Photos by Cameron Flaisch
An unassuming store front on an isolated road in White, Georgia, that could be missed completely if you aren’t careful, marks the foundation of the of what one man calls the “world’s largest classic car junkyard.” Owner and overseer, Dean Lewis calls Old Car City USA his junkyard gallery full of over 4,500 old cars, (most of which are model year 1972 or older) spread out over three separate lots and totaling a massive 34 acres.
As easy as it is to drive right past the initial structure, one would be surprised at how well known this 34 acres of nature’s art is around the world. “As far as I know, someone from every single continent has visited us here at Old Car City. From Belgium, Germany, London and Denmark, to Sweden, the Netherlands and South Korea people come. It’s crazy. You ain’t gonna believe the folks who come to see a rusty car and broken glass junkyard,” Lewis smiles.
When thinking of major media company, art magazines and travel guides, you can almost bet that they’ve traveled to White, Georgia to interview Lewis and his crew.
Old Car City hasn’t always been a media sensation, as it originated as a general store owned and operated by his parents in the 1930’s. With no electricity, gas running at 19 cents a gallon and apples only one cent each, the Lewis’ decision to turn the store into a junkyard proved profitable as the Depression Era made scrap metal, steel and tires as good as currency. Throughout the years, the auto salvage yard flourished, but Lewis had a different image for the business; rather than benefit from the destruction of cars, he wanted to preserve their heritages.
“I was born and raised in the junkyard, and knew this was where I wanted to invest my money once I graduated from high school. I got a loan one day and opened the junkyard with around 4,000 more cars,” Lewis recalls.
Lewis remembers the times when people wouldn’t even look Old Car City’s way, much less stop and take a tour of the grounds. However, Lewis did not realize the marketing capital that rest in his treasures until a few years ago when local photographers took interest in the rust and roots of Old Car City. That sparked an idea in Lewis, which is essentially what made this business what it is today, a place he calls a “photographer’s paradise.”
“Back when we were selling parts, I had 21 Yellow Page ads Old Car City. I paid a lot of money to promote the junkyard which worked out okay, but nothing like the traffic we see today. Now, I don’t have to do anything because so many people advertise for me. The internet created an bigger draw for Old Car City than anything I could have done to advertise the business,” said Lewis.
Today, Lewis sees his collection as more of a museum than a salvage yard, and refers to the compilation of old historic cars as a combination of art, nature and history. “It’s completely different,” Lewis says, “as there are hardly any more junkyards, and some people are just crazy about junkyards.”
You can see this interest displayed in Old Car City’s junkyard circle called, “Make Your Mark.” Lewis allows visitors to choose a fender, door or quarter panel of any car of their choice, and paints a message on it. “We like for our guests to get personal with the art, because it means a lot to us and I know it does to them too,” said Lewis.
Lewis’s passion for his cars runs just about as deep as his passion for the arts. When stepping into the preliminary shop, you are immediately hit with thousands of collectible oddities, as well as other knick-knacks which help to create the vintage atmosphere throughout the grounds. Old Car City is annotated with hundreds of Dean’s hand-lettered signs, which he also displays upstairs from the entrance to the building. There, you will find between 3,500 and 4,000 Styrofoam cups displayed with Dean Lewis’ doodles. He has been collecting these for around 39 years, as that is about how long Lewis has been drinking coffee every single morning. Along with the cups, Lewis has also been framing and painting for around five years.
“I practice subliminal art, because I like my art to be congested along the walls of my studio. That appeals to me, and is how I intend for my art when I am creating it,” says Lewis. “But I am not an artist. I just like to doodle and make marks,” says Lewis.
Dean Lewis and his crew at Old Car City are around most days, as Lewis enjoys the time that he spends at his gallery. “Oh, I stay busy. But that’s how I like it,” says Lewis, which is what makes Old Car City perhaps one of the greatest hidden jewels of Northwest Georgia.