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Flashback Friday

Bud Henderson's Spacemobile

It wasn't always sitting on this rusting trailer.  For a while it was in a tree just outside of Aledo on Route 94, serving as a beacon to Bud Henderson's salvage yard.  I also remember it being in a triangular area at the Route 17 and Route 94 intersection.  But mostly I remember it being on this trailer up the road heading to Sugar Grove. It was acres and acres of junked cars parked in a giant field and the flagship of them all was Bud's Spacemobile.  I don't know that it ever even had a name, but let's refer to it for purposes of this blog as the Spacemobile.  

It was constructed in the time when many cars were trying to emulate space travel and speed, a new age and Sputnik.  Names such as Comet, Starfire, Galaxie, Meteor, Star Chief, Sun Bird, Jet Star and Nova.  The 59 Lincoln rear end was virtually a shooting star in design; same with the Pontiac.  

Located a mile or mile and a half north of the 19-94  four-way stop in Aledo it was the most fascinating thing to see when Marj would throw us in the car when we were kids and go to the Quad Cities. 

Much of the old salvage yard is gone now.  There remain some old farm or construction machinery that will never sell and there appear to be some odds and end heading back in tot he old grounds.  There are new laws governing salvage yards and many have had to close up due to these laws.  It is a sad thing.  Years ago I subscribed to Cars & Parts magazine and they always featured junkyards around the U.S.  The old car hobby thrived on such places.  Today the yards are gone, as is the magazine.  Consigned to history.  

When we were kids, this yard stretched for a long way, just about the entire length from a mile past the intersection until the long slope ended and farm ground a crick at the bottom ended.  After that, up again into Sugar Grove.  But that long stretch of junked iron, heading north and pretty far back was a teasing invitation really.  An enticement that could never be fulfilled.  The promise of a tryst that could never be consummated.    

Most of the cars were from the 40's and 50's.  These years were pretty bland really, all the same shape and contours (personal bias).  It wasn't till the 60's that cars began to get weird and fun. There probably wasn't much left to these cars and all ended up probably in the crusher.  

I remember how much I would have loved to get permission to walk the grounds and poke and prod and see all the different makes and models.  By the time I was old enough I visited the office are once and asked if I could but by then there were liability issues and no one was allowed to back anymore.   My buddy Eddie from high school did get permission to go back to look for a duplicate truck his Dad had.  In an Existing In BFE blog article of January 31, 2012 I featured his quest to find something to restore in memory of his Dad, and as luck would have it, he came across the EXACT truck his Dad had when he had a garage in Sugar Grove.  Check out that article to see what Eddie did, it's really neat.  Go to the side of this blog and find 2012, then January 31 to see the article.   It's worth it.

But the real attraction to a kid at the junkyard was the Spacemobile.  It really looks like this is a conglomeration of metal uniquely made, not just pieces of other cars.  It looked to be a pretty decent concept and well put-together.  The oversized  windshield is from nothing I can imagine except maybe a farm implement.   The shape was truly a marvel.  It is safe to say there was nothing ever quite like it.  And it sat for years waiting to be seen by this kid and many others wishing upon wish that they could touch it, feel it and ride in it.  

After some inquiries I located Randy Henderson, Bud's nephew and asked him if he could provide any details.  He wrote back and said this:

"I can't remember who all was involved other than my Uncle Bud. They built out there at the junkyard/heavy equipment place.  The front end was a Thunderbird, the cab was like a 40's-50's Ford truck, cut and channeled in big ways.  I think they said the rear was off an old Cadillac, hence the big fins.  Not sure what transmission it had, but it was a flathead V-8.  He used it for promotional and parade purposes.  Several years back he took it down off the transport, and painted it Cat yellow with black trim.  They never got it running again.  Then, after he lost the Ford franchise, it was sold at the going-out-of-business sale.  No idea who bought it, or where they were from.  I still wish I could have bought it and restored it back to the original red and modern drivetrain.

It was quite the conversation piece." 

The yard is gone, save for a few rusting hulks evidently not even worth crushing.  Silent sentinels to a time before OSHA and legislative regulations when farmers, old-car enthusiasts and local entrepreneurs could tow a well-past-its-prime Ford with a cracked block into the back 40 and scavenge whatever he could from its carcass.  Junkyards are pretty much extinct today for environmental, zoning and public safety considerations.  Kids today and a couple generation of kids before them will never ride in a car and look in awe at acres and acres of Packards, Studebakers, Plymouths, Ramblers, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and Pontiacs - when cars had recognizable shapes and signified more than simply a drive to Aunt Hazel's, it meant freedom and independence, of being a real grownup.   

The Spacemobile is gone now too.  Sitting in a shed?  Going to car shows?  Ah, probably not, but who knows.  In a kid's world it was the landmark that you waved goodbye to on trips to wherever, and  one of the first signs that you had returned.  It was an anchor, one of many, that we tried to make sense of travel; of coordinates in relation where we were.  Bud Henderson's Spacemobile stood like a lighthouse giving us our bearings, and letting us know we were almost home.  

(Thanks to Kevin Martin and Curbside Classics for the use of thsese pictures.)


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