows had been shattered. One old Mercury had a young tree with a 3-inch diameter trunk growing straight up through a hole in its hood.


Mike Micka of Cedar Rapids drug a little toolbox on wheels with him through the junkyard. Wednesday was his fifth day coming down to scavenge. He calls himself an “AMC nut,” short for American Motors Corp. He was searching for Ramblers, Ambassadors and other old AMC classic cars.


“My grandpa owned a ’59 Rambler, and there’s one down there somewhere,” Micka said while leaning against three cars stacked atop each other and pointing down a trail. “You think about it, every car has a story. I wonder how many lives these have touched.”

The fact the cars soon will be destroyed is sad to many of the pickers.


Todd Ilax came down from Evansdale to find Dodge parts for his oldest son and Toyota parts for his youngest. He didn’t like hearing the cars would soon be no more.


“I’m an old car enthusiast, and I don’t like hearing that,” he said. “But I do understand.”


The junkyard is located at 2640 Florence Ave. in Burlington.


We would like to thank The Hawk Eye for reprint permission.