T.W. Paterson: One man’s junk another man’s treasure

The hunters who swore they'd seen the old logging truck said the solid brass radiator was intact

The hunters who swore they’d seen the old logging truck said the solid brass radiator was intact, and they knew of a man who’d carried out its carbide headlights.


There’s a new twist to an old hobby these days. We’ve long been familiar with bottle collecting and metal detecting for coins and relics in ghost towns and at other historic sites. A newer gambit is the search by vintage car buffs for old car parts.

I became aware of this twist in a conversation with a business associate. He had, he said, read many of my historical articles and books over the years, and it had occurred to him that old cars would be among the thousands of cast-off items which had found their way to old-time garbage dumps.

After a few moments’ reflection I had to agree with him, although, in my experience, such relics were relatively few and far between — or quite modern. Then I remembered an incident from years ago when poking through the remains of an old homestead in Saanich, my old stomping grounds. At that time I was more interested in the barn’s contents where, among the castoffs, my partner and I found numerous boxes containing old letters and invoices. These yielded numerous stamps, many of them bearing the likeness of King George V. Anything else of interest likely escaped our notice as we were young and just beginning what, for me, would become a lifelong career of ‘treasure hunting.’

As we poked about the barn, a schoolmate happened along. His main interest of the day (besides girls) was working on old jalopies, and he wasn’t with us five minutes before he started hauling sundry parts from a brambled-over dump. To us unsophisticates, his treasure consisted of little more than rust although I do remember two large, chromed (more likely, nickel-plated) headlights. Proudly, he exhibited his finds and pronounced them to be from a 1929 (or some such date) Essex. I didn’t really believe him and I didn’t really care.

But that was a long time ago. Even in my hundreds of treasure hunting jaunts since, I gave scant thought to old car parts although I saw many a wreck in the trees and fields of mid- and southern Vancouver Island. Most had been stripped almost beyond recognition, vandalized, even torched. Some had been abandoned so long that trees several inches in diameter were growing right through them. Most bore numerous wounds from hunters’ bullets.

Yet here was this dedicated car buff asking me about potential sites for old junk — er, cars. But when I thought about it I had to admit that he was on the right track. Well, more or less, as many of the derelict hulks of my acquaintanceship would require a cutting torch to remove any salvageable parts, so rusted solid were they.

Not always, however; a particularly good example of this was the carcass of a four-door sedan, its squarish frame showing it to be of the late ’20s or early ’30s, in the middle of an Extension cow pasture. I first laid eyes upon it in the late ’60s or early ’70s. Its hood, front fenders, engine and windows were gone, the inside gutted, but the body was intact. Despite numerous bullet holes, it was very solid looking, its rust strictly on the surface. Surely, sanded down, bullet holes plugged and missing parts replaced, this body would have made a restoration project.

Perhaps it did. I’ve visited Extension scores of times over the years. For a long time the old car sat amid the cow patties. Then it disappeared. Whether it was recycled or restored, I don’t know; I like to think the latter.

There are rumours (more like legends) of an abandoned logging truck somewhere on the slopes of Mount Brenton, so old that its wooden cab and much of its solid rubber tires

have rotted away. But the hunters who swore they’d seen it said the solid brass radiator was intact, that they knew of a man who’d carried out its carbide headlights.

In the Nanaimo area there are abandoned coal mines that have been sealed off by bulldozing old cars dating from the ’30s and ’40s into their entrances.

I’ve walked over one of these graveyards — it was at least three cars deep!

They’ve since been backfilled and unless you know where to look, these spots have disappeared from view.

So, if you should see some middle-aged guys clambering over a rusted old wreck in a clearing near some abandoned homestead or industrial site, chances are they’re shopping for parts to help them restore some Detroit beauty to showroom condition. It just goes to show, once again, that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.


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