Rockwood auto wrecking yard a photographer’s dream
NEWS Dec 08, 2012 Guelph Mercury
McLean's Auto Wrecking has become a haven for photographers, collecting photos of rusted vehicles slowly being overgrown by nature.
Chuck Carson of Aurora trains his lens on an old truck during a recent camera club field trip to McLean's Auto Wrecking.
ROCKWOOD — It’s a warm fall day and McLean’s Auto Wrecking is, as usual, crawling with treasure hunters.
They are seeking the perfect piece of automotive trim, door, hubcap or engine.
But few of those making their way between the rusty Fords and Chevys carry tool boxes. The tools of these hunters are cameras.
“If we had as many customers buying parts as we have people taking pictures, we’d have nothing left to sell,” laughs 70-year-old John McLean, who co-owns the business with his younger brother, Doug. “If there were as many paying customers as camera buffs we’d be all set.”
McLean’s Auto has become something of a Mecca for amateur photographers looking to train their lenses on vintage junk.
Chuck Carson of Aurora has visited a half-dozen times, but says each trip to McLean’s offers unique photographic opportunities.
“Every time the light changes, the pattern in the rust and paint changes,” Carson says. “There’s a never-ending supply of great photos.”
Carson is a member of Newmarket’s County Images Camera Club, one of two clubs visiting McLean’s on this morning.
Many of the images are shared online through websites such as Flickr, where a McLean’s Auto Wreckers group has more than 100 members who have posted 1,100 photos.
Some of those photos caught the eye of Marji Wynne of Clinton, Michigan, who on this day has made the six-hour round trip with two friends for a day of shooting. “We just love old stuff,” she says. “We like shooting anything, really, but who could pass up all these old cars?
“We have places like this at home,” Wynne adds, “but they don’t allow you to just come in and walk around.”
John McLean says he is not surprised the property has become such a popular attraction for photographers.
“Word spreads and I guess people like it here,” he says. “I think it’s kind of neat.”
On this day, members of the Newmarket camera club came bearing a cake and other baked goods as a thank you for the remarkable access to the property.
“They also drop off pictures they’ve taken here over the years,” McLean said. “I’ve got a big stack of them. It’s interesting to see how they look at these things.”
Robert Carney of Fergus grew up in Rockwood and remembers as a boy going to McLean’s with his father for parts. “I think there’s probably still a vehicle or two of ours in here somewhere,” Carney says during a recent visit. These days Carney is a graphic artist. A couple of years ago he was looking at photos online when he came across a shot of an old truck with a company name lettered on the door. The caption indicated the photo had been taken at McLean’s.
“I hadn’t been out here since I was a teenager, so I thought I’d come back and have a look,” Carney says. “It really hasn’t changed that much.”
He is looking today for parts, but not for use on his vehicle. Instead, he’s looking for parts he can repurpose as wall art, and recently bought two doors and a tailgate off a rusty antique pickup.
The story of how such a place came to be on a rural road dotted with working farms and estate homes began simply enough.
John McLean says his parents bought the property in 1955 “for less money than the taxes are now.”
A few years later, the brothers, then teenagers, brought home the first of many cars. They believe it was a 1951 or 1952 Chevy. “It was Doug that brought home the first one,” John McLean says. “He gets the credit for it.” “Or the blame,” Doug adds quickly with a laugh. “We just started hauling them home,” John says. “You’d try to fix one up to drive and then get another one for parts and so on and so on. We’ve never been too quick to get rid of anything.”
If there was an award for understatement of the year, that comment might have clinched it.
Looking around McLean’s Auto Wrecking, it’s difficult to believe any vehicle has ever found its way back off the property. Trees, some of them more than 10 metres in height, grow up through engine compartments long ago robbed of their power plants. One 1950s panel van even has a small tree that has forced its way through the rusty roof and continued to grow.
When not selling the occasional part, the McLean brothers have made a living for more than 40 years hauling grain for local farmers. “Since we had the truck, people started giving us trailers,” John McLean says, “and we sort of added them to the collection.”
The “collection” also includes rusty delivery vans, construction trucks, farm equipment, a whole row of decrepit school buses and even a couple of military vehicles — if you look hard enough.
The number of vehicles on the property is difficult to judge.
“Oh, a couple hundred anyway,” John laughs. “Maybe a few more.”
With the brothers now 68 and 70, the future of McLean’s Auto Wrecking is a topic they have discussed. “We either clean it up or we croak and someone else does it, I suppose,” John says. “We have been talking about how to clean it up for a little while.”
That would be bad news for shutterbugs such as Carson.
“There used to be more places like this,” Carson says, noting a couple of former wrecking yards that have given way to development pressures. “It’s hard to find yards with this age of vehicles anymore.” As he waits for just the right light to capture the rust on the fender of a 1950s truck, Carson surveys the rusty landscape.
“In one way it’s an amazing place, but at the same time it’s a bit depressing because all these cars were once someone’s pride and joy and now here they are just literally rotting into the ground.”
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