My dad taught my brother and me how to burn cars. It was great family fun and we liked it better than playing Monopoly. Somehow the thrill of owning a hotel on Boardwalk did not measure up to flames shooting high in the sky!
This was not a criminal activity at the time, although I am sure it would be terribly illegal these days. It was a more, well, not innocent, perhaps oblivious time as far as environmental dangers are concerned.
To give you the context, we lived on Pine River in Michigan and a chemical plant ten miles upstream spewed horrendous chemicals into the air and the river. Nothing could live in the river except a few carp, but my mother spoke of washtub sized turtles from when she was a child.
I remember one day going across the bridge and seeing a thick foamy electric blue mass spread across the whole surface of the river coming downstream. It was unnatural and frightening looking.
In that setting burning a few cars from time to time was positively innocuous. It also was part of my father’s livelihood.
He owned a salvage yard and would sometimes scrap cars. The methods have changed a lot from those days. He would remove the engine, transmission, chrome, and gas tank and anything else he did not want to burn.
Alma Metals paid more money for scrapped cars that had been burned. And I don’t mean just a little fire in the interior either, I mean really burned. All the paint had to be completely gone from every inch of the vehicle.
Do you have any idea how hot you have to get a car to burn the paint off the very front and back of those long fenders? Cars left to burn at their own rate do a poor job of it.
That is where the skill of properly burning a car comes into the picture. We would fill the interior with all the trash available and my dad would put an old tire in the front seat.
Which brings up another question. Do you have any idea how hard it is to set a tire on fire? That rubber has to get really hot before it will burn. The trash in the interior, even combined with all the upholstery, could not set the tire on fire unless we closed all the doors and windows.
That was the really boring part. The darn thing just sat there smoldering for the longest time. No more oxygen was entering so it could not burn rapidly. We would go ride our bicycles but we were careful not to stay away too long, or we would miss the best part.
Eventually the smoldering would fill the interior with rolling smoke and the tire would, thank goodness, finally catch on fire. The intense heat of a burning tire changed the equation dramatically.
All the windows suddenly blew out and flames shot twenty feet in the air. It was fabulous to watch. And that, I assure you, is a fire hot enough not to leave one bit of paint anywhere on the car.
Sometimes for fun we put popcorn on the roof of the car. By the time it popped, the car was too hot to go near, so then the popcorn burned up with everything else.
But the most spectacular burnings were done after dark. The night we burned seven cars at once was so dramatic people came from miles around to see it. I will never forget all those cars blowing their windows and shooting huge flames into the night sky!
But, as I said, times have changed. I would shudder now to spew all that smoke into the air. There is no telling what manner of contaminants would be released. And these days I probably would get arrested for it, even it was my own vehicle.
So I just don’t burn cars anymore.
See Burning Cars and Environmental Karma for another article on this topic.
Copyright © Lexi Sundell 2008. All Rights Reserved.