Abandoned Junkyard: Houston Auto Salvage, 10 Years Later
On the rare occasions that I drive down Mykawa Road in South Houston, I always manage to veer off onto a smaller street called Carson. Several blocks down, on the right hand side, is a crudely fenced off property labeled 6231 Carson Rd. Ten years ago, this was one of Houston’s largest and most well-known auto salvage operations, and a playground for me during my teenage “Car Fever” years.
The year was 1997, and I was a senior in high school. I had been bitten by the muscle car bug, and became obsessed with anything and everything having to do with classic cars. I even sold my perfectly good 1986 Mustang to buy a decrepit but driveable 1968 Plymouth Satellite four-door sedan to use as a daily driver. One weekend at a local show & shine, as we called them, a fellow car buff turned me on to this junkyard on the south side of town that might have a good selection of vintage cars to rummage through for parts. They had been open since 1968, and were said to have a pretty good hoard of some of the finest vehicles ever to populate Houston’s freeway system.
At the time, I was not well versed in dismantling cars, but knew how to use a basic set of tools, so I tossed my plastic toolbox in the trunk of my Plymouth, as well as my trusty 35mm camera, which I took almost everywhere. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but being a fairly inexperienced driver, I was quite intimidated by the area of town in which I was driving. Mykawa Road isn’t exactly what you’d call your typical, friendly neighborhood street.
The road was a badly deteriorated, two-lane asphalt road with almost no shoulders, and it bordered a mid-20th century neighborhood, with rows of single-story homes surrounded by chain link fencing, pit bulls, and every house seemed to have its own rotting Cadillac parked in the driveway. Clearly this nerdy white kid was out of his element cruising through this forsaken badland. Remember, at the time, there was no handheld GPS telling me where to go, or any cell phone in my pocket in case my thirty year old Plymouth broke down. Nevertheless, I saw the large metal sign for the junkyard posted on the corner of Mykawa & Carson Roads, and made my turn. As I cruised slowly down Carson Road, I recognized the junkyard as soon as I saw it.
The small parking lot was barely accessible, as it was only three cars wide, and overcrowded with several classic cars that looked like they hadn’t been on the road for at least a decade or longer. Missing engines, flattened tires, and their interior upholstery sagging and shriveling in the summer heat. I managed to find a spot, and ventured in with my tool kit, hoping to snag a few items my car desperately needed. The office was small, dirty, and looked like it hadn’t been remodeled since it opened in 1968. The walls were lined with faux-wood paneling, the ceiling tiles were sagging, and the entire place had the odor of long departed cigarettes. The man behind the counter asked what I was looking for. Pointing out towards my car, I replied “Anything for that right there.” He briefly glanced up, then back down at his calendar, and said “You c’n go out back and have a look.”
I was expecting maybe a four acre tract with rows of cars parked on a concrete slab, and there was definitely that, but when I looked to the far back of the property, I saw that the fencing opened up into what I could best describe as a forest that grew its own junk cars. The concrete area was mostly later model cars, racks full of chrome bumpers, and assorted piles of pre-yanked parts ranging from starters and alternators to steel wheels and entire engine assemblies. I gave the place a brief visual scan for my familiar 1968 Plymouth fascia, and seeing only 1980’s junk, I proceeded to the back of the property, where I could already see the nose of a 1969 Chevy Caprice staring back at me through the gap in the fence. This back lot made up close to 40 acres; a huge square lot that was basically a grid of dirt pathways 12 feet wide, with islands of vintage cars mixed with thick foliage. For a teenage car buff just entering the puppy-love stage of classic appreciation, this was like crossing into Heaven. 40 acres worth of cars, in their original condition, and I was on my own to explore at my leisure. There was no annoying junkyard chaperone leading me to what I came for so I could quickly get the hell off his property. There was only the sound of trees rustling in the breeze, and the smell of rotten gasoline, which is a lot like turpentine or paint thinner.
Nearly forgetting why I had come here in the first place, I meandered through the maze of dirt paths, just checking out the old cars and taking a few photos. This was a genuine hoard of cars, somewhere in the number of 5000. They had been steadily accumulating here in this yard ever since the Astrodome was still a brand new establishment, coming from all reaches of the city. Each car had its own story as I looked them over. Some had been recently dropped off here after a long and full life on the road, while others had been here since the beginning, and everywhere in between. Some of the cars were wrecks that couldn’t be reasonably fixed, others were just rusted out with nothing left to build on. Some cars were combinations of these two, and most of them had suffered additional damage from the yard forklift banging and shuffling them around the yard for various reasons.
It was definitely a sad sight for a car lover to see all these beautiful machines just rotting away in a yard, accruing dents and rust, but it was also strangely warming to my heart. These cars all belonged to people at one time, and were once loved members of their respective households. To think of the miles these cars had seen, and the places they had been before now…it was an overwhelming amount of information to process. Just for a brief time, I was able to see this magnificent assortment of vintage steel that would soon disappear into history. I could sit down on their torn seats, grip their cracked steering wheels, while the unmistakable odor of aging vinyl and horsehair stuffing enveloped me.
After about four hours of venturing around, I managed to locate at least five car models similar to my Plymouth Satellite, and grabbed some small parts. A few of the cars were hard to get to, as they were covered by thick trees, or surrounded by puddles of muddy water. There was also a high likelihood of there being snakes in here, so I would occasionally jangle my car keys to ward them off. My arms grew tired of carrying my toolbox, so I proceeded to the front, and paid for my pickings. I was hooked on this place. I knew I would have to come back and see more of it. Even after I had seen all the cars I could find, there was something special about being inside the fenced area. Some sort of mystical mind-trip back to the 60’s and 70’s that made the drive home seem different.
Over the next five years, I owned a lot of different classic cars, and made regular trips to Houston Auto Salvage, two or three times a year. I learned to avoid going there after a heavy rain because of the mud, and also during the summer. The heavy tree growth made it hard to find what you were looking for, and the place was swarming with red wasps underneath every doorjamb or trunk you opened. Whenever I would visit, I would bring my Walkman along to listen to some old tunes while I rummaged. The staff began to recognize me after a few years, although they never really seemed particularly glad to see me. They were all hardened Vietnam vets who couldn’t understand why the hell some kid would be so interested in what was basically a 40 acre trash pile to them. Exchanging pleasantries and having people skills were not among the top priorities for salvage yard proprietors.
Sometime in 2001, I noticed something unusual about the place during a springtime visit. There were truckloads of flattened cars being hauled away from the property, and their normal collection of cars had shrunken considerably. A lot of the cars I began to recognize as landmarks to help guide me through the maze had suddenly vanished!
After that disappointing discovery, I hiked back to the front office and asked the owners what was happening. Apparently, a new city ordinance had been imposed on them, as well as several other “rural” junkyards in the city limits. The amount of ground pollution from decades of cars leaking various fluids, including gasoline and battery acid, had brought them to an expensive decision. They either had to concrete the entire property and conform to present-day environmental standards, or close the entire operation. Sadly, they opted for the latter, citing the cost of clearing and concreting that much land. Car by car, the back lot population of Houston Auto Salvage was dismantled, crushed into rusty pancakes, and hauled off for scrap metal recycling.
By 2002, the place had closed down, and the entire property had been emptied, save for a few discarded boats, box trucks, and some cars that had fallen apart after being disturbed. One of my favorite places to go in Houston had been taken away from me, and it saddened me deeply. It had taken more than 30 years to make this place what it was, and only a few months to close it all down. As the years passed since 2002, the office and parts warehouse were pillaged for precious materials, and the back lot was cleared by bulldozers, leaving only the crude, corrugated metal fencing that encircled the property, and a few random pieces of vintage iron buried in the mud.
I would drive by the place occasionally, and still do, for that matter. It feels like so long ago that I was venturing through those aisles, in the springtime of my love for cars, it’s hard to accept that it is all gone now. I wished I had been able to help save the place, but there was very little I could argue about the decision. It was a new age of environmentally friendly salvage operations, and this place was in gross violation of about every statute placed on the new list of regulations to conform to. I had to simply be thankful for the small window of time I had to appreciate it, and also for the decision to bring my camera along. This was one of the last of Houston’s great auto salvage yards; built in the era before they were referred to as “auto recyclers”. This place was a proper junkyard, in every sense of the word.
I visited the place in 2008 to take some pictures of what remained on the grounds, which was little more than a few random piles of old tires, hubcaps, and seat springs. Hurricane Ike had torn the roof off the office building, and cattle had managed to find their way onto the land. The place was still eerily quiet, except for the occasional passing of a Southwest Airlines 737 into nearby Hobby Airport, but the lack of cars just made it sad. Just another one of many polluted tracts of land in Houston that will probably go neglected for another thirty years. The only way anyone would find out this place existed is the metal sign at the corner of Mykawa & Carson, which still stands to this day.
The following photos were taken during my 2008 visit to the property, once the cars had been removed.