How did my house devolve to this level? This is the question I asked myself last night after returning from a five week stay in Germany to a suburban Michigan home that has become, essentially, a junkyard. Just look at this place!
My parents are fairly tidy people; my dad was an Army soldier for over 25 years, and my mom is, well, German. So it’s easy to understand why their house in Bavaria—where I stayed for the past four weeks—is so clean and organized. It’s an arrangement I had gotten used to, which is why last night was such a shock.
At 5:30 p.m., I opened my Uber app, and waited at the curb of Detroit’s McNamara terminal for six minutes until my driver showed up in her white Chevrolet Malibu. I popped my luggage into the trunk, hopped into the back seat, and then made an effort at engaging in small talk until my engineering school-honed social skills ran out. Awkward silence ensued for the remaining 45 minutes of the 46 minute drive.
“We’re here,” the driver said, finally. I jumped out, grabbed my luggage, and searched through my bags until I’d found my keys.
Then I looked up, audibly gasped, and said out loud “Holy shit.”
Where was I? Where had this Uber driver taken me? I turned toward the Malibu, but it was already a half a mile down the road. While contemplating my next move, I carefully snooped around this strange property, intrigued by its mystique. What I found was truly bizarre.
Firstly, there was the hood of a mid-2000s Chevrolet Impala sitting in the grass, just in front of a discarded box labeled “Walker Pro-Fit universal muffler.” Why was that hood there? There wasn’t an Impala anywhere in sight—I saw only Jeeps. Why was the muffler box sitting on the front lawn? I had many questions.
On the other side of the tree in the front yard sat a rusted-out tailpipe, an oil drain pan, an accessory belt, and a radiator that appeared to be for a Jeep Cherokee XJ, and that—along with the drain pan—looked to have been run over once or twice.
Oddly, this wasn’t the only run-over radiator on the property. Another copper-brass style radiator leaning up against the front of the house had also apparently been flattened by an automobile. Here it is, right next to a broken 1979 Jeep Cherokee grille. Notice how the vertical tubes start to get wavy toward the bottom.
This resident’s propensity for running over heat exchangers had me concerned:
I knew that the grille sitting next to the radiator had come off a 1979 Cherokee, because right there in the driveway sat the glorious vehicle with the Golden Eagle package. Its grille was missing and its front bumper and bumper brackets were sprawled all over the ground.
Also on the ground between the winch bumper and a creeper were a bunch of head bolts. A brief look inside the engine bay answered what those were doing there:
One of the AMC 360's cylinder heads was missing, and its cylinders had rusted out (see arrows above), likely from condensation. On the driver’s side of the engine’s valley, the valve cover and all the head bolts were gone, but the head was still in place; it appears that the owner had tried using a nearby board to pry the cylinder head off, but just gave up when that didn’t work.
Just to the right of the Jeep, in the front yard, leaning against a tree, I saw a Dana 41 rear axle from an old flat fender Jeep. Why the axle was there is anyone’s guess, but based on all the bird crap on the housing, it’s safe to say it had been sitting there a while.
Also sitting in front of the yard were three sets of tires mounted on mostly Jeep—but also Ford—rims. The tires were old, and some even had their metal belts showing. “Whoever lives here should just get rid of these,” I thought to myself, wondering why anyone would want a stack of useless tires taking up space in front of their house.
Also in the front yard were some oil catch pans (???):
And there were some tools, some fluids, some jack stands, and a rusted-out fuel tank from an old flat fender Jeep:
Near all the scattered tools sat a green Jeep whose carpets were literally hanging out through the floorboard holes:
Over on the left side of the driveway was a giant rusty piece of diamond plating which had apparently been used as a welding surface for the owner, who clearly—based on the beads I saw—was an amateur, at best.
Beyond that metal plate were four full-size Jeep aftermarket aluminum wheels that—after looking at the weeds growing through them—I concluded had been sitting there for years. Plus there were two dead batteries, one of which had posts on the side; this was possibly a battery for an N-body GM car like an Oldsmobile Alero. No clue what it was doing there:
Over on the other side of the home, I spotted two wrecked fenders for early 1990s Jeep Cherokees:
Just underneath that black painted fender was a little hole, like one that might house rabbits. Inside of it, strangely, sat what looked like a heater valve for a Jeep Cherokee. I hadn’t realized that burrowing heater valves were a native Michigan species:
Creeped out, but still somewhat curious to see more of this clearly deeply disturbed individual’s home, I trudged on and found this:
It was a totaled 2003 Kia Rio, with its front bumper appearing to have been ripped off for some reason, and its hood bashed in from an apparent crash. Its battery, instead of being inside the car, was just sitting there to the side, in the grass.
The backyard of this person’s home was a very bizarre place. The Kia was just one of three vehicles sitting back there in the grass, with the other two including the postal carrier Jeep DJ-5D you see above. I saw a giant hole in its frame, and in—frankly—most of the body. And it had two flat tires. Why anyone would thinks they need this vehicle on their lawn—or anywhere other than in the scrapyard—is beyond me.
Just behind the postal Jeep, the mystery of how the Kia’s bumper fell off became clear. Situated beyond a random tarp was a deep dirt pit, with what appeared to be tire tracks from the Kia, as well as bits of its front fascia. Clearly, some idiot had tried towing the thing from this hole, only to rip off the front bumper beam.
Also in the backyard was a beautiful Jeep J10 pickup that was missing its tailgate, battery, and some of its exhaust components. The thing had a few rust spots, but looked decent, though it was clear it hadn’t been driven in years.
The cap of that truck appeared to have been blown off by the wind, as it was sitting upside down in the yard, and was filled with hoses, a fluid transfer pump, and a bottle of transmission fluid.
But the strangest thing I spotted was a dishwasher sitting in the backyard. Inside, I found black residue that looked like old Walmart SuperTech 10W-30 (I’ve got a trained eye for oil brands and viscosities), leading me to suspect that maybe the owner had used the thing to clean grimy car parts, and that maybe that’s why he or she threw the dishwasher out in the first place.
Still, I don’t know why they didn’t just move the thing to the curb for the garbage truck to snatch up. Perhaps they’re keeping it for parts, in case the new washer breaks? People have parts cars, so I guess a parts dishwasher isn’t that strange of a concept? (It is).
I also spotted a little shed back there with a dismantled, well-used, and rusty Spicer Model 18 transfer case out of a flat fender Jeep, as well as some wheels and tires from an old Ford Mustang
Next to those was a rear trim panel, two seats off an old Jeep Cherokee XJ, and a set of axle shafts.
Those axle shafts apparently go into this Chrysler 8.25 rear axle, found in the brush just behind the shed, along with a Jeep XJ tie rod:
At this point, I had surmised that this house had been abandoned years ago, and thus, I decided to go inside to see more. Sadly, the doors were locked. But before I grabbed my bags and skedaddled, I decided to try my keys in the door, figuring there was no harm in giving it a shot.
And boy am I glad (or, rather, not glad) I did. Because the door opened, and right in the doorway was a Willys CJ-3B grille, a bunch of paper bags filled with valve springs and valve spring retainers, a coolant bottle for a full-size Jeep, and a cylinder head. Under the table was a big box of Blackstone Labs engine oil analysis kits.
On the floor next to that head was what appeared to be a spot on some bubble wrap where the owner had placed a V8 cylinder head (notice the four circles for the four cylinders)—likely off of the Jeep out front. Based on the magnet and the valve spring removal tool, it looks like the owner was tearing the head down before maybe taking it to a machine shop.
Over in the kitchen, I noticed a board with some drill bits, and a bunch of aluminum shavings—it appears that whoever once lived here did some drilling in the kitchen. If I had to guess, he or she was drilling out broken screws from a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee PCM.
The person also apparently needed to fix an engine block or something, because there was some JB Weld on the wooden board, too—as well as brake cleaner and a carb cleaner bucket on the counter.
Also on the counter was a dual-action paint polisher, a little metal piece that’s supposed to get glued to a windshield to hold a rearview mirror, and a gear out of a Spicer Model 18 flat-fender Jeep transfer case.
In one of the back rooms in the house was a table holding up a bunch of random car parts, including a fan clutch, radiator hoses, differential gaskets, thermostats, accessory belts, a water pump, a Motorcraft 2150 Carburetor, and a whole bunch else.
Strangely, I found the tailgate missing from the J10 just leaning against a closet, and on top of that closet was a nice new grille for the Golden Eagle out front.
Eventually I peeked my head into the garage, and found a flat-fender Jeep adorned with the most hideous combination of rust, bad welds, and half-assed camo paint I’d ever seen:
I can’t get into all the parts I saw in there, but lots of them seem totally unnecessary. Like, why is there a Suzuki GS550 motor on the shelf? There’s no bike on the property! What’s with the clearly destroyed 4.0-liter Jeep engine that appears to have been hydrolocked? Also, what’s with the rusty shocks, and the used flat fender Jeep throwout bearing on the bottom left of this picture:
But that wasn’t even the worst of it. As I walked back through the house, I saw some things that struck genuine fear into my psyche. Like this green, globby stuff inside the refrigerator:
[Redacted. Not suitable for most audiences]
And these cans of gooey, thick nastiness in the oven:
[Redacted. Not suitable for most audiences]
And in the bathroom shower, was a giant tub of, well:
[Redacted, on the advice of our attorneys and the clergy]
At this point, fearing that I might be losing life expectancy from the various noxious fumes emitted by the automotive grime in the house, I darted out, grabbed my phone, and frantically requested another Uber. But the app wasn’t working; every time I entered my address, it put my destination in as my starting location. I tried ten times, and even opened the Lyft app. It did the same thing!
After about 20 attempts, I took a closer look at the app’s map. Then I looked around. Slowly, I turned my head and peered at the house number on the mailbox. Then, with my hands trembling, I grabbed a parcel of mail from it.
“David Tracy,” it read on the front.
It was at that moment that I came to a shocking realization: This was my house, and the madman who lived inside of it was me.
I must have become so used to the conditions that I hadn’t ever noticed the dire state of my surroundings. The month-long “cleanse” at my parents’ nice house in Germany helped create a sobering moment of clarity in which I resolved that something has to change. Soon.
Either that, or by next week, I’ll have gotten used to all this again, and returned to my ways of joyously surfing the crashing waves of my local Craigslist.