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Salvage Yard Photos from the EPA Documerica Project

The Documerica Project began in the early-1970s after the start of a national movement to clean up the environment, and after President Nixon directed the US government to form the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency.) Over one-hundred photographers were hired by the Agency to document instances of air, water, and ground pollution for study and to serve as a future reference. The lead image taken in 1973 by Dick Swanson contains crushed vehicles in a scrap yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Automotive salvage yards and metal recycling operations that had vehicles and machinery on the premises that were broken down to salvage parts or to reclaim scrap metals were targeted due to oil, gasoline, antifreeze, lead and mercury being released into the environment.

To learn more about the Documerica Project read and view photos our earlier post: Project Documerica – 1970s EPA Automotive Junkyard Images. All photos are courtesy of the National Archives.

  • Henderson, Nevada “Auto Dump” photographed by Charles O’Day in May of 1972.

  • A second image taken in 1973 by Dick Swanson containing crushed vehicles in a scrap yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

  • Gaede’s Wrecking Yard in Bernalillo, New Mexico, photographed by Danny Lyon in April of 1972.

22 responses to “Salvage Yard Photos from the EPA Documerica Project

  1. Picture 1 must have used an extreme “fish eye lens” camera to make a Dodge Valiant compact look almost as big as a Continental.
    Lots of Impalas throughout the essay. They were popular; even I had one.

    • Jim, the Lincoln was 212” long, the upside down ’62 Dodge (not Valiant) under it was 202” long…just 10” difference. The Valiant was 183” long…almost 30” difference.

  2. Is that THE Danny Lyon in the 4th photo?
    The guy who shot “The Bike Riders” motorcycle clubs in the 60s?
    I guess in 1972 he was still pretty much an unknown and had to take what he could get.
    As usual The Old Motor never ceases to amaze and surprise.

    • If Danny Lyon is who he sounds like (to me, anyway) he’s a great automotive writer and photographer in NY!
      (The one I’m referencing simply goes by, “Dan Lyon” today.)

  3. It’s long been a fact, if you’ve ever wanted a “smoking gun” for all these great classics and yards to be eliminated, it’s the EPA. It’s particularly troubling for us classic car nuts to see one of our beloved cars, 4 rows from the bottom,( hey, that bumper looks better than mine) but truth is, these pictures always depict southern climate yards, with seemingly decent cars, thrown on the pile. In Wisconsin, the yards were full of rusted hulks, so no big loss, really. Fact is, except for a very few exceptions, you’d be hard pressed to see ANY yards like we see here, Wisconsin was/is one of the toughest for EPA concerns, so yards disappeared quickly, to the point that they all became “dismantling facilities” and the term “junkyard”, became a dirty word. It’s amazing to me when we see these “walls” of classic cars, but really, this is just a drop in the bucket compared to how many cars were junked, and it really was a problem, and these cars gave what little life they had left, so they could be turned into Toyotas and such.
    Reminds me of a story years ago(80’s) walking through a yard, a worker on a fork lift was skewering cars to be loaded on a flatbed, when his next “victim” was a ’61 Ford 2 door Starliner, no drivetrain, but in decent shape, when I yelled, “HEY, hold on, that’s a ’61 Starliner”! He mumbled, “you want it or don’t ya”? I said, “well, I don’t, but someone might”, he said, “No time”, and with that, put the forks through the side,,,I simply couldn’t watch,,,

  4. In the Lead Photo, on the left above a pair of upside down cars: a black ’65 Cadillac and a white-trimmed, black ’58 Pontiac I see a pair of white Impalas: a ’62 over a red-accented ’61, above that a black ’60 Buick with an inverted likely ’63 Olds 98.

    At the bottom of the center stack a white ’66 Chevy 4-door, then a brown ’65 Plymouth fury III 4-door, a dark green ’64 Ford County Sedan, a beige ’62 Dodge Dart 330 4-door, a white ’61-’64 Lincoln Continental, a brown ’55 Bel Air 4-door, a white probably ’65 Olds Dynamic 88 4-door with a greyish ’63 Bel Air or Biscayne wagon and a dark maybe ’60 Chevy 2-door on top.
    At the very top, straddling the two stacks could be a white ‘60 Valiant above a possible ’60 Dodge Dart Phoenix or Pioneer 2-door. Below that, a white ’60 Pontiac and much further down a green ’64 Ford

    • Without a greenhouse, it is hard to ID, but 1961 to 1963 *or* 1964 Continental might be closest, snce the WB was increased (from 123″ to 126″) in 1964 — but the front fender lights were not added until 1965. Rear door looks a bit “short” to me, but I’m not able to say ’61 to ’63 for sure.

  5. In the stacked cars in Item 2 of 3, on the left could be a very-crushed red ’55 Ford above an inverted ’64 Chevy, a black ’61 Impala, a gold ’62 Impala, a possible ’64 Pontiac, a black ’64 Ford and a ’63 Impala.

    Top of the second stack the distinctive squared light has me stumped. A bit further down, a ’59 Cadillac above a ’59 DeSoto and a ’57 Plymouth, a ’63 Rambler Classic, a ’62 Ford Galaxie, an inverted ’63 Impala and a ’63 Buick Special.

    Third stack in from the left, on top a possible ’66 Chrysler, a ’59 Ford, a ’64 Chevelle, an inverted ’61 Chevy, a ’62 Cadillac and down at the bottom a ’63 Comet.

    Fourth stack, possibly a 2nd-gen Corvair Monza, a green ’60 Chevy Bel Air, a white ’60 Chevy front, a ’60 Mercury rear, possibly an early-50s Olds with grilles under the headlights, a ’63 Ford (with 3 red headlights), a ’63 Ford Fairlane, a ’63 Impala, a ’63 Bonneville, a ’66 Bonneville (or Star Chief) and a ’65 Buick Special.

    Fifth stack, a ’62 Buick Electra 225, a ’70 Chevy, a ’64 T-bird, a ’64 Comet, a ’61 Catalina, an inverted red ’62 Pontiac and a ’60 Bel Air

    • Pat, I must commend you for attempting to ID as many cars as you could here. Me, I won’t even try. Not enough hours in the day.
      However, (sniff, sniff, sob..) In the last photo, which I’ve seen at least 30+ times over the years, I spot what’s left of two favorites in the pile: a `60 Mercury, and a `62 Grand Prix.

      Seems all good things must come to an end….(boo-hoo!!)

  6. In Item 1 of 3 about the only one I can reliably identify is a red and white ’59 Chevy at about 9 o’clock, halfway towards the middle…can’t miss that “v’d” white trunk lid

    When copied and enlarged, I think I’ve spotted a ’60 Lincoln…a giant white car to the left of the yellow bus down front and right next to a camper shell.
    Also, a third of the way up along the left edge, a red over white ’57 Ford Skyliner.

    In Item 3 of 3, up front a stripped ’60 Impala Sport Sedan next to a possible ’67 Camaro. Seen above the Impala’s roof a likely ’65 Olds Jetstar 88 Holiday Coupe in white.

  7. Well David, looks like you figured a way to get more cars into one picture. Ha!
    Very interesting cross-section of everything. And I feel the same way as Howard. So many good parts being destroyed.

  8. No,you aren’t ever going to think that Danny Lyon and Dan Lyon are the same person if you ever Google the name of the former.
    Like comparing apples to oranges.

  9. I would love to just stroll through a salvage yard like the ones pictured in Nevada and New Mexico. I’ll bet there would be some really interesting vehicles. Safety rules, laws and other probably make that impossible today even if you could find a good old junkyard worth visiting.

    Oh well. The end of an era has come and gone.

    • I lived in Albuquerque in 1972. I regularly strolled this junkyard looking for parts to repair my cars with. When I fly into Albuquerque the final approach is directly over the junk yard. Now I live in Louisiana and there are “U” pull its yard all over the place. When the cars come in they are giving an engine test. If it runs they put it into a closed off section of the yard. If someone wants an engine that runs they will run it for you and then if you buy it you have to pull it yourself. If a car comes in and the engine does not run they drain the fluids, loosen the lug nuts, and take it into the public part of the yard. They have welded some wheels together, on lying down and one upright and they put the cars on these stands. They provide wheel barrows to carry your tools in and to carry the parts out. I have been known to take a nap on the cool shaded gravel under the cars. Most of these yards are spotless, parts are cheap too.

  10. Item 1 of 3 (aerial shot): Top left corner of yard, 4 cars down, a Dodge or Plymouth business coupe. Top right corner of yard, based on the tri-tone paint job, (white over black over pink) a 55-56 Dodge? Bottom left of yard, just above the girder-work of a former (or future) building, a gray 60s Dodge crew cab p.u. Behind it, a 67-up Ford F100.

  11. I’ve always had a fascination for these huge mounds of piled-up, crushed cars. The mound of cars pictured above was on a corner where my parents made the left turn on to the Schuyll Expressway from the road on which we traveled north from Wilmington, Delaware. Not included in the photo is the huge crane which sat next to the pile of cars, a larger-than-life example of the crane pictured on the outside lid of my Erector Set. Also not included is always-seedy-looking vendor who hawked that Philadelphia-area favorite soft-pretzels on that corner nor can we see the classic hotdog stand situated on the right hand side of the Expressway within view of the scrapyard on the right side of the road after the turn.

    Besides our fascination with the photo because of our interest in old automobiles, I believe that many of us hold a fascination for the visible endings of the concrete things which enable and support the substance of our lives. It’s a perennial human interest which leads us to consider the existential questions about life. When we see what was once a treasured car, such as the 1961 Lincoln Continental, conspicuous in the above photograph ~ a make and model of car which my grandfather owned and drove after proclaiming that Cadillacs were no longer being made to their former quality and he was switching over to Lincoln ~ in addition to the fated endings of the cars themselves, we are confronted with our own human mortality, as well. I don’t expect you’ll print this 2nd paragraph David and that’s o.k. with me, I just wanted to express it and your forum has given me an opportunity to do so.

  12. The aerial photo is unusual to me. Unlike the last image where the cars are stripped of valuable body parts, the cars in that pic are untouched. Not even hoods opened or parts piled atop like in every scrap yard I’ve been to.

    Many lament the crushing of these “classics”, but popular cars seldom made it to that point. Old Chevelles and Barracudas got parted out for anything usable long before they saw a crusher. There are a few exceptions in that pile, but they were likely rusted hulks that were gutted for rare parts.

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